Grace restaurant: Portland history captured here and beyond

Grace restaurant Portland

Grace restaurant, Portland landmark, was one of the few structures to survive the fire of 1866. (Gannett File)

DealChicken spends a lot of time hunting and pecking around Portland in search of the best daily deals. So it’s no surprise he’s come across more than a few interesting facts in the process. From the invention of canning to the Grace restaurant, Portland is full of fun facts.

One of Portland's oldest churches has found new life as Grace, an upscale restaurant. The Gothic revival-style building is on the National Register of Historic Places and was one of the few structures to survive the Portland fire of 1866. Restaurateurs Anne and Peter Verrill worked closely with a historic preservation consultant and an architect to carefully restore structural elements like oak pillars, stained glass windows and the Connecticut brownstone that forms the façade of Grace restaurant. Portland locals can enjoy both fine food and fine architecture.

Mead, a centuries-old beverage made of wine and honey, is alive and well in Maine. Portland is home to one of the few mead makers in the country: Maine Mead Works. It was founded in 2007 as a tribute to the mother of all alcoholic beverages, the sustainability movement, local bee keeping and Maine itself. Maine mead is a taste of medieval times with a decidedly modern twist.

Celebrated film director John Ford (born John Martin Feeney in 1894) is the proverbial "local boy makes good." Raised in Portland, he was an altar boy at St. Dominic's Cathedral and an all-star athlete at Portland High School. When his brother Francis left for Hollywood and changed his surname to Ford, John followed suit, and the rest is history. Ford's illustrious resume includes "The Grapes of Wrath," "The Quiet Man" and "Stagecoach," which Orson Welles once said was his "movie textbook" as a budding filmmaker.

Local boys Isaac and Nathan Winslow pioneered the canning industry in Portland in the 1800s. In fact, they were among the first canners in the U.S. with corn as the first product. They developed and patented a process by which food could be stored, heated and then sealed in a can, which prevented bacterial growth but preserved flavor and freshness. Local farming and industry flourished thanks to their discoveries.

Another Portland native, Dave "the Guesser" Glovsky, started boxing at age 16. He fought champion Irish Jim Feeney to a draw in 1925 but proved to be no match for his own mother, who put a stop to his career when she chased him out of the ring one night. He never boxed again but later became known for his uncanny ability to guess a person's age and weight. In 1985 he appeared on "Late Night" with David Letterman and wowed the audience.

Big and burly Civil War veteran Thomas “Czar” Brackett Reed was not a Portlander to be messed with. He is best known for killing the congressional filibuster, which, prior to 1890, allowed one party to obstruct the legislative process by not answering the roll call. Since a quorum of representatives on both sides had to be present, this act stymied the House and stopped it from functioning. The "Reed Rules" were initiated by Reed, serving as Speaker at the time, when he declared the silent members of the House as present whether they showed up or not.

Widow Toy Len Goon was a true Portlander. Her pluck and tenacity saw her through immigration from China, learning English, running a successful laundry business on Forest Avenue and caring for and educating her eight children, all without a husband. Impressed by her dedication, hard work and sense of duty, her neighbors and friends in Portland nominated her for Mother of the Year in 1952. She won and was sent on a trip to the White House, where she met First Lady Bess Truman.

Much like today, Portland was a center of culture and arts in the 1860s. George F. Morse, an artist and official at the Portland Company, founded a group of amateur artists called it the Brushians. These local men met every Sunday with brushes, paints and canvases in hand to capture the beauty of local landscapes. Their works are considered historically significant as they depict Portland at a time when such images were rare.

In 1775, Lt. Henry Mowatt came to Portland (called Falmouth back in the day) leading a small fleet of British officers with orders to punish colonial towns that openly rebelled against the British Crown. Protestations by Portland’s leaders had no effect on Mowatt. He and his men bombed and decimated the town and its shipping industry. King George III rewarded Mowatt with a promotion and formal reception. Mowatt later died of an apoplectic fit, unheralded for further deeds.

In 1799, French pirates boarded the schooner Betsey, robbed its crew and captain and held them for ransom. The dangerous encounter led Captain Lemuel Moody to quit the seafaring life and come back to land—and so much the better for Portland. He later built a majestic, octagonal communications tower on Munjoy Hill. The observatory still stands as proudly today as it did back in the 1800s when it guided sailors into Portland’s busy harbor.

Already know about the Grace restaurant, Portland roots and more? Check out these fun Burlington facts.