There are still a few people in Windham who recognize the name “Popeville,” given to a small section of town near Windham Center and the schools. This area was settled before the Revolutionary War by several families who were Quakers. When they first came here, they were shunned by the established church authorities and many of the residents. Nevertheless, their numbers grew and they built a meetinghouse, school and many sturdy homes.
Popeville was named for the Pope family. Around 1768, a Quaker blacksmith named Elijah Pope came here and built a big brick house, which is still occupied in 2013. He and his wife had a dozen children. Several generations of Popes, beginning with Elijah’s son Nathan, established a mini-industrial center at Popeville, making use of the water power of the Pleasant River. In time, beginning with a small woolen mill, the settlement grew to include a dye house, fulling mill, cotton mill, greenhouse, store, a shop for manufacturing clothes, a cooper shop and boarding house. There was even an on-site coffin maker, Charles Nichols, who eventually moved to the village of South Windham. Popeville was well known in those days before the Civil War as the center of industry in Windham.
The Pope brothers needed more water power to expand and had bought the water privilege at a place on today’s Route 115 known as the Narrows and built a dam. This is where the outlet of Little Sebago starts and flows into Pleasant River near Route 302 (today’s Rotary). At the end of April 1861, it started to rain and continued into May until the lake was more than 10 feet above normal. On May 7, the dam went out and by the time the flood reached Popeville, it brought with it bridges, logs, broken-up saw mills and carried away the Popeville bridge and most of the Pope mill buildings!
They rebuilt, repaired and continued in business – but then came the days of Civil War. The Quakers were pacifists and most did not go to war. They joined to form an Underground Railroad station to aid escaping slaves. Elijah Pope’s great-great granddaughter (in 1900) remembered those days and that the brick house built by Elijah was a station on the railroad. She told a reporter in the early 1900s that the runaway slaves hid in the apple orchard behind the houses and all this anti-slavery action was kept secret.
In 1879, the mill property was sold and a year later most of it burned. Another man bought the grist mill – he was in his 80s and did a fair business, but 10 years later another fire leveled the property. It was not rebuilt.
Many of the houses built by the Popes and other Quakers still stand in Popeville, a testament to those long-ago settlers.