Friday, March 24, 2023

Raymond waterways at center of 19th century logging operations

By Ernest H. Knight

March is the end of winter, more or less, and the start of spring, more or less. At least when we know the weather has been bad, we can have hopes as to what might be forthcoming, anything that is better.

Waterways were the most efficient method to transport logs
in Maine to the sawmill in the 19th century and the town of
Raymond was a primary destination for loggers and logging
drivers seeking to move their products to markets for
shipping out of state. COURTESY PHOTO  
Appropriate for this time of year in Raymond, however, is the timber harvest of the winter, when logs were readied for their trip to the sawmills.

Before the days of skidders and tractors, the hauling of logs in and from the woods was performed by oxen and horses; before the days of the chain saw, all cutting was by axe and crescent saw; before the days of good roads and trucks, these logs were transported to the mills by water.

And along with all the ‘before the days of” mentioned, there must be recognition of the various environmental, water quality and conservation agencies that today determine policies and practices. For better or worse, free enterprise is no longer free.

At most local sites there was a sawmill, mainly designed for lumber for local properties. But much of the log harvest went further downstream to the bigger mills that supplied the markets of cities along the coast long since stripped of their forests.

All through the winter logs were hauled from the woods on sleds and unloaded in rows on the ice. When the ice melted, the logs floated and with wind, current and headworks ready to travel. Their route was down Great Rattlesnake, through Tenney River into Panther Pond on through Panther Run and sluiced through the dame on Mill Street into the Jordan River and into Jordan Bay on Sebago Lake.

Mills then had to be at natural falls or dam improvements where water wheels could provide the necessary power for the up-and-down and circular saws.

With melting snows providing flowage and helped by prevailing winds down the lake, the logs could reach Panther Pond without difficulty and cleanup crews of drivers could easily free those caught along the shores or in backwaters.

But in Panther where logs could go far astray because of its width and bays, they could use booms and headworks. The headworks was usually a raft about 10 or 20 feet square on which was mounted a capstan, around which men walked pushing on capstan bars to draw the boomed log floe to it.

The headworks would then be towed ahead in the desired direction and one or more anchors set, the boom pulled up to it and the process repeated as many times as necessary.

In Jordan Bay, the logs would again be boomed for their journey to the Presumpscot, except that in the latter 1800s, the capstan headworks was replaced by steam towboats for the longer and more difficult stretch. As late as into the 1910s, there were times until mid-summer on Jordan Bay from Sam’s Point (now Brown’s Point) to Deep Cove that was solid with logs waiting for transport and with drivers still bringing strays down from Panther.

There are still evidences of the log drives to be found. In the cattail-covered marshlands along Route 302 there are long lost boom logs with their short connecting chains where they were stored when not in use, waiting for the next drive which will never come.

Two steam headworks, named Dupont No. 1 and Dupont No. 2, used by the last operators of the powder mills at Gambo, were abandoned tied up at what is now Indian Point Trailer Park on the Jordan River and their sunken parts dredged up when the boat dock was improved and dumped in back of the campgrounds. All along the route, especially in the shallows of Panther Run and Tenney River, can be seen logs that became sinkers and were left behind. While appearing messy on the outside, the condition is only skin deep and internally, they are in perfect condition for salvage.

Logging practices had to change as the use of our waterways was taken over by summer vacationers for sporting uses, state laws enacted to protect water quality and trucks became available to transport logs directly to mills. Large gangs of woodchoppers and teams of horses and oxen have been replaced by a few men with mechanical equipment who can haul massive loads of logs.

Lost forever is the colorful log driver of years past with his calked boots, pikepole and peavey. <

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.


Friday, March 17, 2023

Amateur historian uncovers lost Windham history

By Walter Lunt

The metal detector started emitting a healthy series of alerts, and it was music to Al Farris’ ears as he slowly swept the Minelab Equinox 800 back and forth over the leaf and stick clutter in woods on Libby Hill in East Windham. According to long-time residents of the neighborhood, the area was once home to generations of farmers, and Farris was hopeful about locating some interesting ancient treasures.

