There have been two histories written about Wildwood, the first in 1975 by Wendy Joy and the second in 2000 by Bill Dill, Betts Gorsky and Becky Quinlan. This page has excerpts from those histories
Beginning of a neighborhood
Wildwood Park was named in 1909 when Concord Realty first purchased the property from Sumner Sturdivant. The early history of Wildwood Park and Cumberland Foreside is interesting. At one time, Abnaki Indians roamed these woods and beaches. They probably ate clams and caught fish here and stopped, as we do today, to gaze out over the bay and admire the beautiful view.
What could it have been like for the few hardy souls who attempted to live here during the 1600s? George Felt was the first settler in Cumberland whom we know by name. In 1640 he purchased 300 acres and a house in the Schooner Rocks area built by an earlier settler. During the years from 1640 to 1678, this area was frequently raided by Abnaki Indians, and often the people living there had to take refuge in what is now Portland or the outer Bay Islands until it was safe for them to return home. George Felt himself was killed by Indians on Peaks Island.
In 1678 Captain Walter Gendall, who had lived in Cape Elizabeth, purchased 100 acres from George Felt’s heirs. The area extended southwesterly to beyond Wildwood Park, and Mr. Gendall built his house near the sea side of Sea Cove Road. The area was quiet for a while, but in 1688 trouble again erupted with the Indians. Walter Gendall was killed in a battle near the Royal River and for twenty-five years the area was deserted by the white settlers.
Around 1715 settlers began to return to the area and built three garrison houses for defense. One of the garrison houses was believed to be on the present Payson property. The earlier settlers to this area had been repeatedly driven away from their homes, and many had been killed. The question of who owned much of the land was being disputed by the people who had returned. Therefore, in 1723 a committee of five men from Massachusetts was chosen to regulate and manage the township of Cumberland. The committee of five reestablished the boundary lines between Falmouth and North Yarmouth (Cumberland).
They resurveyed the land and divided it into 100 home lots. By an agreement in May 1727, thirty-six of the lots were portioned out to the original settlers or their heirs; sixty-four were drawn by lot by new settlers. Winners were expected to inhabit their lots, to clear and fence at least five acres of land on the front side of the lot, to contribute to the support of a minister, to help construct a community meeting house, and if their lots bordered on salt water, either “the Bay or Royall’s River,” to keep a strip three rods (42 feet) wide from the high water line open for the use and accommodation of the public. (Regarding this last provision, of potential interest to all shoreline owners in present-day Cumberland and Yarmouth, keep reading. In the last section, there is discussion of its rediscovery in the 1990 and an aborted attempt to explore its potential validity through court action.)
The area settled again into normalcy; but then in 1774 the French and English were at war, and the area prepared itself for Indian and French attacks. Two garrison houses were in use at the time on the Foreside. In 1745 there were Indian raids in the area. Several people were killed and women and children taken into captivity by the Indians. In 1757 the last Indian attack in the area occurred in what is now Harpswell and Freeport.
During the Revolutionary War, the town generally sided with the patriots; however, as in most every colonial town, there were divided opinions. A company of minuteman was formed, and a Council of Safety organized to patrol the shore.
An interesting tale is told about the conflict of the time in Phyllis S. Sweetser’s book, Cumberland, Maine:
The sloop Rhoda, commanded by Captain Gray, had made a coastal trip in the fall of 1779 to one of the harbors to the westward for supplies and returned to Cumberland Foreside, anchoring near Anderson’s Rock. The crew left the vessel for the night with two boys on board to keep ship. When the crew returned the next morning, the Rhoda had disappeared. The crew and some of the inhabitants armed themselves as best they could, and taking an old sloop that was anchored near the present Cumberland Town Landing, they started out of the harbor to see what had become of their vessel. When they had passed outside of Chebeague Island, they saw the two boys in the small boat of the Rhoda. The boys told that they had been seized about eleven o’clock the night before by a boat from an English cruiser; the cable had been slipped and the sloop taken. They had been set adrift outside the harbor, and knew nothing of where the Rhoda was being taken. However, they had overheard someone speak of Monhegan, and the party felt it might be well to go there. They came into the harbor at night and found the Rhoda anchored. Feigning ignorance of the anchorage area, the old sloop, with the people from North Yarmouth, ran into the Rhoda, which was boarded and captured by its owners. Both sloops got under way at once and started home. The next morning they came up with a large English schooner, loaded with lumber, and they captured her. The three vessels passed through Broad Cove on the way to Falmouth (now Portland). The supplies and prize money enabled the people to have a more comfortable winter than they would have otherwise.
