Lots of people, newer to the area than I am, wonder sometimes how Windham got to be the way it is. This question is raised in public and print and I’ve always though that if they knew the history, the present wouldn’t be a mystery! The history of Windham is a lesson in land use and provides answers to “what happened” to the former wilderness north of Boston.
We began May with three dozen folks from many towns including Windham on a big yellow school bus, maneuvering through a couple dozen of the town’s most historic – and important – sites.
The school bus, terrifically driven by one of Windham’s excellent school bus drivers, wended its way to the location of Lot #1 – a spot almost on the road now that the road has been widened countless times over the years. When the granite marker was placed, it came with the caveat that “this stone must never be moved,” because all lots of land in the town were measured from this marker.
On we rolled, down the River Road, to a place I remembered as a big field with another granite marker in the middle of it. Today, we’re fortunate that the property owner in whose yard this marker now stands is willing to leave it be. This marker was placed at the spot where the early settlers saw the end of their conflict with the Native Americans in the area. The place where Stephen Manchester killed Polin, leader of the local natives, is today easily seen from the road if one is not looking for a field, as I was.
Back we went to the Parson Smith House in the area of the first settlement, surely a treasure. At the time it was built, it must have seemed ostentatious among the rather crude small buildings in which the Parson’s congregation lived.
Over the paved roads, the bus went with tour guide Walter Lunt pointing out feature after feature: the old Quaker Meeting House, built in 1849 and still active today; the site of several large productive mills, down over the hill from today’s high school, in Popeville; Main Street in South Windham village, where mills of all kinds operated for decades; and serene Windham Hill, home to lawyers, doctors and stage coach stops. We viewed a new development, spread over the fields where the local militia once practiced, before the Revolutionary War.
Several areas show remnants of a canal where boats once ferried goods from Portland to areas north of us, into the interior of the land. Trains replaced the canals and their boats and, in turn, highways and motor vehicles became the method of transportation.
Many, many other equally historic highlights kept us all awake and staring out the window! All in all, even for this long-time history buff, the trip was fascinating and according to all the comments we heard, everyone learned more about Windham’s rich history.
The trip was made possible through Windham Adult Education and it would be worthwhile if it were repeated. Presently, the Historical Society hosts bus tours every year for all third graders in Windham. Get them started early and they’ll be more informed adults.
See you in a couple of weeks.