Mechanics’ Hall was founded by the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association in 1815, who were the prominent business and tradesmen of the time. The mechanics of that era were stonemasons, blacksmiths, bakers, hatters, coopers, carpenters, and other skilled tradesmen. These mechanics, along with their apprentices, helped build the City of Portland.
While our membership has changed over the centuries, the pride of being part of Mechanics’ Hall has never changed. Today’s Mechanics are members of the Creative Economy, which includes craftspeople, artisans, entrepreneurs, digital innovators, and the many people in Maine who work in the arts, trades, and humanities disciplines.
Membership in today’s Mechanics’ Hall connects you with others in your profession as well as a larger, diverse group of individuals who share your love of Portland and creative making. Members have access to our library as well as 18 other membership libraries throughout the country. Find more information about this small group of organizations here.
Watch programming videos through our member page on Portland Media Center’s website.
Mechanics’ Hall has three basic levels of membership: Individual, Family & Sustainer. All levels include use of the library reading areas, ability to check out books at Mechanics’ Hall and 18 other membership libraries throughout the country, a subscription to our newsletter, hall WiFi access, and free admission to most Hall-sponsored programming. Click the button below for more information and to join online.
1804 – 1897 MCMA Member, Leader of Men, Father of Prohibition and Temperance
Neal Dow was born in 1804 in Portland, the son of a tanner in a Quaker family. In 1827, at age 23, he joined the MCMA as a tanner and in that same year founded the Maine Temperance Union. Mr. Dow’s 1829 oration at the MCMA Triennial Celebration (available in our library) was a powerful speech with points that are still relevant today, 186 years later. In 1828, at age 24, he built a brick home at what is now 714 Congress St. Today this national landmark is the home of the Maine Women’s Christian Temperance Union and also a museum that is open to the public at certain times on certain days. Dow served the MCMA as Corresponding Secretary in 1830-1831 and also served as Chief Engineer for the Portland Fire Department. In 1851 he was elected Portland’s ninth mayor. During that same year he helped pass the Prohibition Bill (“the Maine Law”) with the help of Governor John Hubbard. In 1855 he was reelected as Portland’s eleventh mayor. On June 2 of that year, the infamous “Rum Riot” erupted at City Hall, which at the time stood in Monument Square. (If you missed the Honorable Herb Adams’s recent talk on this event, you can view it on the MCMA CTN Member page by clicking on here! http://www.ctn5.org/ shows/member-highlights/member-highlight-portland-rum-riot-8949.) Dow was a passionate abolitionist and made his home a stop on the Underground Railroad. Although he was 57 in 1861, when the Civil War broke out, he volunteered for the army and was commissioned Colonel; a year later he was promoted to Brigadier General, serving until 1864. In 1880, at age 76, Dow ran for president of the U.S. as the Prohibitionist Party candidate, finishing fourth to Republican James A. Garfield. Neal Dow died in 1897 at the age of 93. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery. Also members of MCMA, were Dow’s sons Fredrick N., a tanner, who joined in 1863, and William H., a publisher, who joined in 1907.
1778-1858 Founding Member of MCMA, Soldier, Legislator
General Phinehas Varnum was born in Dracut, Mass., in 1778. He came to Portland in 1801 as a blacksmith. After working for one year for Joseph Thaxter, he carried on the trade for another fifteen years before going into the business as a merchant. In 1815 he became a founding member of the MCMA, serving as its first vice-president from 1815 to 1817 and its second president from 1818 to 1820. He represented Portland in the Legislature of Massachusetts in 1818 and 1820.
Following are some highlights in Varnum’s life and career:
• He made all the gun mountings for Fort Preble.
• On June 9, 1807, he headed a petition to the Legislature of Massachusetts for a company of artillery in Portland, attached to the 1st regiment, 2nd brigade, 6th division of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, captained by Lt. Colonel Nichols.
• From 6/17/1812 to 9/21/1814 he served under Major Alfred Weeks in Portland and Cape Elizabeth.
• From 9/28/1814 to 10/27/1814 he served during the War of 1812.
• After Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820, he served in Maine as Colonel and Brigadier General in 1826.
• He served as City Street commissioner and Director of Casco Bank for several years. The General died in Portland on Oct. 13, 1858, at the age of 79. His obituary in the Eastern Argus of 10/14/1858 describes him as being of “vigorous constitution and strong powers of mind; acquired a large estate. Member of the Executive Council of the State. Respected and beloved. “ His body was interred in the family tomb in the Eastern Cemetery.
Information on Phinehas Varnum came from death notices in the Portland Transcript and Eastern Argus; see also “Varnum History” at ancestry.com. His picture can be seen in the Mechanics’ Hall library.
A: You can learn more about what I do at aRicherVernacular.com And I’d be happy to teach you what I know!
A: I first saw the ballroom and met some of the members at a 2-degrees event – the MCMA has such a long history of bringing together people who make things … I joined on the spot!
A: I’m hoping to meet others who are interested in making things and in the ramifications of making. There are so many fascinating, difficult skills to share; so many real challenges, both practical and philosophical, to confront. There’s so much to do! I’m hoping we at the MCMA can do some of it together.
A: MCMA library, I have a web site that has some information about Maine Tool Makers – maine-lytools.com , Maine Historical Society in Portland and the Maine State Museum in Augusta are all great sources.
A: About eleven years ago I purchased 1916 and a 1876 MCMA Constitution books while I was researching the life of a Portland toolmaker Joseph Bradford who was a MCMA member from 1835, he is Portland’s most prolific maker of tools for the Housewright, Joiner, Shipwright, Bookbinder and Cooper’s, I located Mechanics’ Hall and finally figured out when it would be open to ask questions. The librarian at the time asked if I would be interested in joining and gave me an application and I gave her twenty dollars to be able to walk the halls of Portland’s early Mechanics. Sadly Joseph Bradford’s picture was not on the library wall as he only served as a vice president and trustee and other committees and not president.
A: Information about the life and times of the mechanics of the 1800’s.
A: You can visit our website at ‘greendesigns.com’, or call 207-450-3684 to make an appointment to visit our showroom at 250 Commercial Street in Portland’s Old Port district. Our workshop is in the old Blue Star Match Co. building on West Commercial St. and if you’re interested in a tour of the shop, please call.
A: I first learned about MCMA at a Pecha Kulcha presentation at Space Gallery but really got interested in the organization after being asked to participate in a recent effort to update it’s mission in the creative community.
A: I hope to meet and learn more about Maine’s creative entrepreneurs and to offer my assistance to anyone who might gain from my own experience.