A shoe template is shown, before and after. 
Artifacts uncovered at a cellar hole in East
Windham indicate Gideon Libby may have
been a cordwainer, a maker of shoes.
After a brief dig, Farris came up with a round, coin-sized object thickly coated with years of decomposed forest floor. A delicate brushing with preservation tools revealed what he later learned was a ‘braided hair cent,’ an 1857 penny. Now highly motivated, Farris continued exploring and metal detecting the land surrounding four cellar hole sites on Libby Hill for two more years. To date, he has uncovered dozens of intriguing items both above and below ground.

Farris grew up in Windham. Upon viewing many hours of the reality show “The Curse of Oak Island,” he was inspired to uncover simple treasures close to home. Local residents told him about ancient cellar holes on a hill off Falmouth Road near Little Duck Pond. Over the course of nearly three years, Farris was rewarded with an array of fascinating artifacts that he hopes will be identified and authenticated by experts. Most of his own research has been accomplished using on-line sources.

Early on, Farris sought research guidance from the Windham Historical Society. Old maps confirmed the cellar holes were the site of a family named Libby, and genealogical records revealed the time period, occupations and even military service of at least three generations of the Libby family.

John Libby emigrated from England to America on the ship Hercules during the winter of 1636-1637, eventually settling in Scarborough. His direct descendant, Arthur Libby, born in 1760, married Mary Allen of Falmouth and purchased hillside farmland in Windham. He built a house in 1802; records show the structure, now gone, was still standing as late as 1915. Two of his 10 children, Gideon and Isaac, also settled on the hill.

Farris particularly enjoys finding what he calls “important storytelling artifacts.” He has recovered several shoe templates for making colonial footwear, ranging from child to adult sizes, “and even one for someone with a foot condition. I’ve…restored a few of the templates to bare metal to bring them back to life after a couple hundred years.” Farris speculates Gideon was a cordwainer – someone who makes shoes – as opposed to a cobbler, who repairs them.

“The things I find each tell a small portion of their lives: Oxen shoes, suspender clips and buckles, bathtub claw feet, a World War I general infantry button, a harmonica reed, an 1817 “large cent,” and an 1863 Civil War Union Army token. But the most intriguing item appears to be “a Native American medallion with a wigwam hand punched into it, which suggests that the Libbys lived alongside natives and traded with them,” Farris said. He hopes to one day meet with an archeologist to help him date and verify his finds.

Al Farris is committed, or perhaps obsessed, with uncovering all that can be known about the 200-year old history of Libby Hill, and it is perhaps just a bit ironic that a television show with “curse” in the title provided the inspiration. But as he put it, “All of their (the Libbys) history would be completely forgotten if I hadn’t stepped in to save it all, and I’m absolutely not giving up until there’s nothing left to know…once the snow melts.” <

Friday, March 10, 2023

Forgotten art form adorns Raymond church sanctuary

By Ernest H. Knight

If, as some ancient philosopher is supposed to have said, a picture is worth a thousand words, we do have a scroll of a sorts, long hidden in the Raymond Village Community Church.

When the church was built in 1878 and 1879, the minister of the congregation was an Englishman by the name of Rev. William J. Twort, who had been credited with the interior decoration of the church sanctuary.

The restored sanctuary at
Raymond Village Community
Church includes a painting
in trompe l'oeil art style of an
open bible and reading 'The
word is truth' done in the 
19th century.
But the nature of that decoration was lost to sight at the turn of the century by the application of paperboard panels in the plaster walls, held in place by battens over the joints nailed to the laths, the purpose being to cover defective plaster rather than to hide the decorations.

Many years later someone who remembered had removed a panel in the arch restoring to sight an open Bible with the words “Thy Word is Truth,” which has been before everyone ever since.

Whatever graced the other walls was solved by the removal of two panels of the paperboard. Removal of more or all of the remaining panels as part of needed sanctuary renovation is under consideration.

