Devil’s Corner, officially known on state maps as Knightville, is a small neighborhood in South Portland. It is home primarily to poor immigrant families. While the majority of the residents here are Latin American, some migrants from Asia and Africa live here as well. Most older people here do not speak English, and families are insular and wary of outsiders, especially white people. There is a high crime rate in this area, and it is home to several small street gangs. This has led to the area being used as political capital by politicians seeking to appear “tough on crime.”
Devil’s Corner can be found on Google Maps in South Portland, under it’s official name of Knightville
Devil’s Corner began it’s notorious history as a quietly tolerated red-light district near the South Portland docks. Sailors in port would visit this area for drink, women, and gambling. The neighborhood got it’s colorful name in the early 1800s from Richard Bedford, a wealthy landowner who decried the sinful nature of the place.
Shortly before Maine became a state separate from Massachusetts in 1824 the neighborhood burned down, destroying the local businesses and many homes. Legend has it that the fire was started in a brothel by an angry wife. Richard Bedford bought up the land from the state, to use as warehouse space for various shipping concerns. Much of the land was used to house dockworkers and their families, as well as many of the people who had made their homes in Devil’s Corner before the fire. The neighborhood was renamed Bedford, although many of the locals continued to use the older name.
In 1858 a major Hurricane swept through, destroying many of the warehouses and businesses, now owned by Richard Bedford’s son, William. Though he intended to rebuild, the beginning of the Civil War cut off or destroyed many of William Bedford’s holdings in the South, and he lost much of his family’s wealth. This was followed by the US Treasury filing charges against him for tax evasion, leading to rumors that his family was cursed. The Union seized the destitute family’s wealth, and in 1867 began construction of the Knightville State Prison.
The prison was delayed for years by economic issues in the wake of the war, and by various construction accidents attributed to the “Curse.” There was also a civil uproar about housing federal criminals in an urban location. This eventually led to the project being abandoned, although a wing of the prison was completed in 1880 and held inmates for several years. The prison was eventually purchased by the Catholic Church and converted to the Lady of Mercy Charity Hospital, which provided health care to the poor.
Over the next century, particularly during the Great Depression, the poor flocked to the area, particularly immigrants. Urban legends grew in that time, stories of hauntings, lights in the sky and under the waters in the harbor, tales of witches, psychics, and seers, even stories that The Devil himself made his home in the neighborhood named for him. For despite attempts throughout the years to change the name, everyone still calls it Devil’s Corner.