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.  <

Friday, June 19, 2020

On 70 years of marriage and counting...

By Emma Bennett
Special to The Windham Eagle

“There’s gonna be a lot of valleys, gonna be a lot of mountains and you’re gonna go through valleys and then you’re going to climb a mountain.” - Mr. Street

On Wednesday, June 1, Alden and Betty Street renewed their wedding vows after 70 years of marriage. They decided to hold this special ceremony at Ledgewood Manor, a nursing home in North Windham, where Betty Street is currently residing.

Betty and Alden Street renewed their marriage vows on
their 70th wedding anniversary on June 1 at
Ledgewood Manor in North Windham.
Kim Bennett, Kathy Bennett, and many other helpers from Ledgewood contributed to decorations, creating a beautiful setting for this remarkable event. Special thanks to Dolby, Blais, & Segee for providing chair coverings and the whole staff of Ledgewood for making it memorable.

A safe place during the current pandemic, they were joined by only close friends and family, including three of their four children and grandchildren, to the outside patio area where Ledgewood staff and residents could watch. At first a little overcast, the clouds parted as soon as the bride came down the aisle.

To begin, everyone bowed their heads while the minister from Eastpoint Church led a prayer, giving thanks for the love and strength of faith that bound them together. A close family friend stood up and sang a beautiful song acapella for the couple. All were moved and all felt the joy radiating from Betty and Alden.

A few days later, in an interview, Mr. Street recounts the first time he saw Betty. He explained that he had been working at a filling station. (That’s a “gas station”.) With a cute grin, he said, “She used to walk by with another girl going back and forth to the academy - a real nice-looking chick going by! And she had the prettiest slacks you ever could imagine and they fit her beautifully.”

Betty was sixteen and Alden was eighteen when they got engaged and eventually married three years later. (That was normal for that time.) They started from nothing. “I don’t think I had two dollars,” he said.

The two began working, Betty at a typewriter company and Alden at Swearingen Motors, earning $18 and $25 a week respectively.

Alden later joined the Navy reserves and served a total of 28 months. He shared that during his time on active duty, he came down with acute meningitis.
“I was in the hospital for four months and she used to come and see me every weekend,” he said.

Betty would drive down to Newport, Rhode Island to make sure he was all right.

After serving in the Navy, Alden went into the car business, selling cars for 16 years. He bought into a trucking company, ran that for six years, and sold it. He worked for Rockwell Distributors as general manager, and then started his own business, Street Cycles.

When he retired, they moved upcountry for 20 years where Betty began working for Mount Abram High School as a secretary. The first two years, they had no running water and no electricity at the camp where they were staying. The rain and the pond nearby were their only utility for bathing themselves and the children.

Alden went to work for a company, driving trucks all over New England. In the 10 years that followed, he drove a school bus from Salem, Maine to Lac M├ęgantic, Canada, enjoying every minute.

“I had the best kids,” said Street.

For a period, Betty and Alden felt overworked and decided to take a trip together across the country. They went across countless times in different vehicles: by travel trailer, twice on motorcycles all the way to British Columbia, and one time in a big RV for eight years traveling year-round. They have many fond memories of the people and places they visited.

Besides visiting every state several times, they have been to every Canadian province and to Newfoundland three times with their children. They’ve traveled around places in Europe including Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. As if that wasn’t enough, they took cruises to Hades, Panama, Jamaica, Belize, and Costa Rica with grandchildren alongside them.

One of Mr. Street’s fondest memories of Betty was the time he drove down to Daytona, Florida to the racetrack with a friend of his. Betty and their son, Eric, flew down to meet them.

“I think one of the nicest moments was to see her get off the plane as beautiful as she was,” he said. “I can’t say enough good about her.”

Their memories and stories together would fill volumes. They’ve lived the fullest life together that some can only dream to have; they created a family, they traveled everywhere, experienced different cultures, all the while supporting each other through better and for worse.

There are so many aspects of what is considered “true love.” When it comes to Betty and Alden, it is committing yourself to another person, staying and facing challenges, making an effort on both sides, but still enjoying the good that comes out of it, even through hardship. It’s taking care of the other person when they are sick, listening and trying to understand the person when disagreements arise.

“She’s just been a wonderful woman,” Street said. “She’s brought up four wonderful kids and they’ve all turned out excellent. I have eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren and they’ve all turned out good so what else can I say?”

What else is there to say?

Happy 70th Anniversary Alden and Betty Street! <

Raymond Village Community Church welcomes new pastor

By Lorraine Glowczak

The Raymond Village Community Church – United Church of Christ (RVCC), 27 Main St. in Raymond, hired Pastor Petra Smyth of Falmouth to replace former Pastor Nancy Foran. She  recently retired from her post as spiritual leader of the church after 14 years with RVCC, holding her last service on Easter Sunday, 2020. Pastor Smyth officiated her first religious service to her new congregation on June 7.