The owners of many old houses in Maine are proud of their preserved examples of stenciled plaster wall decorations, Rufus Porter murals of trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) of ornamentation or converging lines of structure or scenery.

The owner of a mid-1800s house in Portland, all of whose rooms were decorated with this trompe l’oeil artistry, has been greatly impressed by what has been revealed at the church and urges further exposure toward eventual restoration of what she calls flat wall trompe l’oeil type painting without the intention of depth perception.

The now visible wall painting is in the form of a large rectangle, like a picture frame of lines of varying width and color (blue, buff, gray, yellow and maroon) with enlarged corner meetings of horizontal and vertical elements.

Considering the now visible open bible, words and lines only clairvoyance can predict what else may yet be hidden.

The basic wall paint on which these paintings were superimposed was an unattractive gray, which may complicate final decisions on restoration.

While the paintings may be of little significance or importance compared to older or more skilled work discovered elsewhere, they are located right here in Raymond and are the handiwork of our ancestors left for us to appreciate and protect. <

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.

Friday, March 3, 2023

A matter of historical record: prosperous and tragic, historic gunpowder mills of Windham-Gorham, now subject of documentary

By Walter Lunt

As a kid, Patrick Bonsant spent countless hours indulging his curiosity and fascination with nature.

“I would spend hours and hours just walking through woods, roaming, exploring, observing…I just loved doing that.”

This grainy photograph from the late 19th century was taken
of staff and mill workers in front of the 'Old Stone Mill' on 
the Windham side of the Gambo Powder Mills at Newhall.
A carpenters' shop and foundry was located here to support 
infrastructure needs of the powder mills. OUTTAKE FROM
After acquiring a degree in Communications and Media from the University of Maine, Bonsant said he combined his fascination of nature with his creative interests and, utilizing video and sound, began showcasing the great outdoors and its forgotten stories. His latest production is titled “The Gunpowder Mills of Gorham-Windham, Maine,” a documentary that chronicles the 81-year history of the storied Gambo Powder Mills of South Windham and Gorham.

Much has been written in books and articles about the mills, however Bonsant’s work is the first to document the story with moving images and spoken words.

The mill site, located on both sides of the Presumpscot River at the end of Gambo Road at Newhall in Windham, first produced gunpowder in 1824. The operation proceeded through several owners until about 1905, manufacturing the explosive product for military and sporting firearms and for blasting. It is estimated that 25 percent of all the powder used by the Union forces in the American Civil War was produced at the Gorham-Windham mills.

In his acclaimed 1985 book “The Gunpowder Mills of Maine,” author Maurice Whitten explained that the Gambo Mills were the first, the largest and the longest running powder mills in Maine, and the fourth largest in the nation for many years.

Raw materials necessary for producing gunpowder were potassium nitrate (saltpeter) imported from India, sulfur (brimstone) from Sicily, and charcoal manufactured on site from alder or poplar wood “baked” in cast-iron retorts. The imported ingredients arrived by boat on the Cumberland & Oxford Canal which ran adjacent to the mills. In his book, Whitten quoted medieval philosopher Roger Bacon, “Take 7 parts saltpetre (old spelling), 5 parts hazelwood charcoal, 5 parts sulfur, and you can make thunder and lightning…”

Tragically, some explosions occurred unintentionally during the manufacturing process. Over its 81-years of operation there were several accidental blasts causing loss of life and extensive property damage. Despite an abundance of caution, oversights, inattention and errors were inevitable. Over eight decades of operation, 25 explosions claimed the lives of 47 men.

In one exceptionally horrific blast on Oct. 12, 1855, seven workers were killed while loading powder kegs onto a canal boat. Among the casualties were Franklin Hawkes of Windham and Samuel Phinney and John Swett, both of Gorham. The next day, Portland’s Eastern Argus newspaper headlined the explosion as a “Frightful Accident.”

