Friday, December 31, 2021

A New Year’s resolution: Windham Historical Society vows to open a portion of its Village Green history park in ’22

Village Green History Park. Exterior paint and modifications
are slated for 2022. Windham Historical Society will build
displays and Eagle Scout candidate Joseph Lopes plans to
create walkways and signage. Much of the park could be
open to the public in 2022. From left are the South Windham
history building, one-room schoolhouse (currently
operational), gazebo and blacksmith shop. The Old Grocery
Museum is not shown. PHOTO BY WALTER LUNT
By Walter Lunt

It was early July 2015 when 11 members of the Windham community posed with smiles and gold shovels as they turned over soil during groundbreaking ceremonies for the Windham Historical Society’s Village Green history park. Included in the group were civic and business leaders, Windham’s legislative delegation and members of the Society’s Board of Directors.

Since that time, the two-acre parcel, located between Windham Town Hall and the W.H.S. brick museum off Windham Center Road, has grown from three historic buildings to seven. Each unit holds a special piece of the town’s history and heritage. The park will be dedicated to the preservation of Windham’s stories and artifacts from its early settlement in the mid-18th century to the present.

According to the president of the all-volunteer Society, Susan Simonson, “We’ve come a long way (in six-and-a-half years). But that might not be visually apparent to the casual visitor.” She points out that infrastructure had to come first; construction of slabs and other site preparations had to be completed before the placement of new buildings could be achieved. There was the installation of underground utilities to bring in water and electricity, which is now complete. After building placements, excavation of the grounds and plantings of grass and flowers needed to be done. Two of the new buildings required the construction of ramps, decking and sidewall replacement. Hidden from view to the general public is the construction of an annex onto the yellow library building.And all the while, fund raising was an on-going necessity to pay for it all.

“We are still active” says Simonson, but COVID-19, she laments, added one more obstacles to progress. Still, “our biggest accomplishment during Covid was relocating the Old Grocery from Windham Center to the Village Green,” and now that the obscure infrastructure pieces are nearly finished, “…we will focus on aesthetics, the interiors of the buildings and the (museum) displays.”

To that end, Simonson has a goal, or call it a New Year’s resolution: “I want at least half of the park to be open for visitors this year.”

When that happens, here’s what visitors can expect to experience:

The Town House Museum, built in 1833, was Windham’s first town hall. Later it housed the first high school, and still later elementary classrooms and the office of the superintendent of schools. Today it serves as the offices and research facility of the Windham Historical Society.

The old Windham Center Library, built in the late 1800s,  became Windham’s first circulating library in 1907 and boasted a collection of 800 volumes. It was originally located across from Corsetti’s Store next to the Old Grocery (both buildings have been moved to the Village Green Park). Now located next to the W.H.S. Town House Museum, it will eventually commemorate the lives and work of former Windham physicians and highlight the stories and artifacts of now defunct organizations, such as the Grange, Redmen, Knights of Pythias and Windham Kiwanis. And yes, a few of those old books from the collection of 800.

The Old Grocery, originally a tailor’s shop, this historic building was built before 1838 and later had multiple uses including a grocery and grain store, meeting house, headquarters for a garden club and a community theater. Old timers claim it briefly served as a library, auto garage and a cobbler shop. Moved this year from its location at Windham Center to a new site on the Village Green Park, the Old Grocery will display early kitchen and farm items like a butter churn, a grindstone, typical dry goods once sold in a general store and an early cash register. “We still have many of the items from its former life.” says Simonson. The building’s most distinguishing feature will be preserved – the carved wood oak leaves and acorns on the front gable.

The old South Windham Library once served reading enthusiasts in the busiest part of town – Little Falls. Situated on a knoll just past the bridge on the Gorham side of the Presumpscot River, the tiny building served both towns for many decades. Closed in the 2000s, it was saved from demolition by the Windham Historical Society and moved to the Green where an annex, that architecturally resembles an early railroad depot, was built onto the building’s east side. This structure will tell the story and feature artifacts of the bustling South Windham Village, with its diverse population, paper mill, school, railroad depot, residential units, and businesses that included stores, a barber shop, apothecary, doctors’ offices, and trolley stop. According to Simonson, “we even have the old-barred window and counter top from the South Windham post office.”

The blacksmith shop was built on site and designed to simulate the style and appearance of these once ubiquitous structures, known for the sound of a clanging hammer and billowing smoke. The blacksmith shop on the Green will feature a pan hearth forge and period bellows and a bonified blacksmith, Sam Simonson, demonstrating heating and bending techniques in the construction of fireplace pokers and S-hooks.

