William Wilberforce Ruby Threw Wet Blankets, 1866

Story #21: On this spot in 1866, William Wilberforce Ruby threw wet blankets on the roof saving the Abyssinian from burning.

What you may not know is that The Abyssinian Meeting House was a cultural center in Portland, Maine. You may not know that it was a key player in The Underground Railroad. You also may not know about the legacy and leadership of black Portlanders given Maine’s demographic data as “one of the whitest states in The Union”. The Meeting House was the cultural center of the community. Meetings, church services, concerts, a segregated public school, dinners and entertainment made the Abyssinian the center of political and social life which united the community throughout the 19th century.

You also may not know that an underground spring ran through the basement of The Meeting House:

It is one of the few wood frame public buildings from the early 19th century to survive the 1866 Portland fire. The fire destroyed some 1,500 buildings (one third of the city). The Abyssinian Meeting House was saved, largely through the efforts of William Wilberforce Ruby (1834-1906), a black fireman and son of Reuben Ruby, who reportedly protected the building by draping the roof in wet blankets.

The Abyssinian Meetinghouse is the third oldest African American Meetinghouse still standing in America.