Friday, June 2, 2023

Before the memory fades: In honor of Windham’s hometown heroes during World War II

By Walter Lunt

The Windham High School Kiwanis Band, orchestra and glee clubs were halfway through a command performance that was being broadcast to a local radio audience on the Sunday afternoon of Dec. 7, 1941 when, suddenly, all activity came to a halt. The radio show, known as Maine Schools on the Air, was a live remote broadcast from the school’s auditorium (town hall gym today). The production was the culmination of weeks of preparation by the students and the music staff, consisting largely of Windham’s Class of 1942.

The Windham High School Kiwanis Band. Clinton Graham,
center, was director and played oboe for the Portland
Symphony Orchestra. The band was unable to complete
a remote radio broadcast from the high school when the
national network cut in to announce the attack on
WHS CLASS OF 1942    
“It was a special event – big doings,” said Carroll McDonald, a high school senior at the time, “…and it required a lot of preparation – lots of rehearsals. It had to be as professional as possible.” McDonald was waiting to present a solo on trumpet, “but I didn’t get to play it. At first, we didn’t know what was going on. We were off the air, but you could hear (an announcer) talking. Then everyone was quiet – people were floored, astounded.”

The on-air interruption was, of course, breaking news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. McDonald, 98, remembered, “This (event) changed the rest of our school year quite a bit.”

Writing in the 1942 Windham High School yearbook, Editor-in-Chief Louise Manchester wrote, “Our country is now involved in a second great World War…We, the youth of today, realize that it is our duty to share the responsibilities that accompany our fight for democracy…One of our most important projects has been the training of all high school boys and many girls in the study of First Aid. Many girls have completed courses in Home Nursing…”

McDonald remembers buying U.S. Defense Stamps, “for pennies.” Later, the stamps would be turned in for a $25 War Bond. By the spring of ’42, the students were calling for scrap metal to be dropped off at the school. “We had a huge pile of donations: old, unused farm equipment, tea kettles, plows, harrows…anything made of metal. It got melted down and made into something to fight the war with; the U.S. was ill-prepared.”

School buses could no longer transport students to after school activities, however those who had cars provided conveyance. The yearbook also reported, “This year, because of the demand for more food, the boys of the Future Farmers of America Club (a school sponsored group) are having more and larger projects. Members of the boy’s 4-H Club participated in a “Food for Victory” project while the girls Hi-Y Club made white shirts for the Red Cross.

As a young lad, barely 17, McDonald was called upon to help out with the war effort by manning an aircraft warning tower situated on a high point of land at the intersection of Chute and Webb Roads. His job: Keep eyes on the sky and listen. His tools: Binoculars and a phone. His shift: 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. one day a week. He cannot recall if he was ever late for his first period class at school.

Rationing of critical resources such as gasoline, rubber, sugar and even cigarettes soon followed. Folks who were “holding down the home front” learned to get along with less. McDonald recalls one of his neighbors, Arthur Cobb, who lived on the corner of Gray Road (Route 202) and Gambo Road. “His nickname was pipe because he was always smoking a crooked corn-cob pipe; he would always brag about saving gas by shifting his car into neutral when going downhill. He’d leave his house going toward South Windham; when he got to Grant’s Corner (Binga’s today) he’d coast until he crossed the railroad tracks. Another time, there was a crash at that corner and the car started leaking gas. The fellow who lived in the brick house ran across the road (to the disabled car) and put a milk pail under the wreck to catch the gas.”

Perhaps the most grievous and disheartening effect of the war was the impact on family roles. Husbands, dads and brothers went off to serve the country; grandparents, wives, moms, sisters and children willingly and diligently assumed new duties – in some cases on a learning curve.

Kenneth Griffin was 8 years old, living with his mom and dad, grandmother, two brothers and a little sister on the family farm on River Road, when the radio soap opera "One Man’s Family" he was listening to was suddenly interrupted with the disturbing news of Pearl Harbor. “I went from childhood to early adulthood that day in 1941,” recalled Griffin, “A few minutes later my father (a machinist’s mate in the U.S. Coast Guard) drives into the yard. He rushes into the house and runs upstairs. In no time he’s back in uniform kissing Mom goodbye and drives away. I couldn’t grasp what was going on, but life for the Griffin family changed that day.”