The one-room schoolhouse is currently up-and-running and fully operational. With period desks and benches, 19th century schoolbooks, quill pens, a slate chalkboard and potbellied stove, Society member and schoolmarm Paula Sparks leads visiting school children through a typical school day in the 1890s.

The gazebo stands front and center in the Green, a decorative and welcoming structure, whose presence was typical of early town squares. The gazebo may be used as a venue for outdoor history programs or “concerts on the Green.”

Stepping into the Village Green and viewing the set of historical buildings, it’s easy to sense the architectural harmony of an 19th century town center.

Before 2022 comes to an end, one more ingredient will be added…visitors. That’s a New Year’s resolution. <

Friday, December 17, 2021

Before the memory fades: Of grain bags and skunk oil – yesterday’s ordinary days may be the source of fascination today

By Walter Lunt

Phrases like party line, rabbit ears or green stamps may bewilder young ears, but elaborating on the stories associated with them often produce eager listeners. The people, customs, and events of our past, unless told or written down, can disappear into the fog of history. The past, which should resonate today and influence tomorrow, is too often left unsaid. Stories told and diaries kept are key to preserving the past; a past which children and grandchildren should know about and appreciate – they are moments in time that transcend to the present.

A 1930s girls' sack feed dress as advertised by 
Windham’s premier advocate for recording life’s memories was the late Kay Soldier, historian of the Windham Historical Society. From articles in local newspapers, to books, to storytelling to anyone who would listen, Soldier used the spoken and written word to share daily life as she experienced it in Windham during the 30s and 40s.

Two of Soldier’s narratives were about recycling grain bags and bartering for skunk oil. Back in the day when nearly 90 percent of Windham families were involved in some type of farming, a common commodity was feed grain. In an article she titled “Save those grain bags,” Soldier recalled the sacks were 100 percent cotton, and off-white in color. Some, she pointed out, were floral prints or plaid, but the best ones were the calico bags - her mother would transform them into pillowcases and clothing. “…mother would wash the empty bags and after drying on the clothesline, she’d take them apart down the long seam. In a few days, she’d turn these cotton bags into aprons, quilts and most often, into dresses for her three oldest daughters. (They had) buttons in the back, lace at the cuff…and a long sash to tie in a bow in the back.” Soldier went on to observe, “It wasn’t until I took sewing in high school home economics class that it dawned on me what a talented woman Mom was.” Soldier’s conclusion from this historical anecdote: “Think of the packaging material we get today…and haul away. Bring back the traits of the old days: Waste not, want not.”

In another missive, Soldier went further back into the 20th century, recounting a time when she begged her mother to tell stories of her childhood: “She said her life wasn’t exciting and that she didn’t have a lot of kids to play with…so she accompanied her mother whenever she went anywhere.”

It seems every couple of weeks her mother would hitch up the horse and wagon, pick up her grandmother, (Soldier’s) great- grandmother, and travel from Webb Road to the home of a couple who lived near “dead man’s curve” on Land of Nod Road. The two families would barter household necessities. Soldier’s family “would trade butter and milk for skunk oil.” Young Soldier’s reaction of shock and disgust was tamed by her mother’s explanation: “…skunk oil was used as a kind of liniment for rheumatism, and it had no smell.”

More stories and lessons from Windham’s recent history or, as some call it, “the good ole days,” are told in Kay Soldier’s two publications, Memories of Windham and The Days Gone By. Both are sold at the Windham Historical Society’s research museum on Windham Center Road.

Some of the most interesting historical stories, whether or not they contain important lessons for us to live and learn by, are found in personal journals or letters written by those who preceded us. Historians encourage these stories be written down. People want to know more about their ancestors, beyond just the names listed in their genealogies.

So, tell your stories. Write them down. And don’t be afraid to draw conclusions, even if they lead in unexpected directions. Do it…before the memory fades. <

Friday, December 10, 2021

Church’s iconic weathervane creation part of Raymond’s rich history

By Ernest H. Knight

It has been suggested that as a facet of Raymond history, a subject could be the weathervane on the Raymond Village Community Church, rebuilt and restored to the steeple after a lapse of 40 years or more. As well as being of historical importance, it is surely interesting and unique.

The current weathervane at Raymond Village
Community Church is an exact copy of the
original made in the 19th century by Sumner
Plummer and uses all its original parts except for
those made of wood.
The church building was the culmination of many years of effort by the “Ladies Mite Society” and residents of the village to provide a formal place of worship. Erected in 1878 and dedicated in 1879, it was a typical New England Meeting House of Free Will Baptist affiliation with a resident pastor in spite of a declining population resulting from the changing economy of rural Maine after the Civil War.

