By Bjorn Swenson, MHS Guide
You may have noticed this old farmhouse beside the Maine Turnpike in South Portland. It stands out in a landscape dominated by shopping plazas and parking lots. A sign at the foot of the driveway reads “Maine Turnpike Crosby Farm Maintenance Area.” The site is across from Maine Mall Road and near Long Creek.
The Crosby farmhouse is one of the few vestiges of the agrarian neighborhood that preceded the Maine Mall, an area called Crockett’s Corner. The Maine Turnpike Authority purchased the property from the Crosby family just months before the opening of the turnpike in 1947. But the Crosbys were actually the fourth family to own it. The Second Empire farmhouse with its mansard roof was built by the Trickey family, who were the first to cultivate the land around it.
Although the exact year of construction remains unknown — a search of historic maps, the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds, obituaries, conversation with former state historian Earle Shettleworth, and resources on Ancestry.com — helped to reveal stories of the previous owners of the property, a history that stretches back to the early 18th century. The house looks like it was built around 1860-80.
A 1733 deed shows that Lt. Zebulon Trickey purchased 50 acres of land “on each Side the Mast Road leading to Dunston” in (then) Falmouth from Samuel Waldo and Thomas Westbrook, and purchased an additional fifty acres adjoining this land from the same men two years later. Westbrook was a colonial Mast Agent and businessman for whom the City of Westbrook is named, and Waldo was a wealthy Boston land speculator and soldier who bought and sold lots of property in the area during this time period. Waldo County is named for him.
Trickey (c. 1705-1744) and his wife Eleanor (Libby) were from Kittery and had recently settled in Scarborough. They bought and sold other properties in Scarborough and Falmouth as well, and it appears that they did not reside on this land near Long Creek, but in another part of Falmouth which later became Deering. It was their son, also named Zebulon (born 1736) who decided to move to the Long Creek property and start improving the land, probably by the late 1760s. Zebulon, Jr. had already married Rebecca Skillings and started a family by this time. He purchased additional land to add to his farm from Eleazer Strout in 1766 and from the York family in 1789. The original deed from the Yorks is included in the Trickey Family Papers which were given to Maine Historical Society. This collection of documents is almost entirely comprised of deeds which demonstrate the family’s investment in real estate throughout Maine over time.
In addition to running the farm, Zebulon, Jr. bought property and mill rights at Great Falls in Windham, laying the groundwork for the industrial community that grew up there. The area is now the Great Falls Historic District. His son John took over operation of the Trickey mill. Zebulon and Rebecca raised at least seven children on their farm at Long Creek, and their oldest son, yet another Zebulon, eventually inherited the property.
Zebulon Trickey III (1767-1847) married Lucy Mitchell Skillin in 1799. In addition to running his family farm, he invested in the lumber industry by partnering with Thomas Seal and Archelaus Lewis of Westbrook, as agreed to in an 1822 deed. The couple raised seven children on the Trickey farm. Of the six who survived into adulthood, only one left home: Edward married when he was 59 and settled on his own farm in Westbrook.
The other five Trickey siblings lived together, all unmarried, well into old age: Samuel, John, James, Edward, Robert, and Lucy. It was likely during this period when the siblings were running the farm, and after their parents had died, that the current farmhouse was built, or perhaps they modified an older structure. In addition to farming, James served four terms in the Maine legislature. Robert was eventually the last surviving member of his family on the farm, and his biography was included in a book of prominent men in Cumberland County a few years before his death in 1899. He was buried alongside his siblings and parents at Evergreen Cemetery in Portland.
After 166 years in the Trickey family, the farm was purchased by Wilbur F. Dresser, a successful real estate agent with offices on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port. Blogger Scott Leonard has written about the Dresser family on his genealogy blog Old Blue Genes. Dresser lived at the farm with his wife Sarah and their five children for twenty years until he sold the property to Carroll and Elizabeth Gleason. After only one year, the Gleasons sold the 120-acre property to Willie E. Crosby and his wife Lillian in October 1920.
William Elwyn Crosby was born on April 11, 1873 in Hampden, Maine, the fourth generation of his family to live there. He moved as a young man to Bridgton, where he appears on the 1900 census as a merchant, working at a music store and living in a small boarding house. He married Lillian Whitney in 1901. Lillian was born in 1871 in Gorham, and living with her parents in Bridgton at the time of her marriage. Willie Crosby was still working as a merchant on the 1910 census for Bridgton, this time for the box company there, and he and his wife were raising three young children: Mary, Calvin, and Rodney. He had switched to farming by the time he registered for the World War I draft, and the whole family moved to South Portland around 1920 when Willie and Lillian bought the old Trickey farm to run as a dairy.
The Crosbys’ daughter Mary (1903-1998) married Victor Tribuson and she eventually moved to California. Calvin “Joe” Crosby (1905-1986) pursued a career as a carpenter, raising four children, and retired with his wife Emily in Casco. Rodney (1909-1995) carried on the Crosby Dairy Farm business after their father Willie died in 1938. He and his wife Irene tended a herd of about one hundred cows by the time the Maine Turnpike Authority came knocking in the late ’40s. Planning for the turnpike began in earnest in 1941, and the proposed route cut directly through the Crosby’s farm, splitting the old farmhouse from their pastures on the other side of Payne Road (now Maine Mall Road). After contemplating whether they should try to keep part of the farm, the Crosbys signed the paperwork selling 223 Payne Road in its entirety to the Maine Turnpike Authority on May 6, 1947. Rodney and his family were allowed to stay in the farmhouse until August 1st of that year.
After the Turnpike Authority turned the Crosby farm into a maintenance facility for the highway, the Crosbys moved to Westbrook where Rodney worked in the finishing department at the S. D. Warren paper mill. He and Irene raised two children. Rodney, his brother, and their parents were all laid to rest in Westbrook’s Woodlawn Cemetery.
Time marches on, and the neighborhood around the Trickey / Crosby farm continued to change. The nearby Portland-Westbrook Municipal airport (now Portland International Jetport) developed into a much larger facility. Then came the Maine Mall and all the shopping plazas, starting in 1969 with the opening of Jordan Marsh department store. Troop G of the Maine State Police, the unit that patrols the turnpike between Kittery and Augusta, also used Crosby Farm as their headquarters between 1986 and 2009.
Other than a few old homes on Westbrook Street, and two small graveyards, the house at the Crosby Farm Maintenance Facility is the most visible reminder of the people who went before us in this once close-knit neighborhood.
I want to thank Kathryn DiPhilippo, Executive Director at the South Portland Historical Society, for providing obituaries for the Crosby family, and Kathy Amoroso, Director of Digital Engagement at Maine Historical Society, for posing the question of this house’s history and helping with the research.
About the Blogger: Bjorn Swenson leads tours of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House at Maine Historical Society.