Betty Baxter has done research on colonial times in Cumberland and has found a pottery wig curler from the 1700s among old timbers and stones at 16 Birch Lane. She speculates that the line of boulders and stones extending off shore from the end of Birch Lane may have been part of the first pier on the beach and asks if it might even have been a place in 1788 for unloading a ship from Britain with goods for the William Martin family on Schooner Rocks.
During the War of 1812 a resident of the Foreside and the owner of the present Wildwood Park tract was Captain Ephraim Sturdivant. He lived in the Janet Low Parker house on Route 88. Captain Sturdivant went to sea at the age of twelve. During the War of 1812, he was granted a letter of marque as a privateer from President James Madison. Captain Sturdivant was responsible for naming the town of Cumberland. He became the first treasurer of the town, serving until 1832. He represented the town as a state senator and was a member of the first convention which framed the constitution of Maine in 1820.
Creation of Wildwood Park
Upon Captain Sturdivant’s death in 1868, his son Sumner inherited the Wildwood property; and on June 3, 1909, Sumner sold the Wildwood tract to Mr. Herman P. Rausch and Concord Realty, a land development corporation from New York. Mr. Rausch began building houses and built the first house in Wildwood, the Blackwells’ home at 21 Pine Lane. The early houses were supplied with water from a natural spring which ran through the Park. Later the spring water was available to all from a spigot located at the corner of Sylvan Lane and Wildwood Boulevard; the mutual driveway of the McBrooms and the Morrows. Many people can remember going to the spigot as children and getting a drink.
In 1913, Concord Realty Company issued an illustrated brochure for people interested in buying property in Wildwood Beach Park. You may read it and a later version in Appendices V and VI. The initial brochure tempted with an opening quotation from Byron and flowery descriptions of what the Park would offer:
Picture to your mind a pretty, cosy [sic] little cottage or bungalow surrounded by fragrant, sweet smelling pine trees – you are seated in a large comfy chair on the porch – the warm sun sprinkling through in spots just to remind you that it is summer time. . . .
Heyday of the Wildwood Inn
The efforts to develop a community of summer cottages went in parallel with creation of a restaurant and inn that were frequented by the public, arriving by trolley and boat. The Sturdivant family used the area for family outings and called the reserve “Sturdivant’s Field.” When Mr. Rausch developed the area, he continued the practice of outings and swimming at the beach. The present Chapman house was built and called The Wildwood Restaurant and Tea House. However, since that was “such a mouthful,” the name was shortened to Wildwood Inn and a banner was erected at the entrance to the Park. People would come for miles to eat the famous “shore dinners” offered at the Inn. Customers would enter the Inn on the left, pay for their dinner, pass through the Japanese Room noted for its Oriental design, and then proceed to the porch for their meals.
The porch accommodated eight large oak tables seating ten people at a table with soda fountain chairs. The Inn was mainly an attraction for tourists to the area. However, Mrs. Chapman recalls that many people in the Park took their evening meal in the Inn. This could explain the small kitchens in some of the older homes.The sandy beach was very popular both with local people and people from other states. Transportation to the area was by the trolley line that ran from Portland to Brunswick. The trolley followed a route along the present Route 88. People departed the trolley at the top of the Park and walked down to the beach. At the end of the day, the tourists took the trolley back to Portland.
Katrina Rich and Barbara Garsoe remember being invited by friends in Wildwood to swim at the beach. It was, according to Katrina, “a journey that took forever” from Portland, but “oh, such a sweet experience” when she arrived. Her mother, one of only two women she knew who drove in the late 1920s, borrowed her father’s car to make some of the trips. The beach had a raft, a pier, a diving chute, and at least three beach houses (which Barbara remembers rented for $3 a season). The Reserve also had a gazebo called “The Rustic House” with unpeeled birch railings where people used to sit in the shade of the house and talk or admire the view. Sometimes they would get “beaned” by a ball of clay. Children threw wet globs of clay onto the roof; and when they dried, at random, they would roll off.
