162 Eastern Promenade: The Morris Sacknoff Estate

The Sacknoff estate during the winter of 1924.

Built about 1908, the Morris Sacknoff winter estate at 162 Eastern Promenade, at the corner of Moody St., is undergoing a renovation. Born in 1879, Sacknoff was a Jewish refugee from Kiev who built a legacy in Maine that included the Wells Casino, Munjoy Hill's pioneering Jewish Home for the Aged, a paper recycling empire (Morris Sacknoff & Sons), and an impressive real estate roll that included several large blocks on Commercial and Fore streets.

The home on the Prom is impressive. The 3,620 square foot brick Victorian which sits on a 5,700 square foot corner lot once had a grand front porch, but has fallen into severe disrepair over the past several decades.

The property (lot 003 A007001) is valued at $491,400 and was taxed at $10,137.58 for 2016. Renovation work has begun, however, on the interior and exterior of the building .

The Sacknoff estate today.

The Observer reached owner and developer Crandall Toothaker for comment on the renovation of the former Sacknoff winter house. Over the years, Toothaker said, the interior of the home had been partitioned in odd ways: first to a two-family and then to a three-unit dwelling. Original mouldings and details had long been removed, and a fire had damaged sections of the attic.

Toothaker's plans include new sunrooms and a third floor deck, all new electrical, plumbing and heating systems, architectural replacement windows, landscaping, and new front and side porches, the sum total of which will restore grandeur and dignity to the building.

The following biographical excerpt is from the 1997 book Some Jewels of Maine: Jewish Maine Pioneers by Cecilia Risen:

"When he left his village of Medvin, near Kiev, as a lad of thirteen in 1893, Morris Sacknoff had only hope and determination, according to his daughter, Jen. He came to Fall River, Massachusetts, to live with his married sister, Rifka Granovsky. No time was lost attending school. He joined the other children and adults in the mill where he earned enough to contribute to the cost of food for the family. He soon realized he was making no progress toward his goal—becoming independent.

He started as an itinerant salesman of notions, walking from house to far away house, learning English in order to sell his goods.

Fortunately he had the strength to attend evening school and enough money to join a social club for dancing where he developed friends. By the time he was seventeen, he moved to Portland to live with another sister, Sarah Solmer. He became part of her family while he worked for his brother-in-law.The Jewish community absorbed immigrants as if they were related to everyone there. Soon Morris joined a group of young men in a club that provided parties and other amusement. He was attracted to Sarah Berman, the sister of two club members.

She had come from Latvia at age thirteen and was working for a German seamstress. She cam from a village near Vilna where she learned to enjoy music and beautiful things. Sarah lived with her sister, Dora Mack, until her marriage at age eighteen to Morris who was all of nineteen with a bankroll of five dollars and the possession of a horse.

Morris and Sarah had four children in ten years: Jennie Dorothy, Meyer, Samuel, and Edward. The fifth child, Rheta, was born after an interval of ten years. All of the children attended Ivy League-caliber colleges: Harvard, Simmons, Wellesley, University of Pennsylvania, and Bowdoin. Only Meyer and Edward returned to Portland.

Morris collected wastepaper and convinced others to sell him their collections. When he could borrow money, he bought a machine that compressed all this into huge bales that he sold to paper mills in New England. Huge rolls of newsprint came from these wastepaper bales. Morris employed six people at one time, which freed him to make many business and social contacts.

When Morris's younger brother Samuel came to America, he joined the family and began to work for Morris. Later his parents came with another brother and sister. Everyone was sheltered and supported by Morris as was customary in the Jewish community.

Morris Sacknoff in the 1920's

His father, a Hebrew scholar, spent most of his life in the synagogue. According to Rita Willis, Samuel's daughter, he was chosen to inspect meat for "kosher" use during the last twenty years of his life, a responsibility entrusted only to the most pious and learned men.

As the paper business prospered, Morris and Samuel bought the business section of Wells, Maine, with the help of a third partner. There they established a casino, a clothing store, and a dance hall on the waterfront right on the ledge. Rheta said she spent every summer there on the beach.

Morris would invite everyone he met to spend a weekend at the beach. This kept her mother, Sarah, cooking most of the time. One summer there were so many relatives, children, and adults, Morris had to set up a tent with six cots. The six-bedroom house couldn't accommodate the group. In winter they lived on the Eastern Promenade in Portland, facing Casco Bay and the islands.

When the Sacknoff children were grown and married, Morris traveled through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, urging people to build a home for the aged who could no longer care for themselves. Sarah also helped with this project.

In 1928 the Home for the Aged opened in Portland, and some years later a new wing was built to house Jews and non-Jews of any age in need of convalescent care. It stands on a hill overlooking Casco Bay. The Home is incorporated in New Hampshire and Vermont so that their residents are also eligible for admission."