Griffin’s brothers soon left school to work in the “new” shipyard in South Portland; by 1943 they would leave home to serve in the military, but not before teaching young Kenneth how to run the farm. “I was almost 11 by then. We had two cows, 25 chickens, one pig and a John Deere tractor complete with tow bar, hay mower and plow.” He was now “man of the house.”

Now, age 91 and living in California, Griffin emailed a few memories of those war years. “The plow lever was so heavy that I had to stand up on the tractor and use both hands and legs to pull it down or lift it up. Fortunately, our (vegetable garden) rows were long so there was time between the exercise. (My brother) was a fine teacher and gave me good instructions before he left.”

The following year, Griffin’s dad would be missing in action, “…and the checks stopped coming!” Mom would find work in Portland where she found living accommodations and work at a five-and-dime store. Back on the farm, 12-year-old Griffin and his grandmother would keep the fires burning. Dad would eventually be located, recuperating in a Halifax hospital.

Lloyd “Buster” Gilman of Windham says he was about 10 years old and lived on Gambo Road when the war impacted his family. “We had a big garden: cukes, tomatoes and potatoes. There was a neighbor who used to sneak into our cellar and steal potatoes. We raised chickens and my mother would can them. They were good in those jars. I remember eating a lot of hot dogs, poor man’s food.” Gilman said the abandoned Gambo Gunpowder Mills, located near his home, had a canon that was once used to test the gunpowder. He said it disappeared – scrapped for the war effort. Gilman’s mother, Alice, kept a diary. Her entries are revealing regarding the burdens and concerns of the home front in Windham during World War II.

Feb. 23, 1942: Listened at 10 p.m. President Roosevelt talk.

May 5, 1942: Got our sugar rationing books, each (family) allowed ½ pound a week.

June 23, 1942: Took all our old rubber and tires to salvage. Got 1 cent a pound. We had 88 pounds.

March 29, 1943: Started rationing meat, butter, fats and canned fish.

July 13, 1944: Army bomber crashed over at South Portland into a lot of trailer camps, killing 16 – injuring several.

April 17, 1945: Put up clothes for the relief of war victims in Europe.

May 8, 1945: The war is over in Europe. A great day for everyone.

July 7 and 8, 1945: No eggs anywhere in any store. Butter has gone up to 89 cents a pound. In Portland charging over $1.

Aug. 14, 1945: They announced over the radio that war ended with Japan. Everyone celebrates. Built fires in the streets, threw tons of paper, Everyone happy. I was so happy not only for my boy that is fighting, but for all others too, and their mothers, wives and sweethearts.

Another Windham resident named Gilman who also remembers the sorrow and hardships of the war years is Hazel Gilman, who has lived nearly all of her 104 years in the same house on River Road near Grant’s Corner. Hazel holds the town’s Boston Post Cane and says life in Windham during World War II “changed immensely.” She married Kenneth Gilman in 1941 and no sooner had they started a life together when he was called to the war in the Pacific. “I had a hard time getting used to the idea that he was gone.”

Hazel and Ken did not have children but were helping to support members of their family. As a result, Hazel determined she would have to find work. “We simply didn’t have all the things we needed and things were scarce, especially meat and sugar. We depended on ration stamps. We didn’t go anywhere – there was just not enough money.” She found work a short walk up the road at Thayer’s Store.

Ken was in the Navy on a sub tender. Hazel would check the newspaper every day hoping to learn the location of his ship. They would write to each other nearly every day, but often his letters were held up until five or six would arrive at the South Windham Post Office on the same day. When that happened, she recalls that the letter carrier would drive to her house after hours so she wouldn’t have to wait an additional day.

“Everybody had someone they were worried about – a husband, brother or nephew.”

But there was a bright side to the period, she recalls. “People helped each other out. Some large families had more ration stamps than they really needed, so they’d drop the extras off at the store and we’d give them out to folks we knew needed them.”

Hazel chuckled as she remembered the time a shipment of cigarettes, which were rationed, arrived at the store. “We had to hide them because people would try to steal them.” It seems a young store clerk received the shipment and immediately shoved the cartons under the counter, out of sight, but right beside and on top of packages of mothballs. The mothball flavored smokes resulted in many irate patrons. Store staff, however, couldn’t help but find some amusement in the bungled butt blunder.