Island steamers stopped at the Wildwood Pier. On the roof of the summer house was the word W I L D W O O D painted in large letters so that the ferry boat could see the landing in poor weather. The pier consisted of two sections, an inner section which was stationary and the outer section which was a pontoon-type construction. The pier was a base for swimming and sunning, for access to boats moored in the cove, and occasionally for golf ball driving contests out over the water. Swimmers also had the option of using a pool up at the Inn, filled with salt water pumped from the cove.
In the winter the outer section of the pier was brought in to avoid being broken up by the storms. The remnants of the pilings of the inner section and of the pumping station for the pool are visible on the beach today. Access to the beach and pier was by way of “the ravine,” a stone walkway to the left of the Chapman’s present home. Although now filled in with trees and bushes, the trench is still visible today.
At one time there was a “clam reservation.” Mr. Rausch planted seed clams in the flats on the beach. Both the Inn and the residents of the Park were able to dig clams on their own private clam reservation. However, there were always problems with “outsiders” coming in to dig clams. Several times Mr. Rausch had to call the authorities to control use of the clam reservation.
Emergence of the Wildwood Park Association
Growth of the Community and of an Association
Mr. and Mrs. Chapman had summered here often before buying the Wildwood Park property. After the tourist era they continued to play an important part in Park affairs. The first recorded Wildwood Park Association meeting was held on November 8, 1934. Those directors present were:
Mr. and Mrs. Barker Burbank
Mr. and Mrs. Leon L. Smith
Mr. and Mrs. Claude Mills
Mr. and Mrs. Philip Chapman
Mr. and Mrs. Guy Sargent
Miss Rose Allen
To be a member of the Wildwood Park Association, one had to pay lot dues and adhere to several restrictions
Covenants and Restrictions, April 22, 1911
1. That there shall not be erected upon the premises herein before described, any buildings other than a dwelling house, private stable, garage, and the usual out buildings, when constructed and erected as herein provided.
2. That such a dwelling house stand back at least fifteen feet from the line of the streets, upon which the same shall front, or from any adjacent street, if a corner lot, and five feet from the side line of any plot. Stoops and steps, however, shall not be considered a violation of this restriction.
3. Private stables, garages, or other outbuildings, shall stand back at least sixty feet from the front lot line, and at least fifteen feet from any adjacent side street line, if a corner plot, and five feet from the side line of any plot.
4. That no dwelling be erected upon any parcel of land on said premises of less than forty-five feet of frontage upon the street upon which the same shall front.
5. No fences shall be erected upon any parcel of land less than fifteen feet from the street lot line, and such fences shall be hedge fences not exceeding four feet in height.
6. No dwelling or frame construction shall be erected upon said premises of the “flat roof type.”
7. No dwelling fronting Ocean Terrace shall cost less than three thousand dollars ($3000) those dwellings fronting Wildwood Boulevard to cost no less than two thousand dollars ($2000) and all those dwellings fronting on the other roads and lanes to cost no less than twelve hundred dollars ($1200). All the above restrictions shall apply to the plots designated by number on the filed plan of Wildwood Park.
8. The Concord Realty Company reserves for itself, its successors and assigns, the right to erect and maintain on the rear dividing line of the plot hereby conveyed poles with cross arms thereon, for electric light and telephone wires.
9. The owner shall keep all buildings in good repair and the premises free and clear from everything deleterious to health and shall conform to all sanitary rules and regulations which may be adopted and prescribed by the Wildwood Park Associa- tion, which association shall be composed of property owners of Wildwood Park.
10. The owner shall pay into the improvement and maintenance funds of the Wildwood Park Association the sum of five dollars ($5) per year for each lot hereby conveyed, commencing with the year 1912. Such payments shall be due and payable April first of each and every year thereafter and shall be binding upon any subsequent owner or owners of such lot or lots, and the payment by the owner of each lot of said five dollars ($5)per annum into the improvement and mainte- nance fund shall entitle the owner or any subsequent owner to the privilege of becoming a member of said Wildwood Park Association.
11. All the foregoing covenants shall run with the land until the year 1960, when they shall cease and terminate. The right being reserved by said Concord Realty Company to release by sealed instrument any plot from any of said covenants andrestrictions.
These restrictions were terminated in 1960.