As any pastor who is called to serve a new congregation, there are many things to learn about the members as well as the culture created within that specific church. But what makes Smyth’s new post slightly different is she is welcomed to RVCC during unusual circumstances amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and required social distancing.

Rev. Petra Smyth is the new pastor for
Raymond Village Community Church and officiated
her first services at the church on June 7.
“I have never led a recorded worship before where there is not a group of people in front of me,” Smyth said. “But unusual times require unusual circumstances.”

Even the hiring process was not the typical interview method.

“My first interview was through Zoom, which is not so different than other initial interviews for pastors,” said Smyth. “However, what was unusual was the fact that I lead a worship via Zoom as part of the interview process.”

Rolf Olsen, RVCC Council Member and Chair of the Search Committee said the committee was tasked with reviewing and interviewing all candidates as well as the other functions associated with hiring a new individual but had to take into consideration current circumstances.

“Due to current restrictions on face-to-face meetings, [the interview process] did require a little different approach and put to use Zoom, You Tube and other electronic medium,” Olsen said.
Pastor Smyth recorded her sermon on Zoom which was then made available to the whole congregation to view.

“It was hard to look into a camera to address a group of individuals who are not there, and you have never met,” Smyth said. “The one way I got myself into a space of worship was by lighting a candle before I presented my sermon.”

That one small act worked well. The congregation enjoyed her sermon and the search committee recommended Smyth to the church council to be their pastor.

“The research committee reviewed and interviewed a number of highly qualified candidates,” Olsen said. “Pastor Petra radiated the feeling of joy and positive feelings that we felt will help our church move forward to our next level. Our overall recommendation to the council to issue a call to Pastor Petra was unanimously accepted.”

Smyth brings a lot of experience, culture, and spirit to the table. Formerly a teacher, Smyth taught kindergarten and elementary students in traditional education settings as well as German classes at a Waldorf School in Freeport. Although she loved her job as an educator, Smyth sensed a lacking in her chosen career.

“When I was teaching, I loved what I could offer to my young students, but something was missing – almost like a hole in my heart,” Smyth said. “I couldn’t pinpoint it, but I knew that there was something different for me to do.”

Admitting to a close friend about her feelings of disenchantment, it was suggested that Smyth consider pastoral care at Maine Medical Center.

“I took her advice and enrolled in a clinical pastoral education class offered at the time,” Smyth said. “Once I received my certificate and began my work in the hospital, I was hooked. I loved it and knew I had found my calling.”

Smyth eventually wanted to become a clinical chaplain but to do so, she needed to become an ordained pastor.

“I was required to obtain a Masters of Divinity, if I wanted to become a hospital Chaplain,” Smyth said. “I enrolled and took classes at the Bangor Theological Seminary which had a branch in Portland. I attended classes and graduated with my masters in 2011.”

Ironically, although a member of the United Church of Christ and a citizen of the United States, she grew up as a Lutheran in Germany.

“My father, who is German, came to the United States to attend college and it is where my dad met my mother, a U.S. citizen,” Smyth said.

The two fell in love, got married and the couple moved to Germany to live and raise their family – a daughter (Smyth) and a son. Because Smyth’s mother kept her US citizenship, Smyth and her brother have dual German/US citizenships.

“I loved my life growing up in Germany with my family as a Lutheran and I enjoyed visiting my mother’s family in the US during many summers,” Smyth said. “I grew up in a very supportive and encouraging environment. The one thing that didn’t work so well for me is my education in Germany. It was very challenging, and I made very low grades.”

Once Smyth graduated from high school, she traveled from Germany to Connecticut to stay with her Godmother to learn to speak English fluently. That move over 35 years ago, was meant to be only temporary.

“I was going to spend a year with my Godmother and then leave in the fall of the following year, returning to Germany with my family after our usual summer visit,” Smyth said. “But there was something my Godmother did that changed the course of my life. She secretly enrolled me in a GED class.”

Smyth thought it was just a fun course where she could learn to speak English better. However, when she received a note stating the time and date of the GED test, she questioned her Godmother.

“She explained to me what a GED meant – that it was the equivalent of a U.S. high school diploma,” said Smyth. “I told her there was no way I could pass a test – especially since English was a second language to me. She encouraged me to take the test anyway, telling me that only she and I would know I had taken it and if I failed, it wouldn’t matter.”

Smyth took the test and never put thought into it again.

