When driving down Windham Center Road, it’s hard to miss the distinctive Goold House with its lovely Colonial Revival wraparound porch and the unusual tower that rises high above its ell. And just as interesting as its unique design is the history of some of the inhabitants who once lived inside.
The story of the Goold family in Windham begins in 1774 when Benjamin Goold came to town and was employed by a farmer on Windham Center Road. Over time, he owned his own property and built a log cabin where he and his wife raised 10 children.
He went on to become a prominent citizen in town and served as Windham’s tax assessor and collector and amassed a considerable amount of property before his death in 1807.
One of Benjamin’s sons, Nathan, was born in 1778. In 1802, at age 24, he purchased 60 acres of land that would become known as Goold Farm. Nathan married Miriam Swett in 1803 and they had two boys. Sadly, in 1805, Miriam and their first son passed away.
He later remarried and had three more children. It is believed the Goold House we see today was built in the 1820s while Nathan was living on the farm. After his death at age 45 in 1823, his widow, Betsey, stayed on the farm with their children, William, Miriam and Nathan Jr.
William Goold was 14 at the time of his father’s death. His mother, wanting him to learn a worthwhile trade, sent him off to Portland to apprentice under Seth Clark, a tailor. William would walk from Portland to Windham many times during his seven years of apprenticeship, but his hard work paid off, and in 1834, he became Clark’s partner and married his daughter, Nabby.
The couple moved from Portland to Windham in 1837, and in 1838, William opened his tailor shop in the building that is now the Old Grocery Museum at the corner of Windham Center Road and Route 202. William enjoyed finding salvaged pieces from old buildings in Portland that were about to be demolished. The elaborate carvings on the front of the Old Grocery were retrieved from a church in Portland, painted and put into place over the front door for decorative enhancement.
By the 1860s, William Goold had become involved in politics. He served as a state representative in 1866 and as senator in 1874 and 1875. He also published many articles on the history of Maine and was very involved with the Maine Historical Society. He is best known for his history of Portland, titled “Portland in the Past,” that was published in 1886.
The impressive tower on the ell of the house was built by William Goold, supposedly to be used as a peaceful writing retreat that kept William safely away from his seven rambunctious and noisy children. He died in 1890 at the age of 81.
One of William’s children, Abba, was another resident of the Goold House and also a renowned member of the family. She was born in 1838 and was educated in Portland schools. In 1856, she graduated as class valedictorian from the Girls’ High School in Portland and later that year, she married her high school principal, Moses Woolson.
Her husband’s profession took them to many locations over the years from Portland to Cincinnati, Ohio, to Concord, New Hampshire, to Boston. Sometimes, Abba helped with teaching duties at the schools where Moses was employed, but as time went on, she came to realize that much like her father, she had developed a passion for writing.
She published a number of books, including “Women in American Society,” “George Eliot and Her Heroines” and “With Garlands Green.” She was also an early feminist and her lectures on dress reform made it clear that she was not very fond of the corsets, petticoats, hoop skirts and other cumbersome clothing in fashion at the time. In 1886, when Portland was celebrating its centennial, Abba Goold Woolson was asked to write and recite an ode about the city to commemorate the occasion.
After her retirement, Abba returned to the family farmhouse in Windham. She became a bit eccentric in her later years and some remember a strange event that happened at the Goold House in 1912. That summer, two relatives of Mrs. Woolson were staying with her at the house. They had a beloved cat named Buffy. When Buffy Greenleaf Clark passed away, an elaborate funeral was held in her honor with guests arriving in full funeral garb. The cat was placed in a pink satin-lined coffin with a pink rose in her paw and there was a procession to the cemetery behind the house to lay the kitty to rest. She is buried there along with five generations of the Goold family on a ridge known as Happy Hill.
Abba died in 1921 and the house eventually fell out of the hands of the Goold family. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990 and it is a private residence these days.
Haley Pal is a Windham resident and active member of the Windham Historical Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Goold House on Windham Center Road.
The belvedere of the ell’s tower was used by William Goold as a writing retreat.