Wildwood had advertised from its beginnings in 1913 “wide, graded streets, electric lights and telephone” with “a perfect sewer and drainage system” and “city water service.” Negotiations for an adequate number of fire hydrants took place in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, with costs shared between the Town, Wildwood residents, and the Portland fire district. Trying to achieve “perfection” with road drainage continued into the early 1990s as Wildwood and the Town have negotiated about needs, remedies, and sharing of costs.
Although the town had approved electric street lights for Wildwood in March 1928, during World War II the area was blacked out. Again, in 1948, the residents of Wildwood Park had to petition the town for street lights.
Directors and members of Wildwood Park Association met yearly except for a gap of three years during World War II. During this three-year period, conditions in the Park deteriorated. In 1945 the residents approached Mr. Chapman with a request that they resume the Association in order to improve conditions in the Park.
In 1942, when the Heldmans moved to 32 Wildwood Park, there were only five houses on Wildwood Boulevard. There were no houses on Sylvan Lane or Ocean Terrace except for the McDennotts. There was a wooden shelter at the top of the Park, located on the left-hand side behind the entrance walls. The shelter was used as refuge in bad weather for people waiting for the city or school bus. It was torn down in 1966.
By 1959, an article in the real estate section of the Press Herald described a year-round residential area with most of its homes occupied by middle income couples in their 20’s or 30’s, with “children aplenty.” The paper reported that “more than a bus load” of children leave each morning for school in Cumberland Center. Once a tightly-knit neighborhood, the varying interests of the growing population were making it less so-but it still seemed an ideal spot:
. . . although the nine mile drive to Portland requires some determination on cold and snowy mornings, there isn’t a Wildwood commuter who doesn’t look forward in the summer to getting home to the shaded coolness-and perhaps a swim-after a hard day at the office.
In 1956, the residents of Wildwood Park began legal proceedings to incorporate as a charitable corporation. The corporation enabled the Association to legally raise funds to keep the Park in continued good repair and order. This corporation was not in effect until 1960 when the existing Wildwood Park Association restrictions terminated. The residents, in 1963, changed the name of the Association from Wildwood Park Association to the Wildwood Park Associates, Inc. A split-rail fence was erected and rose bushes planted around the reserve to stop the troublesome problem of people parking on the reserve.
Although Wildwood Park has increased from uninhabited woods before 1909 to sixty-seven homes today, it has retained its beauty and natural state. The tennis court, used extensively in the Wildwood Inn era, then occasionally abandoned, persists after three-quarters of a century. Other efforts have been more fitful-but recent years have seen a summer space for volley ball and a small winter skating rink on the Reserve. The Inn’s pier is long gone, but the number of residents’ boats at moorings south of Anderson Rock keeps growing. Boaters row, paddle, or run small outboards to get to their craft because residents at least twice have rejected the idea of building another dock. High costs to build and maintain one, liabilities in usage, and concerns about spoiling views of and from the beach have been the decisive negative factors.
Over the years new houses were built and older ones expanded and changed. Unlike many neighborhoods where each building proposal seems to lead to arguments before the zoning board, Wildwood families have been tolerant of most proposals for change, knowing that someday they may have something of their own to set forth. Colonials, ranches, split levels and other diversities of style abound, but from the more modest to the most elaborate projects, they have enhanced the appearance of the community.
The Association remains strong and active. Neighborhood democracy is alive and well in Wildwood, annual meetings are well attended as are special meetings called to decide the occasional issue or expenditure. Each year members gather in force to, among other things, clean up the shoreline, mow and trim the reserve and entrance to the Park, and repair the steps and railings to the beach.
Growth and Change in the park
Philip F. Chapman purchased the Concord Realty Company which included all the Wildwood land not already privately owned on October 31, 1923. The Chapmans converted the Wildwood Inn into their home. The famous shore dinners were no more. However, Mrs. Chapman does remember people coming around for many years to eat at the Inn. Once a party of people came to eat at the Inn and discovered it no longer was operating. They were very disappointed and begged to have a cup of coffee so that they could say that they had eaten at the Inn. After being refused by Mrs. Chapman, these same people, determined to be able to say that they had eaten in the Wildwood Park area, camped across the ravine and had a picnic lunch. Mrs. Chapman also recalls a visitor who told the Chapmans he had proposed to his wife on the porch of the Inn after one of the famous shore dinners.
