Friday, October 27, 2017

Windham Historical Society celebrates the present with a tour of the past by Lorraine Glowczak

At the first stop, Friends Meeting House
The Windham Historical Society celebrated its 50th anniversary with two historical tours on Saturday, October 21. The tours included stops at historical sites that made an important contribution to the growth of the town.
The two tours were offered at 10:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and were fundraising efforts for the Historical Society. “All proceeds [from the tour] go to the Village Green,” stated Haley Pal, a Windham Historical Society member. The Village Green is a work in progress, with the vision of becoming a Living History Center, to be established in the near future.

The tours hosted a total of 60 individuals and began at the Windham Historical Society, 234 Windham Center Road. The building that the society now calls home was built in 1833 and served as the first Windham Town Hall.
The first stop along the tour included the Friends Meeting House on Gray Road. Sometimes referred to as The Quakers, this church was the second religious group to settle in Windham, arriving before 1774. 

The Quaker belief system is committed to nonviolence as well as equality among all individuals. As a result, Quakers were involved with the Underground Railroad. It was discovered by those on Saturday’s tour that Elijah Pope, a Quaker and dentist of which Pope Road in Windham is named, offered his basement as part of the Underground Railroad for slaves who were making their way to Canada and on to their freedom.

Another famous Windhamite that was mentioned along the tour was Thomas Chute (Chute Road).  He was the first settler of Windham and well-known community member that served as a deacon and town clerk. One can visit a monument in his honor on Chute Road near Sweat Road.

Payson Smith Home
Another significant stop along the tour was the Parson Smith House. It was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1973. The Parson Smith House (c 1764), located on River Road near the Windham Correctional Facility, was home to Windham’s second settled minister, Rev. Peter Thatcher. The house was handed down for five generations, eventually being willed to the Historical Society for the Protection of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) in 1953. It is now a privately-owned home, but tours are available by appointment. last of multiple stops included the once successful Gambo Gunpowder Mill on Gambo Road. The mill was active during the Civil War and provided a large percentage of the gunpowder needed during that time. It also provided work opportunities for individuals in the surrounding New England areas. Although the financial gain was significant, so was the cost of life due to many factory explosions. Today, one can explore the area to find artifacts left from that time period.

The people that attended the tours seemed to enjoy it,” stated Pal. 

Those who attended the first tour did seem to enjoy not only the stops along the way but the new knowledge they received from the historical information that was shared. “The Fall Historical Tour was such a nice way to get together with my daughter and friends, enjoying some of our favorite places in Windham; learning more about our town’s history, and enjoying a beautiful fall day,” tour participant Donna Emerson said.

A perfect Autumn day at the former Gunpowder Mill location
Emerson’s daughter, Mary Emerson agreed. “Everyone on the tour was extremely knowledgeable. My favorite part of the tour was learning about the Quakers and seeing inside Friends Church. A lot of people do not understand how interesting Windham’s history really is and I encourage more people in the younger generation to take advantage of tours like these to understand the town you live in.”

Saturday’s weather contributed to the tours’ success. “Saturday was a perfect autumn day to view some of Windham’s historic places with friends,” Lisa Fisher stated. “During the guided tour we learned about the beginnings of Windham, and the people who made it.  We saw houses of worship and Parson Smith’s home. We listened to the river flow under Babb’s Bridge and enjoyed the foliage and sense of antiquity at the Gambo Gunpowder Mill. I hope the Historical Society does another tour soon.” 

Pal stated that the success of this past Saturday’s tour is indeed creating conversation among the Historical Society members and they are strongly considering another historical exploration next year.

For more information on the tour, the history of Windham or to become a member of the Historical Society, contact the society at 207-892-1433 or

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