But as the church needs a steeple and surely as a steeple needs a weathervane, that deficiency was overcome by Sumner Plummer who lived next door to the church. Besides having the best interests of the church and village in his nature, he was also an artist, tinkerer, maker of unique signs, proprietor of a girls’ school, undertaker, and practitioner of the theology of “laying on of hands.” He also was perhaps a little critical of his neighbors and townspeople.

The present weathervane is an exact copy of the original made by Sumner and uses all its original parts except those made of wood, which had weathered badly in the more than 60 years it faced the elements until removed in the 1940s after storm damage to the steeple.

It has a graceful wooden vane with filigree cutouts above a wind direction indicator, surmounted by a bronze spearhead topping an iron rod which also held a crown of thorns. The crown was made of a sapling hoop of wood wound with pointed strips of lead for thorns. Under the iron plates providing reinforcement for the shaft hole on which the vane turned in the wind was found the original paint, a bright gold color which was copied in the repainting.

But the unique elements of Sumner’s creation was in the vane. On the front, fashioned as a finger pointing into the wind which would sooner or later point in the direction of everyone. And in large letters on both sides of the vane was the biblical scripture “Mat. 23:27.”

The admonition of this verse from Matthew is one that can be given serious thought by almost everyone, excepting “me and thee” of course, and probably Sumner was sending the message intentionally which Matthew gives as “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness.”

And perhaps that reminder is why he erected the heavy and awkward assembly alone at night, a feat that surely warranted divine guidance and protection.

But there are two features of the original design and incorporated in the reconstruction. The heavy five-foot tall wooden bollard interposed between the top of the steeple and the weathervane was omitted as a practical structural safety precaution. Its omission emphasizes Sumner’s sense of proportion and esthetics as the present stubby arrangement does not quite measure up.

And the top edge of the full length of the vane of the original had sharp pointed needles inserted every inch as a deterrent to the roosting of pigeons. There seems to be few pigeons around today. Perhaps there are a lack of horses and oxen to attract a population of those scavengers looking for the easy life.

Raymond Village Community Church was chartered in 1928 and affiliated with the Congregational society. At that time, it was part of a multi-church Presumpscot Union Parish. A vestry was added in 1960 and then later an addition was built for classrooms and office space. In 1986, the Presumpscot Union Parish dissolved, and the Raymond Village Community Church was ready to be on its own with a full-time pastor. The church purchased a parsonage next door, restored the weathervane on the steeple and renovated the sanctuary. <

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, December 3, 2021

A matter of historical record: The Cumberland & Oxford Canal – an epilogue

Gerry Smith of Harrison (center in white hat) and crew
sail the maiden voyage of the MARYC on Long Lake in
August 2005. Built by Smith and others in conjunction
with the town's 2005 bicentennial, the vessel measures
6 x 32 feet, roughly a half-sized replica of a Cumberland
& Oxford Canal boat. COURTESY PHOTO 
By Walter Lunt

In the recently concluded multi-part series on the Cumberland & Oxford Canal, this column examined the need, construction and operation of the 20-mile, hand-dug waterway, extending from the basin of Sebago Lake to the Portland waterfront, and its impact on the citizens’ lives and the economy of the region. So, what is left to report? In the spirit of the late broadcast newsman, Paul Harvey, here is “the rest of the story.”

Fast forward from 1872, when the last cargo boat traversed the canal, to 2005 when Harrison resident Gerry Smith, a civil engineer during his working life, was working up a project for his retirement years. At the time, Smith was president of the Harrison Historical Society, and had an enduring fascination with the C. & O. Canal, which had its terminus in Harrison, located at the northern tip of Long Lake.

Years earlier, utilizing old photographs of decaying canal boat remains along the Long Lake shore, Smith had built a wooden table model of a canal boat. Now, in 2005 - Harrison’s bicentennial year - Smith entertained the idea of building a life-sized model.

Considering the availability of manpower, a limited time frame and the expense, construction of a full-scale vessel was dismissed in favor of a half-scale model. The original canal boats were built to accommodate the limitations of the dug canal and its lock systems, 60 feet long and 10 feet in width, so Smith’s replica would measure 30 X 5.

However, since the ultimate goal was to set sail on Long Lake, it was determined that a vessel only five feet in width would be “tippy,” and therefore dangerous to maneuver. The compromise was to extend the width to 6 feet.

