It Happened in Windham: In the good old summertime

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When you stop and think about it, the mid-twentieth century was not that long ago. There are still quite a few of us who remember watching “I Love Lucy” and “Leave it to Beaver” on our black and white TVs, playing with hula hoops, and listening to our favorite tunes on transistor radios. And yet, somehow, those days seem so much simpler a time. People relied on telephones and front porch conversations to keep in touch and on warm summer days, they’d congregate at some of their favorite spots in town.

In the 1940s and 1950s, people in Windham would often spend their Sunday afternoons at the C Bar C Ranch listening to the “hillbilly” music of singer Ken Mackenzie and his traveling variety show. Located in a wooded area near where Buck’s Naked BBQ is today, this popular venue featured a stage, seating and a concession stand, making it an ideal way to treat the family to some fun entertainment.

Mackenzie was a popular radio star on WGAN and his show included his wife, Simone, and after time, his son, Little Ken. There were also three pairs of female singers who traveled with him, Dot and Jean, Toodles and Jeanie and Dot and Gloria. Vocalist Betty Gribben was another fan favorite at the time.

If it was a warm summer evening, folks in town might hop in the car and head to the Windham Drive-In to watch a movie and grab some snacks, or they might visit Gate’s Ice Cream, which used to be on Route 302 where White Knuckle Kustoms is today. The ice cream was made with local cream and was so incredibly delicious that people traveled all the way from Portland to enjoy a sundae or a cone. On many a hot summer night, it was not unusual for cars to be lined up on both sides of Route 302 with people anxious for their cool, refreshing treats.

If you felt like going out to dinner in the 1940s, you’d probably visit Lowell’s Restaurant or the Bean Hole Bean, where beans were actually cooked in a hole in the ground. The restaurant changed hands, and in the 50s and 60s, it was known as Kilgore’s until it was sold again and became Red Sands in 1971. These days, it is Franco’s Bistro.

Another popular dining place back then was the Top of the Hill Restaurant located where Lake Region Animal Hospital sits nowadays. Longtime town resident Rita Bernier remembered going there to watch one-man-band Al White perform on weekend evenings.

For many years, a wonderful spot for a summertime family outing was Sebago Basin Tenting, a campground that had its start in the 1950s and continued operating for three decades. It was easily recognizable by its A-frame rec hall that would have been seen where we currently find Walmart. People from Windham and away, would gather here to enjoy a time filled with family-friendly fun and wholesome entertainment.

There were ping-pong tables, pinball machines and a jukebox in the rec hall and hayrides at 7 each night. At 6 p.m., you might catch a baseball game played by teams of campers. Sometimes, outdoor movies were shown, and on holidays, kids of all ages could participate in such activities as three-legged races, horseshoe tournaments and watermelon-eating contests. Some nights, potluck suppers were offered. Sadly, the camp was destroyed by arson in 1986.

Dancing used to be big in Windham on Saturday nights, and for residents, Lakeland Dance Hall was the place to kick up their heels and have a good time. No liquor was allowed in the dance hall building which was located on Route 302 near where Sebago Lake Automotive is today. That didn’t stop patrons from bringing their own stash along, however, and when the band was on break, the party simply continued in the parking lot.

If you were a member of the agricultural community, the Pleasant River Grange would have been your spot of choice on Saturday nights .There, grange members enjoyed dancing, concerts, even minstrel shows. Members also participated in potluck suppers and this was a wonderful place to socialize with people of similar interests.

Of course, the Windham where we reside today is still a wonderful place. We’re lucky to have an incredible natural resource like Sebago Lake right in our backyard. We’re far enough out of the city to feel like we live in the country, but not so far away that it’s inconvenient to get there. We have amazing nature trails, a fun park and some fascinating historic sites. And while it’s always nice to recall our town’s nostalgic past, living in Windham here and now, it’s still pretty easy to have good fun in the summertime.

Haley Pal is a Windham resident and active member of the Windham Historical Society.

Singer Ken Mackenzie and his traveling variety show were favorites at the C Bar C Ranch

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