Industry and tourism rarely, if ever cooperate with each other, and one always wins out over the other, with the loser usually being snuffed out like a spent cigarette. Portland’s Old Port district seems to have figured out a way to buck the trend, and where once Portland’s waterfront was a haven for the maritime industries, other businesses have sprouted, grown and moved along, the area slowly morphing into today’s Tourist playground, playing with that ancient of industries as though they were meant for each other.
We can look back through the rearview mirror we call history and see what has become of some of those businesses. Today, I’ll look at the address of 94-96 Commercial Street, and see what has become of that particular address perched on the corner of Commercial and the Custom House Wharf. Today, it houses a fine little pub called Andy’s Old Port Pub. Over a century ago this same building housed a wholesale pharmaceutical company called the John W. Perkins Company.
A bit of narrative follows as we read from George Bacon’s 1891 Representative Businessmen of Portland:
JOHN W. PERKINS & CO., Wholesale Druggists and Dealers in Paints, Oils and Dye Stuffs, 94 and 96 Commercial St. and 2 and 4 Custom House Wharf, Portland, Me. John W. Perkins, Benj. A. Perkins, J. Henry Crockett. Among the wholesale drug houses of Portland not one occupies a higher position than that of John W. Perkins & Co., and indeed in all New England there is not a firm of jobbing and manufacturing druggists who enjoy a better reputation throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and the provinces as a reliable jobbing house who make a specially of furnishing a superior quality of drugs, medicines, preparations, etc., regarding which they might well adopt the motto “Not how cheap, but how good.”
They have long enjoyed an extensive jobbing trade in the field above named, and are better prepared than ever to sustain their time-honored reputation. This business was founded in 1853 by Messrs. Perkins & Titcomb, and the present firm name was adopted in 1855, the partners then being Messrs. John W. and Benjamin A. Perkins. Mr. J. A. Titcomb entered in 1863 and retired in 1868, and the firm is now composed of Messrs. J. W. & B. A. Perkins, both natives of Weld, Maine, and Mr. J. Henry Crockett, a native of Norway, Maine. Mr. Crockett entered the firm in 1869, and has been prominent in public as well as in business life. He was connected with the city government several years, and has served as president of the Common Council.
The firm utilize very spacious premises at Nos. 94 and 96 Commercial St. and Nos. 2 and 4 Custom House Wharf, and carry a very heavy stock comprising not only drugs, medicines, chemicals, proprietary remedies and druggists’ sundries but also paints, oils and dye stuffs of every description. They are prepared to furnish any or all of these commodities in the very largest quantities without delay, employment being given to 24 assistants. No manufacturing druggists’ preparations are considered more absolutely and uniformly reliable, and this is the legitimate result of the policy pursued by this representative house, for they take great care to use the purest drugs and employ the highest skill and the most improved facilities in their manipulation.
Their list of standard pharmacentical preparations is very complete and is constantly being added to, for the firm are progressive as well as reliable and new preparations that have proved their value and been endorsed by the medical profession are at once manufactured and kept in stock. Samples are furnished to any physician or druggist who will give them a fair trial, and the number of physicians who specify “Perkins”‘ when prescribing standard preparations is significant evidence of the result of such trial. It has long been a conceded fact among the trade that no concern in the state furnishes more reliable goods of standard merit and fills orders more accurately and satisfactorily in every respect.
Prior to Perkins’ occupation of this address, a John H. Cox ran a trading company at 94 Commercial. It also appears as though the upper floors may have been utilized as a sail making shop by several craftsmen. Many businesses have occupied the building since then, with the Perkins company changing hands and names about 1920 becoming Brewer & Co. Inc. The Brewer Company continued in the wholesale pharmaceutical trade for some time.
A fire that destroyed the upper floors of the building precipitated the transfer of business between the Perkins and Brewer. As the business reduced its size over the years, the building became divided repeatedly into smaller rental spaces, with a photographer by the name of S.S. Skolfield occupying space in the building at the time that Brewer and Co. utilized the building.
The names and dates of the businesses that have occupied this space are too numerous for this small space, but today, the address is occupied by Andy’s Old Port Pub, of which you can find a poem and some video I took of the block one evening. Many of you may remember the not so distant tenant of the name of Casco Variety, a convenience store that sold a great many items, from food and drink to odds and ends.