This column wishes to extend deep respect and remembrance to all lost in war on this Memorial Day. And special thanks to the reader of this column who suggested we highlight and remember “the folks back home,” before the memory fades. <

Friday, April 14, 2023

A matter of the historical record: The enslavers and the enslaved of 18th century Windham

By Walter Lunt

They were called “servants.” Most did not have a surname. Tax records referred to them as “servants for life” (to distinguish them from indentured servants). They were African Americans and in 18th century Maine (a district of Massachusetts) their numbers were estimated to be about 4,000, including about 20 in Windham, according to one scholarly estimate. And to be clear, they were slaves.

A bill of sale sent by Thomas Chute to Moses
Pearson of Standish. Chute was Windham's
founding settler and a tailor. Chute lists 
clothing he made for Pearson's slave.
“There is a misconception that we (Northern slavers) were good to our slaves,” says history researcher Vana Carmona, who has been researching named slaves of Cumberland County for over nine years, “This is something we try to tell ourselves to make us feel better about what (the enslavers) were doing. It’s a lie!”

Carmona’s analysis is echoed by Maine historian Charles P.M. Outwin. Writing for the Maine Historical Society’s publication Maine History, Outwin states, “Although some slaves in New England may have developed a close relationship with their masters, no slave was pampered. All were one way or another exploited in the northern colonies, as they were in the southern colonies.”

Writing in the current issue of Maine History (Winter, 2023), author Gayle Kinney-Cornelius writes, “Although there is much that will never be known, current historic discoveries…prove that New England’s reputation as a bastion of slave well-being and universal freedom is inaccurate. Research historians have dug deeply into archives and uncovered a more balanced understanding of slavery in New England.”

Horrific, even grisly, events induced by northern enslavers do survive history’s whitewashed stories. A Maine minister sent his young slave girl out in the snow to retrieve cows. Unable to find them and too afraid to return without them, the girl remained outside into the night and was found froze to death the next day. In a coastal town, a fisherman sliced off a section of his dead slave’s buttocks to use for fish bait. According to author Kinney-Cornelius, “…efforts to (uncover the dark secrets of colonial slavery) have been hindered by both the dearth of and the erasure of essential historic documentation…when memories of an event causes shame or embarrassment.”

The work of male slaves in the District of Maine and in other New England states consisted of farming, lumbering, fishing, and manufacturing. Enslaved women worked in the home as cooks, laundresses, maids and nurses. Some were trained in spinning, knitting, and weaving.

Documentation from primary and secondary source materials reveal three individuals of African descent enslaved in Windham in the 18th century. They were Phyllis, Chloe and Lonnon. Phyllis was the domestic “servant” of another Maine minister, Parson Peter Thatcher Smith and his wife Elizabeth Hunt Wendell (who built Windham’s well-known Parson Smith House in 1762). Phyllis was in very real terms the “wedding present” of Elizabeth’s mother, Madam Wendell of Boston.

Phyllis has the distinction of being the only slave in Cumberland County to be memorialized in a life-sized portrait. The oil painting on wood, or dummy board, shows a short, slender woman with brown curly hair, brown eyes and a small mouth turned slightly upward in a barely-there smile. She carries a tray of steaming cups of chocolate. Unfortunately, the portrait no longer resides with the historic house. It is unlikely that Phyllis was ever freed, and it is believed she is buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby Smith-Anderson Cemetery.

Two other early Windham slaves were boarded in the same neighborhood on River Road. They were Lonnon and Chloe, owned by the family of Windham’s second settler, William Mayberry. They were married by Parson Smith in 1763, but when Mayberry died soon after, Lonnon and Chloe were bestowed separately to his two sons. Lonnon enlisted in the Continental Army in the War for Independence for which he was paid 20 pounds, which he turned over to the Mayberry’s for his freedom. He would die, probably from misery and exposure under Gen. Washington at Valley Forge, and is buried at Whitemarsh Encampment, New Jersey. Chloe and a daughter, Lucy, remained in Windham for six years, after which, according to historian Outwin, she married Prince, the former slave of William McLellan of Gorham. Prince had gained his freedom following service in the Revolutionary War.

Another likely slave in Windham is identified as Romeo Smith. Little is known about Romeo except that he was born a slave and resided in Windham some time before 1775. With the promise of freedom, he opted for military service in the Revolution. Outwin reports that Romeo “served as drummer for Captain Skillings’ company in the Continental Army.” Following the war, under threat of being reclaimed as a slave, he sought help from General Henry Knox who wrote a proclamation substantiating Romeo’s three years of military service and that “Romeo Smith is a free man…”

One great irony, as noted by historian Kinney-Cornelius, “Black people could not vote, nor could they serve on juries, but they were required to pay taxes. This is…an example of taxation without representation, one of the very conditions that had angered white colonists and led to the American Revolution.”