Whitten reprinted the journalist’s graphic description of the scene: “Phinney, after the explosion, walked several rods, until he met a man who spoke to him, and he instantly fell dead. Swett was thrown nearly a quarter of a mile. Hawkes had his bowels blown out, and one side of his head blown off. A cart, to which a yoke of oxen was attached, was shattered to fragments, and the hair was burned off the oxen almost entirely. A buggy wagon was also blown to pieces, and the horse driven, like a wedge, into a pile of lumber.”

Bonsant says he hopes people will take away several things from seeing his film.

“I wanted to create an understanding of a little-known chapter in Maine (and local) history, particularly, Maine’s connection to the Civil War,” he said. “It’s the story of hard-working men sacrificing to support their families, as well as the hardships (for families left behind) after the loss of the breadwinner.”

“No matter where we go history is all around us. We’re often walking on hallowed ground where great stories happened. I hope this film helps to raise the curiosity in people as they travel around.”

Bonsant is the executive director of Saco River Community Media but characterizes the documentary as a “two-year no budget labor of love.” And, he said with an air of pride, “(the documentary) has been accepted by Maine Public Broadcasting and will be aired soon as part of their Community Film Series.”

Bonsant said that “The Gunpowder Mills of Gorham-Windham” was a collaborative effort made with the help of several local historians and dedicated assistants. It is dedicated to Maurice Whitten “for the reverence and respect he deserves, without which this documentary couldn’t have been made.”

The public is invited to a viewing of the documentary at Windham’s Little Meeting House at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 11.

The event is free. Refreshments will be served and donations to the Windham Historical Society are appreciated. <

Friday, February 17, 2023

Famous Maine cartographer’s work has unique Raymond connections

By Ernest H. Knight

Moses Greenleaf had a unique talent for cartography and his work included maps of Maine before and after it became a state by separation from Massachusetts in 1820. Among his finest works is a wall map which hung for years at Raymond Town Hall before its transfer to the Maine State Museum in Augusta.

Maine's first mapmaker, Moses Greenleaf, lived in New
Gloucester and surveyed much of Raymond and the
surrounding area for his definitive 1829 book
'A Survey of the State of Maine' in which he included
chapters about the land, rivers, mountains, climate,
and people of the state. COURTESY PHOTO 
Greenleaf was born in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1777 but moved to the District of Maine, then still part of Massachusetts, as a boy with his family and grew up a farmer. When a young man, he struck off on his own to become a storekeeper with interests in the Maine wilderness and devoted the rest of his life to Maine promotion and statistics.

His surveying and map-making, writings and gathering of information, and his belief in the future of his state both as Massachusetts and Maine, while an active promoter of the change, belied his meager formal education in the schools of New Gloucester.

In 1829, Greenleaf published “A Survey of the State of Maine” in which there are chapters on such subjects as the land, the rivers, the mountains, the climate, the natural resources, commerce, agriculture, manufacturing, education, and population. His writing showed that in 1820, the relative wealth or taxable property for Raymond at $43, compared to Portland’s $281.

Another of his tabulations, the value per acre of wood and improved land shows Portland’s at $5 per acre, while Raymond’s at just 50-cents. These statistics and the details of his maps are remarkably complete for the times and makes one wonder how he could carry out this work over such a vast expanse of wilderness without the help of telephones, vehicles, libraries, ballpoint pens and other technology we now take for granted.

Greenleaf was heavily involved in surveying land in the remote townships across the state including many of the first properties in Raymondtown and the surrounding area.

The name of Moses Greenleaf is not completely unknown locally even to this day. It is memorialized by the “Greenleaf Subdivision” off Route 302 a short distance east of the Bridgton Road Church in Casco.

There at the entrance, a large-polished granite monument has the name “GREENLEAF” and nearby a boulder has a bronze plaque to “Maine’s First Map Maker – October 17, 1777 to March 20, 1834” and his prophecy of 1815 that “Settlers may soon enjoy many advantages, pecuniary, civil, moral, and religious which flow from a residence in a well settled community.”

