It Happened in Windham: The Old Tavern at the Center

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Sitting right next door to Corsetti’s on Windham Center Road is a lovely old Colonial home that was once a very early tavern in the center of our town. The building was framed in the late 1700s by Samuel Hanson, who came to Windham in the 1760s. His son, William, finished the building and it was he who was the first person to open it as a tavern. It was known in the eighteenth century as the “Old Tavern at the Center.”

At that time, Windham Center Road was one of the few thoroughfares open to travelers between the western settlements and the coastal city of Portland. The Old Tavern was a welcoming place for those seeking a warm meal and a soft bed after a hard day of traveling through the wilderness.

Some passengers would stay only for a night, but some might decide to stay a bit longer, working in some capacity in the public house to pay for their room and board. Every meal at the old tavern would have been served with beer. Water was considered unsafe to drink here in America in those days, just as it had been back in the British Isles, so beer was the popular beverage of choice.

A typical breakfast at the tavern would have consisted of a mug of beer, a bannock (a flat quick bread cooked from grain), a bowl of porridge and, often, a cornmeal pudding known as mush. The midday meal would feature some sort of meat, possibly deer, squirrel or hare, served with dumplings, vegetables and beer. The last meal of the day, served late in the afternoon, generally consisted of meat pies, hasty pudding with bacon, oatmeal porridge, some kind of egg dish and beer. Meals would have been served on wooden plates called trenchers that would often be shared by two people.

Over the years, the tavern prospered and it remained in the Hanson family until William’s son, Samuel, sold it to John Reed in 1827. It then changed hands several times and belonged to a number of different people, including Enoch Gammon of Naples and Benjamin Goodridge, who sold it to Edward Boody, a member of the prominent Boody family in 1837.

By 1855, the tavern was in the hands of William H. Smith, a very popular landlord and businessman in town. During his ownership, the business thrived as both a favorite public house and stagecoach stop. It was during this time that teamsters and stagecoaches from the White Mountains would stop here for a bit of rest and nourishment. The weary travelers were also grateful for a spot where their horses could be fed and watered and tended to for the night. Smith would eventually sell the building to Alley Hawkes in 1862, but he continued being the proprietor of a tavern, running the Longley Tavern in Raymond for over 30 years.

The structure stopped being a tavern with its purchase by Hawkes who used it as a primary residence. His business was the Old Grocery store, a Windham Historical Society property that still sits across from Corsetti’s to this day.

In 1931, the house was sold to Maurice Linwood Rogers and members of the Rogers family are still in residence there. Current owner Don Rogers has lived in the home since he was 6 and he is now 94. His wife, Norma, has lived there for the entire 64 years of their marriage.

The interior of the house has many beautiful old features. There are wide pumpkin pine floors throughout and incredible wide board paneling in what might have been the bar room in the tavern’s early days. Norma Rogers has also unearthed some interesting finds in her time in the old homestead.

One day, while looking through a hole in the horsehair plaster in the living room ceiling, she saw the rich color of the upstairs floorboards and by the end of the day, had yanked all the plaster from the ceiling to expose the building’s impressive ceiling beams.

The most interesting find of all, however, was a secret room Norma discovered while cleaning out the living room fireplace to put in a stove. She pried out a loose brick to find a crawlspace that may have been used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Slaves making their way north to Canada and freedom may have spent some time in the cramped little space while waiting for safe transport to a new life. “There’s only room for one person to stand up in there,” Norma told me.

The house has been lovingly maintained over the several decades the Rogers family has owned it. It’s a beautiful example of Colonial workmanship and a pleasant reminder of the days when Windham Center, not North Windham, wasindeed considered the “center of town.”

Haley Pal is a Windham resident and active member of the Windham Historical Society. She can be reached at haleypal@aol.com.

This private residence was a tavern in Windham’s early days.

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