Past Perfect, 1981: Munjoy Hill Confectioners

William David Barry

William David Barry

William Barry was a resident of North Street back in 1980. We were really grateful when he offered to write articles about the history of the Hill for the Observer. Barry was working as a reference librarian at the Portland Public Library, a position in which he now serves at the Maine Historical Society.

His articles were among the most popular items we published. We will be featuring more of Barry’s work in the coming months. For more information about Barry check out his interview published in the Portland Press Herald back in 2012 , following the publication of his book, The Wilder Half of New England, which is a great read.

Bill’s Education was as a Cultural Historian.  As such, he says he is interested “in the whole fabric of society.”  Bill is especially interested in the development of Munjoy Hill, where he has lived with his wife, Debra Verrier, since 1978.  They intend to remain in residence on the Hill, which Bill describes as “certainly the most fascinating neighborhood in the city.”  He is now primarily a freelance writer and has contributed articles and reviews to Down East, Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland Evening Express, Portland Independent, Maine Life, Art New England, Maine Historical Society Quarterly, and the Bath Brunswick Times-Record.  

Bill is presently co-authoring a novel, set in 18th century Falmouth (Portland), with Randolph Dominic of Portland.  The OBSERVER is privileged to print Bill’s regular monthly column, The Hill in History.  Through his column, he has induced many readers to share his enthusiasm about our neighborhood’s past.  

Following is a piece by Berry taken from the February 1981 issue of the Munjoy Hill Observer.


Munjoy Hill Confectioners

By William David Barry, February, 1981

Mr. Hudson, sweets merchant of Munjoy Hill.

Mr. Hudson, sweets merchant of Munjoy Hill.

The production of candy seems to have played an important role in the early history of Munjoy Hill.  Just why this was so is not apparent until one considers the Hill’s early popularity as holiday grounds.  Indeed, Munjoy Hill was the location of traveling circuses, fairs, Fourth-of-July celebrations, political gatherings, militia musters, and, on one occasion, a public hanging.  At such events, refreshments were called for.  

In Charles Quincy Goodhue’s sketch, Munjoy Hill in the Forties, the most prominent building on the Hill appears to have been Hudson’s Candy Store, at the corner of Congress and Washington Avenue.  Behind this, where Cumberland Avenue climbs the Hill, are houses inhabited by the likes of William S. Owen, a maker of molasses candy.  Commenting on the drawing, H.Q. Norton recalled in the Portland Transcript of 30 January 1895:

“Going into (Hudson’s) one Fourth of July morning I bought some candy and was debating what else to buy when the young lady in charge advised me not to spend any more then, but to keep some of my money to spend in the afternoon.  As I had bought but two cents worth I was indignant at her advice, implying, as it did, that I had so little money to spend on the Fourth.  My indignation was greater from the fact that I had but one cent more and I thought she knew it, hence her advice.  I took my one cent to Aaron Woodman on the opposite corner who had candy to sell without offering suggestions.  Speaking of Mr. Woodman reminds me of one the ways the boys who congregated on the corner used to annoy him.  Opening the Congress Street door a boy would sing out:  Great a, little a, ron, W, double o, d, man.”  If Mr. W. was not feeling just right he would start for the boy, when another, or the same boy would appear at the Washington Street door and repeat the offense.  Being of a kindly nature, Mr. Woodman’s anger soon abated and those boys could be seen a little later on in friendly conversation with him.”

One of the premier holiday figures and candy sellers in Portland during the 1830’s and 40’s was Harry Hans, alias William Henry Harrington.  The son of Billy Hans (a famous Portland character), Harry preferred to use his mother’s name, Harrington.  According to writer D.C. Colesworthy:

“(Harry) was singularly eccentric in his character, and in high days particularly made some flourish on the Hill, where he displayed for sale, from a board on his arm, huge sticks of molasses candy, not very delicious to the fastidious tastes of some of the people.  He frequently collected  a crowd of idle men and boys, and addressed them in his peculiar style, to their intimate amusement.”

Nathan Goold has more to say about Harry in the Portland Transcript of 13 April 1898, but I leave that to the reader.  Colesworthy described Hans’ slouching hat and Roman nose in the poem School is Out.  Painter J.G. Cole caught the name in a portrait recently discovered.  Indeed, the image of the candy seller is an important and lively reminder of the Hill long ago.