As Maine’s pioneer mapmaker, he also is credited with producing the first significant drawings of the many lakes and waterways surrounding the entire Raymond area, including Sebago Lake, Crescent Lake and Little Sebago Lake. <

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Schools encouraged to participate in Chamber’s ‘Polar Dip’

By Lorraine Glowczak

In its third year, the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce (SLRCC) will host its annual Sebago Lake Polar Dip at Sebago Lake’s Raymond Beach on Saturday, Feb 18.

Plunge time begins promptly at noon and spectators are welcome to cheer the brave souls who will be diving in the icy waters along the shores of Route 302.

Participants in previous Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of
Commerce Polar Dip events jump into the freezing lake
waters to help raise funds for Lakes Region food pantries.
This year's Polar Dip will be conducted at Raymond Beach
at noon on Saturday, Feb. 18 and school teams are 
encouraged to sign up. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE    
Right now, there are 10 teams who will participate in the Polar Dip to raise funds to benefit Lakes Region food pantries, all of which are a part of the Chamber’s business connections. The food pantries in Casco, Gray, Naples, New Gloucester, Raymond, Sebago, Standish, and Windham will be the recipients of the funds raised again this year.

But what makes this year’s polar dip extra special is the invitation by Melissa Dubois, Windham High School’s (WHS) Health/PE Teacher and advisor for the Mental Health Advocacy Committee (also referred to as the Kindness Crew) to other Lake Region area schools for a fun little competitive spirit.

“The goal is to help raise awareness about food insecurity right here in the Lakes Region area,” Dubois said. “Right now, WHS has approximately six teams from various clubs who are going to participate in the polar dip. The students are excited to not only try something they haven’t done before but also to do something important that helps others in valuable ways, which also includes the fact this is one of many ways to spread kindness throughout the community.”

Robin Mullins, the President & CEO of the SLRCC, is very grateful for Dubois’ encouragement to the Lakes Region schools. She said that the chamber has promoted participation from all eight towns the chamber supports.

“We always have many teams from the Windham area who participate in the polar dip, but we hope to increase participation from other area towns,” Mullins said. “All eight towns are the recipients of the funds raised so when Melissa approached me with the idea of WHS competing with Gray-New Gloucester, Bonny Eagle, and Lake Region High Schools I was super excited. I thought, ‘Wow. She is a genius.’”

Both Mullins and Dubois contacted the other area high schools and there was interest in participation.

“They were excited about the possibility but weren’t quite sure they could pull it off this year,” Mullins said.

As a result, Dubois and Mullins are collaborating with the high schools to continue conversations about other friendly competitions to raise funds and spread kindness.

“It’s all in the beginning stages but we hope by next year’s polar dip, there will be a big group of students from all the Lake Region high schools who will compete to raise the most funds,” Dubois said.

Of course, safety is of the upmost importance when it comes to jumping into the icy waters of Sebago Lake. Mullins encourages all team members to consider the advice from the American Red Cross.

“Before jumping in the water, stand on a blanket or towel and only remove your clothes right before you enter the water. Wear socks, aqua boots, neoprene surf boots, or running shoes to stop your feet from sticking to the snowy, icy shore or the mucky lake bottom to prevent cuts and scrapes from the frozen ground. If you wear glasses, secure them with a strap or bathing cap.”

Mullins said that spotters will be available with towels to help participants out of the icy waters. There will be two heated trailers to change out of wet clothes and hot chocolate for all participants.

SLRCC is still accepting more teams and jumpers.

“We are looking for more jumpers (student clubs/sports teams, faculty, co-workers, families). They must register online at Jumpers under the age of 18 must have their parent's permission to jump. There is a link for anyone who wants to donate but doesn’t want to get wet.”

For more information about the Polar Dip, contact Robin Mullins at or 207-892-8265. To donate,

Mullins also encourages those who enjoy ice fishing to participate in the Sebago Lakes Rotary’s 21st annual Ice Fishing Derby that is taking place on Saturday, Feb. 18 and Sunday, Feb. 19. You can register online by going to: or forms are available at Sebago Bait Shop in Windham and at Jordan’s Store in Sebago.<

Friday, February 3, 2023

Before the memory fades: Unoccupied Windham farmhouse on Route 302 has long, rich history

By Walter Lunt

Travelers along the stretch of Route 302 two miles east of Foster’s Corner (rotary) have likely wondered about the long-unoccupied farmhouse sitting close to the roadway in serious decline.