The intent was to have a canal boat once again unfurl its sails and ply the waters of Long Lake after a 133- year absence. And, perhaps, pass through Songo Locks, one of 27 lock systems between Long Lake and Portland Harbor that lifted and lowered the cargo boats during the old “canal days” between 1830 to 1872.

At the Red Mill in Casco, Smith spotted a fresh shipment of spruce decking, “…the best I had ever seen.” After securing three truckloads, construction began in Smith’s garage in April, 2005.

First, the keel, made from the lamination of five 2 X 8s. Ribbing was attached at right angles, followed by the spruce decking. Toward the stern, a cabin was built – used in the early days by the crew for sleeping, meal preparation or to escape weather. Lastly, two masts with sails were constructed, designed to fold down for passage under the numerous bridges.

In a 2005 news article, Smith reflected, “I had a lot of help, lots of advice and a lot of people worried (about) this boat.” He said upwards of 40 people helped out with the project from basic construction, painting, sawing lumber to moving and hauling.

From conception to its maiden voyage, the project took 9 months to complete. On August 5, 2005, the HHS MARYC, with its historically accurate proportions of a Cumberland & Oxford Canal boat set sail on a six-mile cruise on Long Lake. According to Gerry Smith, “She sailed like a charm – as stable as the Queen Mary.”

In June of 2009, at the request of the Windham Historical Society, Smith brought his canal boat replica on a trailer to Windham to participate in the Windham Summerfest parade. The boat was displayed for several hours at the high school fairground and attracted many spectators who had a myriad of questions for Smith.

Today, the canal boat replica is on display at the Harrison Historical Society red barn museum on Haskell Hill Road in Harrison. It tells…
 the rest of the story. <

Friday, November 19, 2021

A matter of historical record: Meet 'Old Mrs. Wilson' of Windham Center – author, lecturer, teacher, early feminist

By Walter Lunt

In the early years of the 20th century, some residents who lived in the Windham Center neighborhood called her “Old Mrs. Wilson.” They were half right. She was elderly by this time, but her real name was Abba Louisa Goold Woolson. She was born in the stylish colonial house with the Greek Revival wraparound porch and attached ell and tower on Windham Center Road near the Nash Road, known today as the historic Goold House. Old Mrs. Woolson had developed an odd reputation since returning to her childhood home in the late 1800s.

Strong willed and independent,
Abba Woolson helped lead an effort
to reform women's dress codes of
the 1800s, which she felt were
unnecessary and unhealthy. Many
historians rank her among the
distinctive Women of the Century.
She was born at Windham Center
in 1838 and published books and
articles into the 20th century.
The late Windham historian Kay Soldier once inquired of elderly Windham residents who remembered Woolson; it seems the gossipy onlookers found Woolson to be an “odd duck” who lit up the neighborhood with a huge bonfire every April 22 in honor of Queen Isabella’s birthday. And, they claimed, she would occasionally “go out back (to) the family cemetery and open her husband’s casket.”

Born Abba Louisa Goold in 1838 in Windham, she was the second of eight children to William and Nabby Goold; her father was first a tailor, then represented Windham in the Maine legislature and Senate and later in life wrote history books, including Portland in the Past (The Windham Eagle – Nov. 5, 2021).

Abba graduated head of her class at the Portland School for Girls in 1856. That same year, she married the school’s principal, Moses Woolson; she was 18; he was 17 years her senior. The couple lived in Portland where Abba began writing poetry and teaching at Portland High School.

From 1862 to 1887, Moses answered the call for principalships in several cities including Cincinnati, Ohio; Concord, New Hampshire and Boston, Massachusetts. Abba, meanwhile, pursued poetry and began publishing essays. She became Professor of Belles Lettres at the Mount Auburn Young Ladies Institute in Haverhill, Massachusetts, taught higher mathematics and Latin while assisting her husband at Concord High School and delivered lectures before various literary societies on such diverse topics as English Literature, the historical plays of Shakespeare and Spanish history. In 1871, Mrs. Woolson traveled to Utah to interview Brigham Young for the Boston Journal (later the Boston Herald).

By the early 1870s, Woolson’s essays were being published in book form with each volume based on a theme. Her first was Woman in American Society, a reflection of Woolson’s interest and concern for women’s emancipation. It examined and critiqued certain cultural situations that placed constraints on women. It drew favorable reviews nationwide. A follow-up volume titled Dress Reform argued that women’s layered and cumbersome clothing of the time, especially corsets, were both unnecessary and unhealthful. The book featured essays written by women physicians, with recommendations for reform, such as bloomers, or a two-piece garment comprised of a shirt and pantlet, which became known as the emancipation suit. According to Woolson, “…the bloomer costume had been resisted, not because it was unfashionable, but because it had originated in America and not Paris.”

