Thursday, June 25, 2020

Before the memory fades: Welcome to Popeville – a rebirth of neighborhood pride

By Walter Lunt

(First of a three-part series)

Lee Allen still remembers the stories. Living today on the Allen homestead on Cartland Road in Windham, the 65-year old retired coach and middle school teacher tells about growing up surrounded by neighbors and family who often talked about the history of  Windham, and about their eight-generation home known as Sunset Farm. It is situated in the center of the old neighborhood known as Popeville.

Lee Allen stands with family members at the base of a
welcome sign he constructed and installed on the corner
of Swett and Pope Roads. From left are Joe and Jeanette
Cummings. Sarah and Issac Allen, Alice Cobb and Candy
and Lee Allen. All are residents of Windham's Popeville
neighborhood. PHOTO BY WALTER LUNT 

Those stories included building a dam and the creation of an industrial center from the steady, even flow of water on Pleasant River that included several mills, a store a carpentry and a blacksmith shop.

The stories recalled Popeville as a station on the underground railroad, supported by the ‘peculiar’ religious sect known as Friends, or Quakers, and their simple lifestyle and customs.

And the stories included the furious wave of water that drained a portion of Little Sebago Lake, destroying the lives and livelihoods of the Pope family and hundreds of others along the Pleasant River flood route.

Neighborhood borders are ill-defined. And sometimes change over years. But the generally accepted area known for over 200 years as Popeville is bounded on the north by Windham Hill and on the south by the ancient Quaker burial ground on the corner of route 202 (Gray Road) and Pope Road. It was originally settled by the Quaker Elijah Pope, who moved here from Portland in the late 1700s and established a blacksmith shop. More on Elijah and his remarkable and industrious family in a later installment.

Lee Allen’s ancestors were among the earliest settlers of Windham, going back almost to the mid-18th century, establishing their farm property from the so-called 3rd division of land grants.

The Pope and Allen families joined in 1794. As described by Samuel T. Dole in his book Windham in the Past, “Ebenezer, son of Peltiah and Hanna (Hall) Allen, married Charity, daughter of Elijah and Phebe Pope of Falmouth (now Portland). They were Quakers (and) settled on the farm near Pleasant River…He also had a sawmill on the river near his house and for many years carried on lumbering in connection with his farming operations.”

“My ancestors grew up in Popeville,” said Lee Allen, “Charity and Ebenezer were my great-great-great grandparents. (Growing up) I was inundated and surrounded by Windham history. I started reading Dole’s history in my early teens.”

Lee said his grandmother, Florabelle Allen, who, as director of the school lunch program for Windham schools in the 1950s, and well-known in the community, was always ready with a history story to anyone interested enough to listen. And his father, L. Wayne Allen, was the same way. “I’d be riding with him somewhere and he’d say, ‘See that house over there,’ and he’d launch into a story about those people or certain events that happened there.”

The eight generation Allen family farmstead is highly visible to anyone traveling Swett Road from its intersection with Pope Road. Signage on the old New England style barn reads Sunset Farm 1790. And what is the origin of the name?

“We don’t know for sure,” says Lee, “but we do see great sunsets from the barn yard.”

Among the many treasured family artifacts at the farm is a butter stamp with raised lettering that reads Sunset Farm. Lee explained that butter would be imprinted with the name of the farm from which it was made and sold. He estimates the stamp to be over 100 years old.

Fearful that the rich history and heritage of Popeville will someday be lost, Lee decided to resurrect a sign that was lost to time over 60 years ago. Erected this spring, and prominently displayed at the corner of Swett and Pope Roads, the sign reads Welcome to Popeville and features the names of several families currently living there.

Lee milled the sign at his own sawmill, routered and painted the lettering and coated it with polyurethane.

“I didn’t want the Popeville name to disappear just because people don’t know about it,” he said.

Next time, the Popeville story as the historical record examines the amazing contrast from industrial center in the 1800s to sleepy hamlet in the 1900s and today.  <

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