Thursday, December 31, 2020

A matter of historical record: Foster’s Corner and the rotary – Part two

By Walter Lunt

In the early days, new road construction and road upgrades often resulted in either the reduction or the enhancement of commercial activity in neighborhoods. Such was the case on Windham Hill and in the area known as Foster’s Corner, or the rotary. This part of Windham has assumed many names over its nearly 300 years of settled history: early on it was the Kennard neighborhood; in the 1800s (before being assigned to the neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Route 202 and Windham Center Road) it was sometimes called Windham Center; in the 1850s, it became Morrell’s Corner after a store owned by Andrew Morrell at a newly constructed intersection; by the late 1800s the store was owned by the Foster Brothers, so Foster’s Corner; in 1951, with the creation of a circular intersection, the rotary.

When it was the Kennard neighborhood (pronounced KEN-nard, as opposed to the Ken-NARDS of North Windham), a single road ran through it – a thruway connecting the towns of Gorham and Gray known as ‘County Road,’ later Gray Road. Todays Lott’s Drive, which runs nearly parallel to Route 202 around the rotary, traces the original (or old 202) route.

An early view of Foster's Corner at Lott's Drive
(old Route 202) and Bridgton Road (Route 302).
Left to right, Pleasant River Grange, the Hasty
House, Seavey's Store, empty lot of the former
Pleasant River House hotel (behind snow roller)
and Cobb's Garage. COURTESY PHOTO

The old Kennard neighborhood resembled a picture post card of rolling fields and farmland dotted with grazing farm animals, farmhouses and barns, a blacksmith shop and horse-drawn wagons and implements maneuvered by farm workers. Early families included names we still recognize today: Morrell, Varney, Hall and Kennard.

As far back as 1784, maps showed the thoroughfare that would become Route 302. But that early road skirted the area settled and farmed by the Kennards and others. It ran from Raymond (later Bridgton) to Ward Road in Windham, then to Windham Center Road at Windham Hill, and then to Portland (joining today’s 302 just south of Albion Road).

Due to the creation of a new section of the Raymond/Bridgton Road, the Kennard neighborhood would be changed forever. The added section, from Ward Road in Windham to the spot near Albion Road - which ran through the center of the Kennard neighborhood -  eliminated the need for travelers and teams of horses to navigate Windham Hill. Also, as a result, due to loss of traffic, commercial activity like overnight lodgings and taverns would transfer from Windham Hill to the new intersection at the Kennard neighborhood. Perhaps this was the trade-off for land taken from the Kennards and others for the new road. That new section of road joined the Raymond/Bridgton Road to become Route 302.

Citizen historian Isaac R. Jordan, writing in a local newspaper in the early 1900s, described the early settlers of the Kennard neighborhood this way: “I cannot help thinking that (they built) better than they knew. They are gone, but a pleasant memory of their doings still lingers…we are left with reminders of their well-done duties all around us.”

Although the new road created an intersection that would prove to be problematic (The Windham Eagle – Stubborn Drivers, Dec. 18, 2020), the farmers and merchants of Foster’s Corner contributed immensely to Windham’s rich heritage.

Their story when we conclude this series next time.  <

Friday, December 18, 2020

Before the memory fades: Stubborn elderly drivers and car crashes help pave the way for the creation of Foster’s Corner rotary

By Walter Lunt

Widespread use of the automobile in the 1920s raised certain safety issues in many small towns. In Windham, the increased numbers and greater speeds of cars and trucks forced local officials to consider the condition of its narrow, windy, mostly dirt roads. Many were little more than reconstructed wagon paths.

The following decades brought more challenges as vehicles became bigger, faster and more numerous. One of the biggest problem spots was the intersection of state highways Route 302 and Gray Road (Route 202). Until the 1950s, Gray Road ran just north of the present-day rotary at Foster’s Corner and is today named Lott’s Drive. In the 1930s and 1940s motorists were required to yield, not stop, at the intersection;  but due to a rising number of accidents, transportation officials placed stop signs on the Gray Road crossing. Many long-time, mostly older, drivers were incensed!

