(The following column originally appeared in the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Sentry on Feb. 28, 2020.)  

This week, we take a look at the Atwood Lead Co., that was founded by William Atwood. Near the end of the Civil War, Atwood talked with the town of Cape Elizabeth about a desire to build a factory in Ligonia for the manufacture of oxidized lead.

In this winter scene, we see a rare image of the old Atwood Lead acid factory in the Ligonia area of South Portland. Atwood Lead Company’s buildings were located on the northeast corner of the intersection of Main and Lincoln streets. South Portland Historical Society photo

At a town meeting that took place around March of 1865, residents voted to exempt Atwood Lead from paying any taxes for a period of five years. This 1865 vote certainly shows our community’s long history of understanding the ways of economic development.

Atwood Lead was a manufacturer of a variety of products, notably white lead and sulfuric acid. Not surprisingly, the company manufactured products that were needed by surrounding factories. White lead was a white powder that was used as an ingredient in lead paint. It was also used by carpenters and painters as an ingredient in lead putty that they would make to fill holes and cracks (they didn’t have tubes of caulking in those days).

This was a time when lead was commonly used in plumbing and paints, and most people were not yet aware of the dangers from lead exposure or ingestion. It was Atwood Lead’s manufacturing of sulfuric acid that caused Cumberland Bone Co., to relocate here in 1870; I’ll write more about that in next week’s column.

The lead works buildings were located at 59 Main St. If you were at the intersection of Lincoln and Main Street, the Atwood Lead Co., would be on the northerly/northeast corner. While the company name was Atwood Lead, there didn’t appear to be much in the way of signage on the buildings and local residents more commonly referred to the business as “the acid factory.”


In the early years of its business, Atwood Lead manufactured acid from imported sulfur. In 1882, the company proudly announced that they had made changes to their factory that would make it possible to manufacture acid from iron pyrite and, since they could source that material from New Hampshire, they were happy to have developed a way to keep their business here in the United States.

This image of Ligonia in 1871 shows the large factories that were located around Kerosene Corner. Main Street runs from the lower left to the upper right where the road crossed the old Vaughan’s Bridge. Atwood Lead is located in the center of the image, just above the intersection of Main Street and Lincoln Street. From the Atlas of Cumberland County, published by F.W. Beers & Company in 1871. South Portland Historical Society image

It’s interesting to look at the people who were running these factories in Ligonia, as there were a few men who seemed to have a part in many of them. At Atwood Lead, there were a few common figures:

– William Atwood was the chemist who had engineered the construction of the Portland Kerosene Oil Co., plant in 1859; as mentioned in last week’s column, he served as the chemist and superintendent of the kerosene works in Ligonia for almost 20 years, from 1859 to 1878. Atwood also founded Atwood Lead Works and served as its president. He was also at times called upon as a consulting chemist at the Cumberland Bone Co.

– Horatio N. Jose was one of the founding members on the board of directors at Atwood Lead, and later served as its president. Jose also served as treasurer of the Portland Kerosene Oil Co., from roughly 1864 to 1879, then was named president of Portland Kerosene in May of 1879.

– Augustus P. Fuller was the founder of the Augustus P. Fuller Varnish Co., which he started in Portland in 1844. During the Civil War, he was appointed a captain and served as the quartermaster at Camp Lincoln in Ligonia. After the war, he ended up expanding his business by opening a varnish factory in Ligonia, right across from Atwood Lead on Lincoln Street. He would also serve as the treasurer of Atwood Lead from 1870 until his death on Jan. 11, 1899; in February of 1899, the stockholders of Atwood Lead elected Augustus’ son, Augustus G. Fuller, to become the company treasurer.

Documenting these 19th century businesses is not an easy task. Some clues have been found through various bits and pieces of historic paper that have been donated to the historical society. We’re very grateful to one of our society’s members, Art Gaffar, who has always kept his eyes out for photographs, invoices, letterhead, or anything else related to Ligonia. He has donated many pieces over the years. I’d also like to thank our volunteer, Jackie Dunham, who has been diligently seeking out references to these companies in old newspapers. When we’re lucky, sometimes an advertisement in an old paper or a reference in an article might give further clues about the operations of these large factories.

Horatio N. Jose was one of the founders of Atwood Lead Company and later served as its president. He also served as the president and treasurer of Portland Kerosene Oil Company in Ligonia. South hPortland Historical Society image

We’ve also been lucky to find some information about these businesses in old court cases. The Standard Oil anti-trust lawsuit had some interesting fact-finding that provided some information on Portland Kerosene. There was also an interesting lawsuit between Atwood Lead Company and one of its neighbors and customers, Cumberland Bone Co.

Do you have local memorabilia or photographs to share that show scenes from around South Portland in earlier years? Please contact South Portland Historical Society at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, by phone at 207-767-7299, or email sphistory04106@gmail.com. Thank you.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at sphistory04106@gmail.com.

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