Friday, July 12, 2019

Before the memory fades: Honored Civil War veteran from Windham prepares for his driver’s test

Jason Pride behind the wheel of his Model-T in 1937
By Walter Lunt

Windham’s Jason C. Pride was frustrated over his application for a driver’s license. His word for the situation was “exasperated.” Pride, who at age 96 in August of 1937 and Windham’s last living Civil War veteran, was responding to a new state law, passed that year, requiring all motorists to pass a driving test and, “if the application indicated the need for it,” a physical.

“(My eyesight’s) not so good for reading (but) perfectly all right for ordinary use,” he told a newspaper reporter.

Pride’s nature, however, was one of confidence, determination, creativity and risk-taking.

Due to Pride’s advanced age, the Maine Secretary of State’s office had been foot-dragging on the application, but due to his persistence, he now had an appointment for the following week.

Sitting confidently behind the wheel of his 1921 Model-T Ford at his home in Windham Center, Pride told his interviewer, “I intend to have (a license) this year and every year until I’m a hundred.” He continued, “I’ve been driving since 1902. Back then the Ford was a 2-cylinder affair with the engine under the seat.”

karen.spring@fryeislandtown.orgPride, who spent winters in Florida at the St. Cloud’s Soldiers Colony near Orlando, said he owned a “newer” car there: a 1922 Model-T.

“Both are in pretty good shape, not a scratch on either of the two (cars), so you can see how dangerous I am on the highway.”

Pride was born in East Windham in 1841 and lived a colorful and adventurous life. He served with the 25th Maine Regiment in the Civil War in the defenses of Washington D.C. under Col. Francis Fessenden, the son of Maine’s U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Treasury William Pitt Fessenden.
Following the war, he established a “livery, hacking and boarding stable in Boston,” which he sold for $20,000.

“I lost most of it fooling around with stocks. (Then) I lost the rest gold mining in California.”
Eventually marrying and settling back in Windham, Pride dabbled with patents and inventions.
His daughter, Edith Pride Elliot (The Windham Eagle – June 21, 2019), seemed disappointed that her dad elected not to pursue a patent on a nifty little device he’d invented that was used for shelling beans. She demonstrated the contrivance for the interviewer, a converted clothespin into which a sharp pin had been inserted.

And that physical and driver’s test? History fails to reveal whether the ostentatious old soldier passed or failed. According to the Maine Secretary of State’s office and State Archives, driving records from that far back have not been kept. So, we’re left with our knowledge of Pride’s confidence and determination, which may suggest he was probably successful.

We do know that Pride did not drive until he was “a hundred.” He died the following year, 1938, the year of Windham’s bicentennial when he was honored as Windham’s oldest citizen. One town official noted, “Both father and daughter have contributed greatly to the making of Windham.”

Jason Pride is interred in Windham’s Smith Cemetery. 

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