Four persons were injured, none seriously, in this
Collision of two sedans at the old Gray Road 
(Lott's Drive) and Route 302 in August 1949. 
The black car on the left had just run a stop sign.
Accidents like this one led to the creation of the 
Foster's Corner rotary, just south of this location.
The Red & White grocery store in the background
would later become Seavey's Appliance. PHOTO
George Hall, who grew up in the neighborhood, remembers their persistent and obstinate opposition: “I’ve never had to stop here…and I’m not gonna start now!”

As the arguments over the stop signs heated up and persisted, the intersection grew more dangerous. “It was common to have an accident there at least twice a month in the summer.” according to Hall, “…usually a fender bender and a few roll-overs.” Serious injuries were rare, …”because the cars did not travel as fast back then.”

The biggest problem was medical treatment for the crash victims. Hall explained, “There were no rescue units then (so) the local people would come and help (and) drive them to a Portland hospital in their personal cars. If it was a serious injury the local undertaker would bring his hearse for the transport, (but) often-times…it could be an hour’s wait.”

Hall remembers an old story oft told during those times. It seems there was a collision involving a beer delivery truck. One of the local men who was helping with the clean-up wore heavy overalls with large pockets, which he filled with cans of beer. A fellow worker approached him from behind and cut the man’s suspenders, “dropping his over-loaded overalls to the ground.”

By 1950, the accident rate at the intersection had become untenable. A blinking light was installed, to no avail.

Finally, the state Department of Transportation decided on a relatively new safety design for the dangerous corner – a rotary. Engineering plans called for straightening and improving Gray Road from Windham Center to the Gray town line. The nearly mile-long section, now known as Lott’s Drive, included homes and businesses, so could not be eliminated. The rotary, located just south of the accident-prone intersection, enabled motorists to barely slow down when entering from either Route 202 or 302. The innovative and safer circular intersection opened in 1951.

Trees, nursery-grown and already 18-years old, were added to the spacious center of the rotary in 1956. Today, their graceful branches, adorned with bright lights, greet travelers with a spectacular display of holiday cheer.

Beginning in 1987, as part of Windham’s 250th birthday celebration, beautiful flower gardens were added to the rotary’s four points of entry.  Every year since then, dozens of citizen volunteers have donated time, materials and funds toward keeping the gardens blooming with cheery, colorful annuals and perennials.

Today, with traffic going faster and the number of accidents rising, perhaps it’s time re-examine the Foster’s Corner rotary – maybe another relatively new safety design.

Next time, more on the history of the neighborhood known as the rotary.  < 



Friday, December 11, 2020

Santa visits neighborhood children, bringing Christmas cheer during extraordinary times

By Lorraine Glowczak

“This year, Santa knows it may be hard to visit him like usual, so he has decided to come out and visit you,” was the announcement made early last week on the Windham Maine Community Board Facebook page.

Visit, he did! Despite the steady flow of raindrops last Saturday, Dec. 5, Santa - whose alternate ego goes by the name of Eric Twitchell, met children at the bottom of their driveways in the neighborhoods between Falmouth and Varney Mill Roads in Windham. Boys and girls greeted Ol’ St. Nick with a cheer and shared their Christmas wish lists with him. Although social distancing was adhered to and promoted, joy was experienced by all.

The young Linscott Family greeted
Santa early Saturday morning
(L to R) Mother Nicole, Chase,
Olivia and Connor Linscott meet
with Santa. PHOTO BY
Do not worry, however, if Santa did not stopover in your neighborhood last weekend. He and his helpers will be back again this Saturday, Dec 12. Needing to let his reindeer rest for the big night on Christmas Eve – Father Christmas and his elves are traveling by foot – so be sure to listen for his belly laugh of “Ho, Ho, Ho” as he walks through a neighborhood near you.  

Already looking forward to next Saturday’s visits, Santa took a moment out of his busy schedule to share his experiences from last weekend.

It was a lot of fun to see the kids happy to see Santa and to also see parents smiling as a result of their children’s excitement,” Twitchell said of donning the spirit of Kris Kringle. “A couple of moments that made it great was a few children ran right to me in excitement. One little girl couldn’t get enough goodbyes in as they drove away, and one girl blew a kiss at me. Some funny moments happened when I asked a few children if they had been good this year - they looked to their parents for a response.”