“I met my family at our usual summer location on Cape Cod with every intention of returning to Germany with them once our summer vacation was over,” Smyth said. “But about six weeks or so after I took the GED test and had completely forgotten about it, I received a call from my Godmother. ‘You passed the test’, she told me.’ I couldn’t’ believe it. I immediately told my parents. We all were surprised and excited but that was the end of it in my mind. However, it all changed one day when my mom, dad and I went to the Cape Cod Mall.”

Smyth and her family want to the mall to purchase clothing and shoes. It just so happened a representative of Cape Cod Community College (Four-Cs) had a booth at the mall to market their classes to begin that fall.

“My father walked up to the booth and started asking the representative a few questions,” Smyth said. “And before I knew it, I was enrolled at Four-Cs and within two years received an associate degree.”
It was during this time that she met her husband, Scott. 

She went on to get a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

She eventually married Scott and, due to his job relocation, they moved to Yarmouth, ME eventually landing in Falmouth, remaining there for the past 25 years. They have two daughters. Smyth joined her husband’s chosen faith, United Church of Christ and upon receiving her Master’s in Divinity, she has been a pastor in a number of UCC congregations in the Southern Maine region, with RVCC her latest call.

“The research committee gives a warm welcome to Pastor Petra to our church and looks forward to the time that all can meet her in person,” Olsen said. <

Friday, June 12, 2020

A matter of historical record: Windham native Mains an early star of 19th century baseball

By Walter Lunt

Among the handful of notable people born in Windham who qualify as famous is Willard Eben Mains. Having hailed from a multi-generational Windham family, Mains was born in North Windham on July 7, 1868.

Although little is known about his childhood, it is assumed that young Willard worked with his father on the family farm. The online publication Baseball Almanac lists his high school as ‘undetermined’ and that he did not attend college. “Willie,” as he sometimes called, was described as 6-feet-2 inches tall and weighed about 190 pounds. He batted left and threw right.

Williard Mains, 19, first played for Portland
in the New England League in 1887.
It is, however, a matter of historical record that Mains began his colorful and mostly successful baseball career in his teens, first playing close to home in Portland for the New England League in May of 1887 where he pitched seven games, winning four and losing two in that first season.

The following year, Mains moved to the Central Interstate League in Davenport, Ohio, achieving an 18 and 5 record while completing all of his starts. Next came a major league trial in the National League with the Chicago White Stockings (forerunner to the Chicago Cubs).

It was here he earned one of several nicknames: Grasshopper ((likely due to his thin, pointy head). Mains threw in two games, winning one, losing the other – a disappointing effort that resulted in a move back to the minors in 1889.  

In his starting year with the St. Paul Apostles of the Western Association, Mains displayed renewed confidence and a strong arm, winning 32 and losing only 13. The team achieved second place in its division. 

The next season, however, the team fell to last place with Mains losing 26 games while hitting a whopping 40 batters – the most in the league that year.

Despite his setbacks, Mains won another shot in the majors, pitching a 12-12 season for the new King Kelly’s Killers of Cincinnati in the American Association.

But the team, while mildly successful, had gotten off to a disreputable start. The players, wildly undisciplined, were known to take the field in a drunken state, and at one point were all arrested (Mains included) for breaking the state’s blue law by playing on Sunday. 

As a result, the Killers were replaced in the league by the Milwaukee Brewers. Mains was retained, but finished out the year 0 and 2.

By 1892, Mains was back in the minors, honing his hitting skill and playing for several teams, including the Portland Webfeet in Oregon and (again) in Portland, Maine, and in Lewiston (Maine) where he had an outstanding year as a two-way player, pitching 24-14 and batting .364. 

That same year in Lewiston, Mains played along side Louis Sockalexis, who would eventually become the first major league Native American baseball player.

Although short-lived, Mains’ third and final opportunity in the majors came in 1896 with the Boston Beaneaters of the National League. He shared the field with future Hall of Famers Hugh Duffy, Billy Hamilton and Jimmy Collins, but despite the variety of talent, the team finished fourth. Mains pitched eight games, winning three and losing two; still not good enough for a permanent spot.

Willard Mains continued his baseball career in the minors, playing for nine more teams throughout the country, concluding with Syracuse in 1906 – he was 38, and his arm, after nearly 600 games, had weakened considerably. 

Over his 18-year professional career, Willard ‘Grasshopper’ Mains recorded 318 wins and 179 losses in 545 minor league games.

In retirement, Mains returned to Bridgton, Maine, where he continued operating a business that he launched during the off-season of his playing days, the manufacture of baseball bats, which he sold throughout the country.

Mains married Edith Chaplin in 1914. He was 46, she was 24. 

Apprehensive over the age difference, the couple kept their marriage a secret for months. Eventually, close friends found out and revealed the truth. Edith and Willard had two children, Francisca, born in 1916, and James, in 1922 (a third, a daughter, was stillborn in 1920).