Retrieved from the farmhouse, a painting of
Little Orchard Farm from the mid-20th century.
The back reads "To my good friends Mr. and 
Mrs. Brackett," signed Emily B...
Turns out, in the mid-20th century, it was a sprawling, prosperous farm. “I get nostalgic thinking about the place,” says Betty Rideout, who spent decades at the residence. Speaking recently from her home in Michigan, she explained that the 62-acre farm was purchased in 1933 by her grandparents, Carl and Edith Brackett, and became known as Little Orchard Farm.

Posted above its mailbox along Roosevelt Trail (Route 302) were signs advertising the sale of apples, cider and asparagus. “The farmhouse,” says Rideout, “had been renovated in the 1920s to a Greek Revival style and the house, ell and barn were in good shape; “I remember a big, beautiful window over the barn doors which dated back to the 1800s. They had cows and chickens, and out back there were 124 apple trees. Granddad made cider from an 1800s vintage cider press he found in the barn when he bought the place.”

Rideout recalls with great fondness the interior of the farmhouse. “The woodshed was located right next to the kitchen, which had a big, beautiful old woodstove with a copper storage tank for water.” Most of the rooms, she said, were quite large including the living room that had a large pot-belly stove. My grandfather was a plumber so one of the first upgrades was an inside bathroom to replace the outhouse. My grandmother insisted on that.”

Upstairs, in her grandparent’s spacious bedroom, Rideout remembers the “…tall 4-post bed. It had a cover, but my grandfather took it off. They called it a Washington bed because its design was supposedly like George Washington’s bed at Mount Vernon.”

Grandmother Edith played the piano. In the early ‘40s, “… my playpen was located right beside the piano. I would reach up and pluck the keys. One day, Grammie lifted me up and showed me how to play a simple tune.” It would turn out to be a momentous event in her life.

Betty, her parents and brother Robert lived at the farm with her father’s parents from 1943 to 1946. “I was just a little kid, but my grandfather decided I could do anything. He showed me how to cut asparagus stalks from his big garden across the road. He also taught me to drive his 1916 Fordson tractor; I would drag the harrow over the asparagus garden. It’s all woods now.”

Does Betty remember the nearby Ledgeland Market? “Oh yes. My grandmother would give me a list of things to buy, and I would walk down there and do the shopping for her.”

Betty’s family moved to Westbrook in 1946, then to Brunswick, but through the early 1950s she spent summers at Little Orchard Farm, enjoying life “in the country,” and helping out with the farm chores. Grandmother Edith died in 1963, and Grandfather Carl in 1972, whereupon Betty’s brother, Robert, took over living at the farm. He would live there but cease to carry on the farming activities.

In 2018, the floorboards around the old pot belly stove, weakened by a roof leak, gave way and Robert fell into the basement. A neighbor had alerted the police that Robert had not emerged from the house in nearly four days. “When they got to my brother, he was within six hours of kidney failure.” Today, according to Betty, he is doing well living in a special care facility.

Since being abandoned and cleaned out in 2018, at least two local historians have estimated that the farmhouse dates back to the late 1700s. Little is known about the place before 1933. “I’ve been told,” said Betty, “that the original (dwelling) was nothing more than a two-story house, one room built on top of the other.”

The property was sold in 2021, and according to Betty, “The last I heard the barn and ell will be removed and the house restored to its original features, and it may become a business location.”

What would her grandfather say if he could see the severe deterioration of his beloved farmstead? “Heartbroken! He loved that place and I’m sure couldn’t imagine how it could ever look the way it does today.”

Asked about her life today in Michigan, Betty says she is retired and, along with her daughter, composes music, plays piano and records albums – and all the while frequently recalling the day, long ago, when Grammie Edith taught her that simple tune on the piano at Little Orchard Farm. <