Carmona, the researcher, writes, “There was nothing “ambiguous” about an unfree servant who is not referred to as a slave. Everything was always at the convenience of the enslavers…the Mayberry’s wanted money from Lonnon when he went to war…the enslavers wanted compensation. But the formerly enslaved got nothing.”

Outwin concludes his commentary this way, “With the slaves of Cumberland County, named and anonymous, they are part of a melancholy company of shadows forever haunting the twilight margins of Maine’s colonial history. <

Friday, April 7, 2023

The Pioneer Personality of Raymond

By Ernest H. Knight

Dominicus Jordan, one of Raymond’s most colorful earliest settlers, came to the town in 1770 when it was just a grant of land from the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was awarded to the company of men of Beverely under Captain Raymond as compensation for unpaid services in the Expedition to Canada in 1690 to replace previously granted land from which they had been evicted after settlement of the disputed boundary between New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

An ell at the Crockett House in Raymond, shown to the left
of the residence, is the original home of one of Raymond's
earliest settlers, Dominicus Jordan. COURTESY PHOTO  
There always have been and still are Jordans in Raymond, though not in the quantity of earlier times, descendants of the pioneer Robert Jordan of Cape Elizabeth, the immigrant minister who specialized in business and town affairs there and whose progeny leapfrogged the surrounding countryside as the local farmlands became overcrowded. One of Robert’s children was Dominicus Jordan, the first of many so named in direct or ancillary lines.

That Dominicus then had a son, Dominicus, who in turn had a son, Dominicus, both of whom were victims of an Indian raid in which the father was killed by a tomahawk and the son taken captive to Canada. After his repatriation he also had a son, Dominicus, to continue the tradition. But it was the third Dominicus who had a brother, Nathaniel, who provided the Dominicus Jordan who first came to Raymond.

Nathaniel Jordan had acquired from the Proprietors of Raymondtown a 100-acre lot in the fledgling township, but it was his son Dominicus who started out in 1770 to stake the claim in chance company with Joseph Dingey from Duxbury, Massachusetts, who was going to Raymondtown for the same purpose, both with the knowledge that the first to arrive would be entitled to an extra 100-acre lot.

A survey had been made by George Peirce, later active in Otisfield, but the survey was poorly done, proved unsuitable and later had to be redone, with considerable confusion for the settlers. In the meantime, Dominicus and Jospeh camped at night at a carrying place on the Presumpscot, from where Joseph made a quiet and early start the next morning, leaving Dominicus to follow later by foot along the shore of Sebago Pond to the river later named for him where he stopped and stayed.

In 1790, due to the influx of settlers and the inadequate map, Joseph and Dominicus were engaged by the proprietors to remap the township, for which they hired Nathan Winslow, and the new layout was presented to the proprietors in 1791. In 1794, both settlers and records had been shuffled so that deeds could be written and Dominicus was deeded his father’s lot and one for himself, Lots 2 and 3 in the Second Range, which included land on both sides of the mouth of the Jordan River and extending back through the present shopping center on Route 302.

The race for first honors was apparently accepted by Dominicus, but not forgotten or forgiven until the score was settled by another race. Jospeh and Dominicus were summoned to a proprietor’s meeting in Beverly on a matter between them of considerable benefit to whichever presented the most convincing case. Traveling together, they stopped at a tavern en route and at some distance after resuming their journey, a sheriff caught up with them to search for a spoon missing from the table where they had partaken a meal, resulting from information from an anonymous tipster.

Joseph was surprised, though Dominicus was not, when the spoon was found in Joseph’s pocket, and he was escorted back to the tavern to straighten matters out with the aggrieved tavern keeper. Dominicus had to continue his travels alone, but he was enabled to go before the proprietors with uncontested testimony.

The homestead building of Dominicus Jordan, perhaps the oldest structure in Raymond, is the ell behind what is called the Crockett House.