Reporting for the Society for American Baseball Research, writer Bob Mayer described Mains as a ‘renaissance man.’

“…he was an avid fisherman and successful pearl hunter…One of his largest (finds was a) rose pink pearl weighing 15 grams. For a while, he experimented with the formation of pearls in mussels. (His) woodworking skills were…exceptional…he crafted a violin for his daughter.”

Willard E. Mains died of heart disease in May 1923. His son James was just 11 months old at the time. He would later attend Harvard College where he also played baseball.

In 1943, James would have the briefest major league career of all-time. Called up from the minor league Utica team in 1943, he pitched one game for the Philadelphia Athletics, and lost. His career in the majors lasted only a matter of hours.

He did however set a longevity record: for the longest time span of father/son debuts in major league baseball, some 55 years.

Willard ‘Grasshopper’ Mains, one of just a few famous folks from Windham, Maine, is buried with his wife, Edith, at the High Street Cemetery in Bridgton.  <

Friday, June 5, 2020

Windham Chamber Singers perform virtual concert for graduating seniors

By Elizabeth Richards

Traditions are important to the Windham Chamber Singers, and one highly anticipated tradition is their Senior Concert, where they perform their tour program and honor members who are graduating. The tradition lived on this year, though in a very different format. 
On Thursday, May 28, the senior concert video premiered on the WCS You Tube Channel.

The Windham Chamber Singers performed
 a concert again this year for graduating
 seniors at Windham High School, but
 because of COVID-19 concerns,
 the concert was videotaped and
 premiered on the group’s You Tube
The video included solos from some of the senior members, individual recognition of each senior in the group, photos set to music that was part of their tour program, some special “high fives,” and a virtual choir performance by the group, singing one of their tour selections “I will Sing You the Stars.”

Dr. Richard Nickerson, Director of Choral Music for Windham High School, said it was important to him to do something that would not only honor seniors but all the members of the choir. 
Since school let out in mid-March, Nickerson said, the group has met regularly on Wednesdays to check in and connect, continuing to lean on each other even while apart.
“The news that we weren’t going to be coming back to school was extremely devastating because we had so many plans in the works for the spring,” said Aiden Day, a senior and the 2019-2020 president of the chamber singers.
Though difficult to process, he said, both as an officer and a senior, they quickly regrouped and came together for a Zoom rehearsal the very first Wednesday after school was out.  They worked hard together to create the virtual choir by recording their parts individually.
“Dr. Nick found a way to string them together and produce a really beautiful sound,” he said. “I’m really proud of how hard we’ve worked.”
Denali Dieumegard, 2019-20 vice president and 2020-21 president, said that the technical aspects of recording her video for the virtual choir weren’t difficult, but the emotional side was trickier.
“I think for everybody it was very emotional to sing that without standing next to our friends and fellow chamber singers,” she said.
 “Our philosophy during this pandemic has been let’s focus on what we can do, not what we can’t do,” Nickerson said.  Putting together a virtual choir performance was one of those things.  It was a difficult process, but very therapeutic, Nickerson said, allowing him to process everything that has happened and the losses the group experienced this spring. 
It also helped him remember how amazing the first half of the year was, he said.
The night before the video premiere, the Chamber Singers upheld another tradition.
“The night before the senior concert every year is a big night for us,” Nickerson said.  It’s when the group elects officers for the following year, and seniors share what their Chamber Singers experience has meant to them.  “It’s a chance for them to really say how they’re feeling,” Nickerson said. 
Even though they had to meet via Zoom this year, it was quite a moving time, he said.
Day said the senior concert video was special, particularly the last high-fives because it included so many people they had worked with over the years.
“It was really overwhelming to watch,” he said. “It just really was the closure I needed to move on and celebrate the end of my career in Chamber Singers.”
Nickerson agreed.
 “High fiving is a big thing with us,” Nickerson said.  “It gives me eye contact and at least a second or two where I get to look into the eyes of each individual singer no matter how many there are in the choir.  It’s kind of our moment to connect before we sing,” he said.
The video helped make up for some of the losses they’ve experienced this year, Dieumegard said. 
“We’re really sad to see the senior class go. It definitely was a nice send off for them. It is hard without our usual traditions because that kind of does finalize it,” she said. 
According to Day, it was a nice honor.
 “It was just a really nice tribute for us seniors, and I’m really grateful for that,” said Day.
Nickerson said it was exciting to be able to see how many people were watching and follow along with the comments.
“I think we used technology the best way we could,” he said.
An added bonus to the online format is that anyone who missed it still has an opportunity to watch the video, which is posted on the Windham Chamber Singers You Tube Channel. <