Woolson traveled extensively, both in America and Europe. One nation in particular became a favorite topic, even an obsession: Spain, and the Queen of Castile, Isabella I (1474 to 1505). Woolson visited the nation on two occasions in the 1880s and 1890s. Enthusiasm for its history and geography prompted her founding of the Castilian Club of Boston to promote the study of Spain. Isabella was a strong-willed and powerful queen of Spain as Europe transitioned from the Middle Ages to the age of the Renaissance. Woolson wrote, lectured, and generally celebrated the queen for the rest of her life.
In the late 1880s, Abba Woolson served as president and co-founder of the Massachusetts Moral Education Association, subject matter that was near and dear to her heart – it sought to address certain social issues that led women into prostitution.

Moses Woolson died in 1896. Abba lived on for another 25 years. She returned to the old homestead of her birth in Windham.

As was the custom of those early times, private burial grounds were often created near the family farm. Moses, who was 74 at the time of his death, was placed in the Goold family tomb located on a ridge behind the historic house. He joined veterans of several wars and several generations of the Goold family.

In 1912, a most unusual funeral procession took place there. It seems Abba kept company with two elderly lady relatives. And with them, a beloved cat – who died that summer. It was decided that the cat, named Buffy Greenleaf Clarke, would be interred in the Goold family cemetery amidst grand pomp and ceremony. Invitations were distributed – friends and relatives arrived dressed in appropriate funeral attire – bouquets of flowers graced the beloved kitty’s headstone – Buffy’s casket was lined in pink satin and the tiny feline rested with a pink rose between her paws. Funereal protocol was expected of the full procession. However, it is said that the three elderly mourners became “miffed” when several of the gentlemen attendees failed to remove their hats during the solemn event.

It is likely that this funeral exercise, the annual bonfires on the birthday of Queen Isabella and the rumors of Abba’s visits to her late husband’s casket all combined to encourage the neighborhood to form unfair judgments of the elderly educator, writer and lecturer.

Abba Louisa Goold Woolson passed away in 1921, aged 83, and was interred beside her husband, Moses, in the Goold family tomb on the high ridge behind the old family homestead on Windham Center Road. They had no children.

According to the respected website, “Mrs. Woolson (had) a remarkably retentive memory and a wide knowledge of literature and history, and is probably the ablest woman that Maine has ever produced.”

So, as a matter of historical record, here’s to “Old Mrs. Wilson” – Windham is proud of you.

Next time, an epilogue to our recently concluded series on the Cumberland & Oxford Canal. <

Friday, November 5, 2021

A matter of historical record: Windham’s Goold family – 'born of good ole Yankee pluck'

By Walter Lunt

Countless individuals and families of honor, high character - even fame have called Windham home. Many have been discussed in this column. Few, however, have carried distinguished careers from one generation to another quite like the Goold family.

The Goold House on Windham Center Road was home to
several generations of the Goold family, including William
Goold, a tailor and the first proprietor of Windham's Old
Grocery. The Goold House was placed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1990.
The first Goold to arrive in Windham is probably best described by historian Samuel Thomas Dole in his book Windham in the Past (Merrill & Webber, 1916): “In the year 1768, a young Quaker named Benjamin Goold, then twenty-one years of age started from Elliot, Me. to Falmouth to make his way in the world. He had no means to begin with except his Yankee pluck.” (pluck: courageous readiness to continue against all odds; dogged resolution – Merriam-Webster).

Young Benjamin found employment in Falmouth (Portland) and worked there before coming to Windham in 1774 where he worked on Daniel Hall’s farm near Windham Center, eventually building a log cabin and later a single-story wood frame house. He was described as industrious and frugal while acquiring considerable land.

Benjamin married Phebe Noble of Gray, who was later remembered by her grandson as a “smart Quaker lady who rode to (Friends) meeting on her pacing mare named Knitting Work.” Benjamin became tax collector and assessor for Windham. He died in 1807 at age 60.

Benjamin’s son, Nathan Goold, born in 1778, purchased 60 acres of land across the road from his birthplace at Windham Center in 1802 on land that is the current site of the Goold house we know today. He was married soon after to Miriam Swett; their first son died within two years of his birth, and later Miriam died only days following the birth of their second son. Nathan remarried and the couple had three more children.