The name Dominicus, along with many others of biblical or ancient derivation, is never heard now except in historical context, but it does have honorable significance in Maine and Raymond, thanks to Robert Jordan and our first pioneer settler of Raymond, Dominicus Jordan. <

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 31, 2023

Before the memory fades: Windham Center skyline to change as historic landmark slated to come down

By Walter Lunt

It has been a prominent part of the Windham Center landscape for over 65 years, and few residents can remember a time when it was not there. Situated adjacent to Windham Town Hall, the forest green-colored 110-foot elevated water storage tank has served “domestic, sanitary and municipal” needs since 1957 when the lofty structure was built to supply potable water for an expanding population in the Windham Center area.

Built in 1957, the Windham Center water tower is old
and undersized. Replacing the tank will allow the
Portland Water District to maximize usable storage,
improve water quality and and optimize system 
hydraulics. COURTESY PHOTO  
Still more upgrades are needed to serve the ever-increasing population of the 2020s says Chris Crovo, director of asset, management and planning with Portland Water District. “The tank is undersized, aging and it has sprung leaks. We’ve had welders up there patching the leaks.”

About 200,000 gallons of stored water sit high above four riser pipes, but Crovo says the current need is 1 million gallons in order to meet usage and water pressure. In addition, the tank needs to be 17 feet higher. He said, “The standpipe (water tower) is getting harder to maintain and has pretty much served its useful life.”

When the tower is taken down, probably sometime in 2024, Town Manager Barry Tibbetts anticipates the space will be used for overflow parking at the town hall.

A replacement tank is not destined to be on town hall hill. Instead, the new location will be a five-acre portion of the new 300-acre Lowell Preserve conservation and recreation park on Libby Hill in East Windham. And it is not slated to be a tower, although it will be elevated (417 feet, as opposed to the 110-foot town hall tower). The new tank can be described as a giant concrete cistern terraced into the side of Libby Hill; it will hold the needed 1 million gallons of stored water, and will serve many more households while supplying more equalized pressure to firefighting equipment.

Town manager Tibbetts describes the new arrangement as a “win-win” for the town office, the Portland Water District and its customers. He is particularly pleased with the partnership formed between the town and the PWD for the project. He says the district has secured an easement for the building of an access road off Falmouth Road to the new tank site. A so-called “laydown yard” will be cleared for use during the tank’s construction, and both the easement road and yard will later be utilized by the public for access and parking at the new park. Both Crovo and Tibbetts say completion of the project will be 2024 at the earliest.

The current water tower next to Windham Town Hall was first conceived in the early 1950s. An article in the Windham Town Warrant of 1954 read: “Art. 53. To see if the town will vote to enter into an agreement with the Portland Water District for the entension (sp) by the District of its existing water main in the Windham Center Road to Route 302 and thence in Route 302 southerly to the City of Westbrook line, and for the furnishing of water by the District through said extension for domestic, sanitary and municipal purposes, including the construction of a standpipe and the installation of approximately twenty hydrants for fire protection…”

It is interesting to note that 10 of 64 articles in the town warrant that year were concerned with hydrant rentals and water main extensions; obviously, a town moving aggressively to serve its growing population.

It is possible the article did not pass, most likely due to cost. However, the article appears again, with identical wording, in the 1956 town warrant (by petition). Construction on the standpipe, water main extensions and hydrants began the following year.

At the time of its construction, the water tower sat beside what was then Windham High School (1910-1964). A tower located next to a high school was indeed a recipe for mischief, especially when one considers that a steel ladder extended from near the ground up to a platform at the base of the tank. During the late 1950s and early 1960s an untold number of teens scaled that tower for the purpose of chit-chat, the view, to drop stuff and, well, just to do it. One group took great glee in throwing squishy apples down onto cars and pedestrians. But the most memorable mischief was probably carried out by the high school’s last graduating class in 1964. That class of approximately 80 seniors had developed a three-word meme, Bob & Sally, the meaning of which was known only to them. It appeared on book covers, blackboards, notes, desks, and walls. Even during graduation exercises, a group held a placard high above the gowns, caps and tassels with those three magic words. Parents looked on, bewildered, teachers and administrators grew red-faced, and the graduates? Well, they just roared with laughter. At class reunions through the years and to this day, that simple message carries a delightful and cherished memory for all the members of the Class of 1964. By year’s end, there was only one more place to mark their territory: the water tower tank. The names of the spray paint perpetrators were held secret for decades. Full disclosure, the writer was a member of that class, and pleads nolo contendere.

The writer shared this story with PWD Director Crovo during the interview for this article. His parting words to the interviewer: “Sorry, but we have to demolish your Bob & Sally tower.” <

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.