Friday, November 6, 2020

History on the move: Windham Historical Society relocates storied Old Grocery museum

Building move changes landscape at Windham Center

By Walter Lunt

Once a tailor shop, grocery and grain store and
headquarters for a garden club and community
theater, the historic Old Grocery museum gets
its move on to a new location in the Windham
Historical Society's Village Green History Park.
Windham’s landmark Old Grocery museum has a new address. For the second time in its 182-plus year history, the wood frame structure, adorned with historic ornaments, one of Windham’s oldest commercial buildings, was plucked from its granite stone foundation on the southwest corner of route 202 and Windham Center Road and moved north about 1,000 feet, presumably to its last neighborhood inside the Windham Historical Society’s Village Green history park.

The process of transporting the 36-foot by 20-foot building involved the use of steel I-beams and wheels. “We literally built a trailer under (the building),” said Cole Watson, who coordinated the move. The procedure took about two hours with minimal interruption of traffic.

Preparations began weeks before the move. Builder Dave Johnson said logistics, permits and site work (including the frost wall at the Village Green site) seemed never-ending. He is credited by everyone involved with the move as performing with extraordinary foresight and workmanship. Fragile antiquities were packed and removed from the building; unbreakable items remained inside and moved with the building to the history park.

The move has been in the making for a long time. Windham Historical Society President Sue Simonson says traffic and congestion prompted the decision to relocate the building.

“The Old Grocery’s current location is too close to a very busy intersection with little room to park a
vehicle or safely hold tours (or do) building maintenance,” she said.

An attached shed, or annex, which was not part of the original structure, did not travel with the museum, but instead was razed several days ago due to its deteriorating condition. The annex had housed the town’s historic horse-drawn hearse (dating back to the late 19th century) which was moved to the Village Green.  

Asked if any relics or artifacts were found during the relocation process, Simonson announced the discovery of a former cemetery headstone associated with the Hunnewell family of Windham. The brick, granite and cast-iron stone had been replaced with a new one and the original donated to the society. Also found was a section of charred remains from Babb’s covered bridge, which burned in 1973.

Spectators, many wearing winter coats and hats, watched the move from the Route 202 sidewalk and from lawn chairs at the home of Norma Rogers next to Corsetti’s store. All said they favored the building’s move because the museum would be more accessible to visitors. Store owner Donato Corsetti observed that from every angle at the intersection visibility is improved for drivers and pedestrians.

“It’s a major, major improvement. It makes it a lot safer for the kids walking here from school,” he said.

Windham's Old Grocery Store museum, which
has resided on the corner across from Corsetti's
Store since 1838, was lifted from its old
stone foundation and moved to the nearby
Windham Historical Society's Village Green
History Park (indicated by the star). 
The cost of the building’s relocation, one of the most ambitious Windham Historical Society projects in recent history, exceeded $40,000. That was not an amount, according to Simonson, for which the non-profit could just write a check. It was the result of fundraising.

“One of our wonderful members, Dorothy Samuelson, came forward and offered to head the fundraising project,” Simonson said. “Her love and enthusiasm for history, the society and this building is just what we needed. She raised (the money) from generous individuals from our community.”

The vacant lot at Windham Center is owned by the historical society. Its Board of Directors has indicated no use for the space and will probably sell it. 

Next time, the Old Grocery building has had multiple owners and functions in its over 182-year history. We’ll examine its fascinating history.  <

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