The real estate development effort began to work. Early houses in Wildwood-besides the Inn (and Chapman residence)-were at 4 Concord Circle; at 8, 10, 11,12, 14, 15, 21, 22, 24, 26, and 32 Birch Lane; 16, 17, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 28, and 30 Pine Lane; and at 5, 20, 22, 26, and 32 Wildwood Boulevard. All of these were built before the end of the 1920s, but at that time only one of the homes-the Bjorns’s-apparently was used year round.
The growth of housing in Wildwood has seen many twists and turns, as even current residents know. Cottages were modified and expanded, sometimes several times, over the years. The Baxters at 16 Birch Lane note that theirs was the last of the original summer cottages to be lifted and have a cellar put in underneath. Two houses came fully fashioned from other places. Number 2 Birch, the latest wholly new structure in the Park, was originally built on the Payson estate, but then moved in 1992 for sale to a lot on the Lane that the Association agreed to incorporate into the Park. Another house came an even longer distance in the late 1940s. Norman and Lucy Leighton brought their home with them from Bath and set it on new foundations at 7 Concord Circle.
Wildwood was served by the trolley line along what is now Route 88. The original line between Monument Square and Yarmouth was opened in 1898, and for ten years was especially known for serving Underwood Springs Park and Casino in Falmouth (the beach area north of Town Landing near the present Forecaster offices). The Casino burned and Underwood Springs Park closed in 1907. By the time Wildwood Beach Park was getting going, service extended beyond Yarmouth to Brunswick. Trolleys ran every half hour from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and were fairly reliable. One report noted, though, that the cars had “a galloping motion at full speed,” and derailments were not uncommon. Gradually, trolleys lost out to the automobile. In 1910, there were four cars registered in Cumberland; five in Falmouth and Yarmouth together; and 538 in total for the metropolitan area that the Portland rail systems served. By 1922, 538 had grown to more than 10,000. Trolleys ran less frequently, and in 1933, the line was abandoned. Bus service at much less frequent intervals continued between Yarmouth and Portland along Route 88 through the 1950s. Eventually it, too, disappeared.
Neighborhood Celebrations and Traditions
The big occasions in Wildwood are Independence Day and Christmas. For many years the Chapmans hosted field days on their property on the Fourth of July and Labor Day. There were games and prizes for the children, tennis tournaments with punch and strawberries for spectators, and cookouts-sometimes clambakes-for all. After World War II, Fourth of July celebrations became more of a total community effort. Programs spanned the entire day: from an early morning parade and flag ceremony to an evening picnic for resident families and their guests on the Reserve.
An annual theme provides the basis for the parade and activities-and truly reflects the creativity of the volunteer chair of the event. Past themes have included: America the Melting Pot (1980 and 1993), Heroes and Heroines (1981), Famous Americans Past and Present (1984), Happy Birthday Miss Liberty (1986), We the People (1989), March into the Future (1992), It’s a Musical Fourth (1994), From Sea to Shining Sea (1996); It’s a Flower Power 4th (1997); A Star-Studded 4th (1998), and Celebrate the American Century! (1999).
And the tradition continues with a recounting of what Independence Day means to us all, tables selling bake goods and used books, games for children and adults-including a tug of war, egg toss, three legged race and sack relay, a tennis tournament, raffles, movies or videos for “quiet time” in the afternoon. Each year as the flag is lowered, Wendy Joy reads an essay by Roger Garrison, a late Wildwood resident who annually wrote an essay for the celebration. This was his last essay-and serves as a yearly inspiration.
The talent show is a special part of the celebration. For nearly five decades the neighborhood children have showcased their special skills on the “stage” at the Heldman’s garage. Whether singing, dancing, playing a musical instrument or reciting poetry, the children proudly display their craft. An integral part of the talent show is the skit in which all participate. The costumes and scenery are worthy of Broadway.
As the annual host of the talent show, Lloyd Heldman was fond of saying “This was the best show yet.” In his memory, the shows producer invites the entire audience to echo Lloyds sentiment following the curtain call.
Another tradition, a huge bonfire on the Reserve after dark, was dropped in the mid-90s due to fire danger and has now been replaced by a campfire-complete with scary ghost stories and a sing along.
At Christmas, residents can count on a tour of the streets by Santa (propelled by internal combustion, not reindeer!) and a progressive pot-luck evening with a break for caroling through the neighborhood between appetizers and the main courses.