Monday, July 13, 2015

Groundbreaking for Windham's Village Green - By Walter Lunt

Amid the construction noise of C.R. Tandberg’s heavy equipment, representatives of the Windham Historical Society, Windham town officials, including the legislative delegation, business people and community residents gathered last week to celebrate the next big step toward the creation of Windham’s Village Green history park. The complex, to be located on a two and one-half acre field between the town hall and the society’s old town house museum, is slated to become a multi-unit museum and living history center dedicated to preserving the stories and artifacts of Windham, from early settlement (1734) to the present.

Society president Linda Griffin broke ground with a gold shovel and in prepared remarks reviewed the past five years of planning, engineering, fund raising, permitting and just plain dogged determination. Griffin acknowledged and thanked an extensive list of volunteers, benefactors and supporters that helped bring the project to this stage. 

The park got its start with the purchase of property abutting the society. The two and a half acre piece included the homestead of the late Julia Reeves, an 1855 Greek revival house fronting Gray Road (Route 202). Donations and proceeds from the sale of an earlier historic house owned by the society paid for about a third of the $168,000 cost of the Reeves property. Rental income from the house helped to cover the mortgage, and smart budgeting enabled the society to make extra payments toward the principal. After only five years, the society now owes only about $23,000. The park will, in time, support 10 or 12 separate structures, each with its own historic purpose.

Current construction will result in the completion of a driveway, parking lot and drainage system. In addition to the old town house museum (1833), two small libraries from earlier times have been moved on to the site, and an old shop is nearing its conversion into a one-room schoolhouse.

The map shown was the original conception of Village Green, taken from the Society’s five-year plan begun in 2011. Minor changes have taken place.

The former South Windham Library, recently acquired and not pictured here, will feature displays relating to South Windham. Each of its four walls and a proposed future ell will feature photos, artifacts and written histories of the Cumberland and Oxford Canal, early mills, the rail line and depot, hose and hose reels used during the time of horse drawn fire wagons, and other topics related to what once was Windham’s Main Street.

The Old Grocery museum is slated to be moved to Village Green from its present location on the corner of Windham Center Road and Route 202. It is fully equipped with early Windham artifacts and occasionally open to the public. The building will feature the wide variety of original household items it once sold as a general store, including tools and hardware, penny candy, clothing, animal feed and grain, and food and foodstuffs. Early photos show men sitting around a stove in the typical fashion of early general stores.

Eventually, an addition to the current town house museum is anticipated. It would include a lecture hall that could accommodate up to 100 people. Historical programs presented by the society often attract audiences beyond capacity. The facility would also have a climate controlled room to properly preserve old documents and sensitive artifacts.

The Old Town House museum will continue to house the society’s offices and, in addition to archival work, be used for historical and genealogical research. 

The old Windham Center Library, formerly located beside the Old Grocery museum, was moved to its present site many years ago to preserve its historic status. Plans include the re-creation of the early library with many original volumes and card files. Other possibilities include historic clothing (especially appropriate given that the building was once a tailor shop), period furniture, the trade and tools of Windham’s early doctors and the history and artifacts of the town’s native Indian population.

Originally conceived to accommodate the Society’s annual plant sale and its future orchards and historical gardens, the so-called potting shed is under re-consideration and its status uncertain.

A disassembled New England style barn sits covered and protected on the Village Green grounds. The aging post and beam structure was donated from another location in Windham. The Society will seek grant money to re-assemble it in the park. Its use will be a display area for large items such as carriages, machines and antique vehicles. Warm weather lectures and community gatherings are envisioned, as well as classes, demonstrations and even dances.

A pole barn would accommodate open air demonstrations and displays, such as antique farm implements.

The society plans a reconstructed post and beam blacksmith shop with a coal-fired forge and hand cranked blower for repairing artifacts and creating metal tools and equipment. Society blacksmith Sam Simonson will conduct demonstrations, and perhaps give lessons, of 19th century blacksmithing methods.

Formerly a gun shop, this building is under renovation and being transformed into a late 19th century one-room schoolhouse. Project coordinator Dave Tanguay has helped to gather desks and benches from Windham’s early Quaker and other schools. He envisions a fully equipped and authentic school house complete with an early American flag, lanterns, pot belly stove, teacher’s desk with hand bell, water bucket and dipper, and a slate chalkboard. Lectures and even old-fashioned schoolhouse lesson experiences for young and old are anticipated. Thanks to an Eagle Scout project, an addition to this building was constructed in 2014 to serve as a “cloak room.”

Currently rental property, the 1855 Greek revival house will likely be one of the last units to be developed in the Village Green. Eventually, the interior will be converted into an authentic Victorian era home with period architectural styles and furnishings.

The existing garage will likely serve the park as a storage and repair facility.

In addition to its aesthetic appeal, the “gazebo on the green” will function as a comfortable place for visitors to meet, converse, read, or simply reflect. It would serve as a centralized spot for weddings or a musical performance.

The orchards, pictured near the parking lot, already have a start. Long time society member George Ricker has donated several heirloom apple trees and has helped train other members to oversee their care.

 Griffin sees the Village Green as a destination park. “Right now people have to travel to Augusta, Norlands or Willowbrook,” she pointed out. “We want to be not only a museum with stand-alone displays, but also a living history center.” Reflecting on the distinction, Griffin said visitors will be able to engage in a one-room schoolhouse experience, not just look at it. Presenters in full period costumes will demonstrate and invite visitors to participate in spinning, weaving, caning, tending herb gardens and canning. Kids can participate in making ice cream, turning the crank, chopping the ice and spooning the salt. “Nobody wants a stuffy, touch-free atmosphere,” said Griffin. “Let’s revive the industrial arts using“And best of all, we’re within walking distance of the schools. Imagine the possibilities.”

Ongoing information on the creation of Village Green can be accessed at 

Windham Historical Society held a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, June 25, for its new expansion called The Village Green, planned to be a living history center. Shown here, from the left: Windham Code Enforcement Officer Heather McNally, State Rep. Mark Bryant, State Rep. Patrick Corey, Maine Sen. Bill Diamond, Windham Historical Society member Lyn Tanguay, WHS Vice President Dave Tanguay, WHS member Jim Hanscom, Windham Town Manager Tony Plante, Peter Godsoe of Norway Savings Bank, Town Councilor Chair David Nadeau and WHS President Linda Griffin. Also present but not in photo: Town Planner Ben Smith, Asst. Town Planner Amanda Lessard, Technology Service and Reference Librarian Barbara Kelley; Adult Services Librarian Sally Bannen and Tim Tandberg and his construction crew. 

Photos by Brian Brigham.

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