Tag Archives: Fox Court

Looking for Dorothy: Dorothy Gilman in Portland, Maine

Every few years I read one of my favorite books, Caravan, by Dorothy Gilman. Although I rarely re-read fiction, there’s just something utterly delectable about this book. Pure escapism, and a unique love story. I read Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax spy series, also sheer entertainment, while growing up in California. In researching a bit about Dorothy Gilman after re-reading Caravan, I was amazed to find that she lived in Maine, and is one of our “Maine women writers”! I set out on a quest to discover more about her life in Maine.

A digitized letter at the Maine State Library gives Dorothy Gilman’s address as 7 Fox Court, #410, in Portland, in 1978. Abraham Schechter in the Portland Public Library’s Portland Room helped me find out where Fox Court was, which was on a street parallel to lower Exchange Street, between Fore and Middle Street. Not much is left of Fox Court, just an alleyway that has been renamed Patton Court, after World War II general George Patton. There is a parking garage on one side and the back of the storefronts on Exchange. It appears that soon after this letter dated August 1978 Fox Court changed to Patton Court, according to the city directories, although there is still mention of it in the 1982 Portland city directory – the listing for Exchange Street states that in between 26 and 29, Fox Court begins and Milk Street ends. There is still a little alleyway there – perhaps remnants of Fox Court, although a little unclear, as Fox Court paralleled Exchange Street.

In the 1978 city directory there is still a listing for Fox Court, as being “from Exchange Street to the Canal Bank parking lot.” More specifically, there is a listing for “7 Fox Court Studios.” Perhaps this was some kind of artist studio? From what I hear, this was a tough neighborhood in the 1970s. In the 1920s it sounds like it was even worse, according to the 1924 tax records: “Remarks – This lot is covered by buildings of no value, most of them being in a decrepit state. There is some little income but could not get it.” Fox Court buildings may have suffered from Urban Renewal, as well as “paving over paradise to put up a parking lot” (or parking garage in this case).

The Portland Room’s newspaper index led me to an article about Dorothy Gilman in the Maine Sunday Telegram, Oct. 24, 1982, which gives more clues to Gilman’s life in Maine. It states, “Ms. Gilman had lived quietly in Portland for five years,” and goes on to say that her move to Portland was “more or less random” after deciding that she no longer wanted to live permanently in Nova Scotia. Apparently living in a small fishing village had run its course. Starting out leasing a condo on the Eastern Promenade, she discovered that there were warehouse apartments on the fourth floor above Exchange Street, where she was still living in 1982. Unfortunately I couldn’t find Dorothy Gilman (Butters) in the city directories for those years so I’m not sure exactly where she lived. If the back of her apartment was on Fox Court, perhaps that’s where her mailing address was. There is a building on that side of Exchange Street that has four floors, so perhaps that was her building. The article in the newspaper has a a more exact description of her apartment.

Fox Court (now Patton Court) – building with four floors was perhaps where Dorothy’s apartment was?

Possibly the building Dorothy Gilman lived in with the four floors

I will continue to research, but for now, when I walk by the alley that was Fox Court, or stroll down lower Exchange Street, I will think fondly of Dorothy Gilman and her wonderful, transporting, books.

P.S. I found the book that is mentioned in Gilman’s letter to Shirley Thayer at the Maine State Library, “A new kind of country,” at the Portland Public Library, which tells of her life in a small town in Nova Scotia. From what I’ve read so far this book will remind Long Islanders of our lives on an island in Maine, in Dorothy Gilman’s usual charming way. The Long Island Community Library has seven of her books, including “Caravan” and several from the Mrs. Pollifax series.