This story has been in the back of my mind for some time.

It is the story of a particularly charmed piece of Main Street: 305 Main. This building is currently, and for a short time in the future, the home of the Brass Compass. This lovely little building will soon pass to a new owner.

This story is one of amazing good luck in the midst of two massive conflagrations.

According to Ann Morris’s excellent historical book “A Walk Along Main Street,” 305 Main was built in 1854 by William H. Thorndike, a merchant who later built the Thorndike Hotel. This was built as his residence and sold by his widow in 1873. It became a saloon, and later a shoeshine shop and billiards parlor.

On June 16, 1920, a fire broke out in a storage shed off Winter Street and spread to buildings connected to the Berry Brothers Stable on Main Street. The fire would wipe out everything from Winter Street to within mere feet of the little building at 305 Main.

The Courier-Gazette proclaimed it to be the “Worst fire in Rockland’s history.” The main structure lost in this fire was known as the central garage. It was a place where summer people, traveling salesmen and those without driveways stored their automobiles.

Ninety automobiles were lost in this fire, among them Buicks, Cadillacs, Studebakers, an Essex, a Dort, a Dodge, an Overland and a Stearns Knight.

Berry Brothers still boarded horses at the time, and a brave Rockland patrolman was able to free the horses and get them to safety.

The fire ended up bringing new life to Main Street with the construction of the fireproof garage on Winter Street (Which ironically endured three fires, including one in recent times).

That space is now home to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. The Dondis family purchased some of the land to build our landmark Strand Theatre.

The next fire to threaten the little building at 305 Main, occurred December 12, 1952. The headline of The Courier-Gazette on December 13 says it all:


Firefighters from 13 communities responded, as well as civil defense, National Guard and Coast Guard. It was feared that the whole town would be consumed. My mother had just moved to town, and remembered hat-sized embers flying by her second floor apartment on the corner of Cottage Street in the north end of town.

Gene Kenniston told me the story of his high school basketball game in Brunswick that night. There was special excitement for the Rockland hoopsters, as the game was for the first time to be broadcast on the radio. Just before half-time the WRKD broadcasters began packing up their equipment. Gene asked them where they were going.

“Rockland is on fire! We have to go.”

The fire destroyed a wide swath around the Park and Main Street intersection, jumping South Main to travel south and north across Park Street, burning halfway through the four-story brick Spear Block East whose northern wall was inches away from 305 Main Street.

Whatever the future holds for this little building, one thing is for sure.

It has seen a couple of hot suppers.

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.

Spear Block East the morning after the 1952 fire. Photo from Glenn Billington – Courier-Gazette archive