There were also instances where Santa felt compassion for a few children experiencing especially difficult times.

“The biggest pull on my heart strings was when I read a letter from a foster child asking for her forever home,” he said. “That really got me. I sincerely wish I could help her. Ultimately, knowing that I can bring some joy during a time when traditions may not be happening, and people could use a distraction from everything, brings joy to my own life and to lives of my wife and children.”

Providing holiday cheer during challenging times experienced by many during 2020 was the motivating factor for St. Nick’s visit.

“Last Wednesday, I was sitting on my deck and wondered how I could help out my community in some way during the holidays,” Twitchell said. “My wife and I usually take our children to see Santa at the Mall or LL Bean but due to the pandemic, it wasn’t going to be as easy or the same. Then it dawned on me. I could keep the tradition of visiting Santa by being Santa myself and going out into the community to meet with the children.”

After speaking with his wife Alicia, who encouraged him to follow through on his idea, Twitchell approached Aaron Pieper, the administrator of the Windham Maine Community Board to help get the word out that Santa was coming to town.

“Within five minutes after the Facebook posting, I had many requests to visit certain neighborhoods and four volunteers to help me.”

Santa’s wish is to reach as many children as possible this Saturday and could always use a few more volunteers. If your child wants Santa to visit your neighborhood or you wish to be one of his helpers, contact Santa Claus, via Eric Twitchell, on Facebook or by email at by this evening, Friday, Dec. 11.

“Being Santa isn’t just for the kids but also for the parents that look forward to experiencing Christmas traditions with their children every year!”

Keep your eyes out, listen for the bells and that familiar deep belly laugh. Santa may be just around the corner. <

Friday, December 4, 2020

Armed with a menacing frown and a pitchfork, an 18th century Revolutionary War veteran orders a tax collector to vacate his Windham farm

By Walter Lunt

The tax man had just informed Windham farmer Elias Legrow that his cow would be confiscated in lieu of an unpaid tax. The idea didn’t settle well with the Revolutionary War veteran who had just resettled on his farm, intent on resuming his former life. Now he directed the business end of a pitchfork at the visitor, and with an icy stare delivered an ultimatum. Before disclosing how the encounter ended, it’s best to explain the back story.

In colonial New England, established religion was, for virtually every living soul, essential and vital. So much so that colonial governments often mandated the creation of a church and pastor before towns and plantations could incorporate. Such was the case with Windham, first known as New Marblehead. Services were held in the old Province Fort; early pastors were John White and Parson Peter Thatcher Smith. Revenue to support the Congregational Church was collected from the inhabitants in the form of a ministerial tax.

The first push-back to the sacred surcharge came with the establishment of the second religious society; the Society of Friends, or Quakers, settled in Windham in the early 1770s, and although the small congregation actually worshipped in Falmouth (Portland), town records reveal that at a town meeting in October, 1774  it was “Voted, that all Persons who call themselves friends or Quakers … shall be Exempted from Paying ministerial Taxes.”

‘Friends’ reasoned that since their church employed no pastor to lead their services, they should not be required to pay the tax.

Returning to our story, it was Isaac R. Jordan, an early Windham history chronicler who preserved the account of this incident. He wrote, “Tradition says that after (farmer) Legrow arrived at his home after helping to free his country from British tyranny (he was) feeding his cow in the yard…a constable appeared and said that he had come to collect a priest tax for Parson Smith.”

Legrow told the man he never heard of or met Parson Smith and consequently should not have to pay the tax. The constable said if he did not receive the payment, he would be obliged to take the cow. Hardened by his years of war service and feeling threatened by the constable’s ultimatum, Legrow grabbed his pitchfork, pointed it toward the man’s torso and exclaimed, “There is the cow. Take it if you dare!”  He further stated that if the cow was touched, he would “put the pitchfork through.” Legrow’s tone and language during the verbal exchange was described as “vigorous.”

The constable is said to have left, without further argument. And the old soldier heard no more of the priest tax.  <