A Safe Place for Sailors
Built in 1881, The Seaman’s Friends Society constructed this hotel, the Mariners Building, to serve as a safe haven for sailors who came into port and were often exploited and hoodwinked by ship captains and crimps. Seeking to get sailors back onto ships for another tour, it became hard to find willing folks to return to this dangerous and arduous work of being a sailor, so ship captains turned to crimps whose job it was to get young sailors into debt during their stay in Portland, with housing, food, drinks and prostitutes, so that they would have to return to the ship to pay off their debt. The Mariners Building, now The Society Hotel, was one of the only safe places for sailors to lay their heads.
The building was originally three stories, and was later lifted, and what is now the first floor was constructed. The unique window configuration on the front of the building is attributed to the fact that it was once the entryway. One of only twenty cast-iron front buildings in Portland, the unique Italianate architectural style has been studied by many, and revered by the architectural community.
Several years after The Seaman’s Friends Society opened as a hotel, business began to dwindle, and the building was eventually rented to the Portland Hospital for one year. During the renovation process, the original register of patients was found, with signatures of visitors including Lovejoy, Ladd and Hawthorne.