Friday, April 12, 2019

Before the memory fades: The history, mystery and controversy of Windham’s Old Quaker Burial Ground

By Walter Lunt

Located at the crossroads of Route 202 and Pope Road, it’s an unassuming, pocket-sized expanse of ground dotted with dark colored field stone – Windham’s Old Quaker Burial Ground.

Forty-seven years ago, overgrown with small trees, litter and shrubs, it was in danger of being topped with new housing, possibly an apartment building. Builder, Mark Plummer had purchased the lot and started clearing it when passers-by stopped to protest. “That spot is an old cemetery,” they declared. Word of the “desecration” spread throughout the community; questions and complaints inundated the town office.

The old Quaker Burial Ground on Route 202 and Pope Road
Plummer indicated that there had been no mention of a cemetery at the time of purchase, and that a deed search had also turned up nothing.

A concerned family who lived close to the ancient cemetery contacted the Windham Historical Society. Then-president Phil Kennard (who, ironically, often contracted with the same builders, F.S. Plummer Homes, Inc., as their carpenter) called a special meeting of the Society where it was voted “to do everything possible to stop such a thing from happening.”

Ultimately, society member Charles LeGrow (whose descendants were buried there) was credited with saving the cemetery. LeGrow produced old maps and other documented evidence of the burial ground’s existence. Also found were hand-written records of the names of Quaker families interred there; many are immortalized by road names: Pope, Read, Varney, Webb and Swett. Others include Allen, Mayberry and Hawkes.

But there was yet another twist in the controversy. Old-timers around Windham generally agreed that many, or possibly all, of the graves in the Old Burial Ground had long ago been moved to another nearby Quaker, or Friends, cemetery located several hundred feet away and across 202, nearer the Friends Meeting House Church. No one knew for sure.

By this time, Plummer, the builder, was assuring Windhamites that there would be “absolutely no building going on at all.” And further, he offered to build a split-rail fence around the cemetery, survey the property and turn over ownership to the town.

The corner cemetery at Windham Center was saved. The concerned citizens could be proud of their preservation efforts, and the simple elegance of their rehabilitated piece of history and heritage. It was decided to hold a special rededication; a decision that would ignite another controversy.

Would the conservative Quakers of a much earlier time have approved of such pomp and pizazz?
Next time, in part 2, more on the Quakers of Windham Center. Should the town celebrate their rediscovery? And who decides?  <

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