It Happened in Windham: The two Andersons of Windham Hill

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In my last It Happened in Windham column, I talked about Maplewood, the Anderson homestead on the River Road. This week, I’ll introduce you to two more Andersons who lived in a lovely Colonial house on Windham Hill.

The first Edward Anderson was the son of the fifth settler of New Marblehead, Abraham Anderson. He was born on May 10, 1753, and grew up on the 165-acre farm his father owned on River Road.

When his father died in 1770, he inherited the farm and built the home he called Maplewood on a site of land his father had selected. The house known today as the Anderson/Lord House still proudly stands across the street from the Parson Smith House, though it looks different now than when Edward lived there. The Victorian flourishes were added in the nineteenth century by John Anderson, a politician and another famous member of the family.

In 1790, Edward’s brother Abraham approached him about swapping the home and farm for some property he owned on Windham Hill. Abraham’s wife, Lucy, was the daughter of Parson Smith and she wanted to live closer to her family. Edward agreed and he and his wife, Mary, moved their family to a replica of Maplewood that Edward built on the Windham Hill property.

Edward was the owner of a very successful sawmill on the Pleasant River near where he lived. Lumber from the mill was used in his Windham Hill home, which was built was in the Georgian style with post and beam construction and a center chimney. It had wide board wainscoting, and there some early paneled doors and original thumb latches  remain in the house today, as do beautiful wide pine floor and even some original windows.

Edward was active in public life as well. He served as a lieutenant in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and was town clerk from 1777 through 1782. In 1798, he became Windham’s first postmaster. On July 1, 1781, he was commissioned a major in the Massachusetts Militia by Gov. John Hancock.

Edward was a high-spirited man with a commanding physical presence. He was known for having strong opinions and readily expressing them, but he was also held in high regard for his warm-hearted and generous nature. He died in 1804 at age of 51 in the house on Windham Hill. He and his wife are buried in the Windham Hill Cemetery.

While most of the Anderson family was well-regarded by the Windham community, one family member became notable for a horrible blunder that brought catastrophe to the town.

By the mid-1800s, Edward’s son, also Edward Anderson, had inherited his father’s mill and property. The mill was suffering from a lack of water power and he took it upon himself to resolve the situation. He started by tracing the source of the mill’s water to North Windham. He determined the Pleasant River flowed into Smith Brook, a small spring-fed stream, and then into Little Sebago Lake. The lake at the time was separated from a small natural valley by a tiny berm. Anderson decided to increase the flow of water to Smith Brook by digging out this flat strip of land. This would allow Little Sebago’s waters to flow down into the valley, enlarging Smith Brook and thus supply more water to his mill.

On June 14, 1814, after a period of heavy rains, Little Sebago Lake began to rise. The dam serving the brook gave way and the brook became a torrent of raging water. Edward’s ditch-digging was about to be the demise of the very mill he was trying to help prosper.

By the time the surging water reached the Pleasant River, it was flowing so rapidly that the river began backing up and heading back up stream. Watching the river run backwards confounded everyone who saw it.

Edward would go on to rebuild the mill and the business did prosper, but the flooding debacle was a nagging source of embarrassment for him. It was also an enormous expense as he was held responsible for much of the damage.

Edward Anderson died in 1876 at 89.

On Saturday, Oct. 13, the Anderson house on Windham Hill, now owned by Steve Woodward and Jenna Shank, will be open to the public as a part of the Windham Historical Society’s History on the Hill tour. For more information or to order tickets for the tour, call the Windham Historical Society at 892-1433.

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

The parlor of the Edward Anderson House still has its original wide board paneling surrounding the fireplace.

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