Nathan became a prominent citizen of Windham. He was chairman of the Windham Board of Selectmen for eight years; represented the town in the Court (assembly) of Massachusetts; was a justice of the peace for many years and was captain of the Town Militia during the War of 1812. In September 1814, he marched his company to Portland to defend his town from an expected attack. It is thought that during this time Nathan built the iconic tower onto the ell of his Windham Center home where he mounted a bell to warn citizens of imminent danger (The Windham Eagle – Oct. 22, 2021).

Nathan is also remembered for an act of uncommon generosity. Shortly after purchasing the farm land he turned over a small parcel to a widow, Dorothy Barton. He provided her with a house that he had moved onto the property where she and her daughter lived out their lives. He charged them nothing for all the years they lived there. It is believed the reason for Nathan’s kindness was that Barton’s husband had served with Nathan’s grandfather in the Revolutionary War.

Nathan Goold died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1823 at the young age of 45. His son, William, was just 14 at the time. Just before his death, his father had advised him to learn a trade, and at the urging of his mother, Betsy (Gowen), he went to Portland and began a seven-year apprenticeship under Seth Clark, a tailor (despite his desire to be a printer, or writer). During this time William walked back to his boyhood home at Windham Center numerous times to visit his family. By 1830 he had become a partner with Clark, and in 1834 married “the bosses’ daughter,” Nabby Clark. By 1837, they had established a prosperous tailoring business at the four corners of Gray Road (route 202) and Windham Center Road in a building later known as the Old Grocery (which today has been moved to the Village Green behind the Windham Historical Society Museum). The intervening years had seen the home of his childhood, today known as Goold House, enlarged at least twice.

William represented Windham in the state legislature in 1866, and was a state senator in 1874 and 1875.

But it wasn’t until 1886 that William realized a life-long dream and the achievement for which he is best known. At age 77, he published Portland in the Past, the culmination of a long interest in local history. He was also an original member of the Maine Historical Society, to which he submitted numerous writings.

The Honorable William Goold died in the Windham Center home in which he was born in May, 1890, aged 81 years. William and Nabby Goold had eight children.

Their second child was named Abba Louisa, and was probably the Goold family member who tops the list in terms of notoriety.

Born in 1838, she was, like her father, a person of learning and literature, publishing books and poems, delivering lectures around the country on such far-ranging topics as Shakespeare’s plays and what she termed “constrictive” women’s fashion and, later in life, lighting bonfires at the Windham Center house in honor of Queen Isabella of Spain. According to Windham residents who knew her in the early 1900s, she was quite unique. Some would call her “odd.”

Suffice it to say, over many generations, the Goold family of Windham made significant contributions to the town, the state and even the nation.

And they did it all…with pluck. <

Next time, more on Abba Louisa Goold.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Legendary Ben Smith and the allure of Rattlesnake Mountain

By Ernest H. Knight

One of the early settlers in Raymond on Raymond Hill was Ben Smith, who came to the area from Dover, New Hampshire as a runaway boy in 1787.

On a trip to explore a nearby mountain, Smith found it infested with timber and common rattlesnakes and gave that spot its present familiar name.

Ben Smith, who came to Raymond Hill as a 
runaway boy in 1787, is credited with naming
Rattlesnake Mountain shown here. On a trip to explore
the mountain, Smith found it infested with timber and 
common rattlesnakes and later turned selling the snake's
venom into a liniment business. FILE PHOTO
The mountain was about five miles from his farm and Smith became famous in Maine for his business of peddling Rattlesnake Oil for rheumatic and neuralgic pains. 

As a sideline to farming, Smith’s business involved catching rattlesnakes, extracting their oil and venom, and then selling it locally and the Portland area for its therapeutic value as a liniment for rheumatism and anything else needing a sure cure.

To prove his product genuine, he carried live snakes with him on his travels and attracted attention by putting a live snake inside his shirt and letting it crawl around his body.

Smith was bitten at least once, and it was reported by his friends that he ultimately took on one of the characteristics of rattlesnakes in that his tongue constantly darted in and out of his mouth.

He had experimented to eliminate the hazards of his act by pulling out the snake’s fangs with the pincers he used in repairing his boots and apparently his research paid off as he lived to the age of 82, expiring in bed surrounded by a few of his reptilian pets.

Through overkill and forest fires, the rattlers eventually became extinct on the mountain and the last known capture of a rattlesnake in Raymond was reported at Webbs Mills about 1870.

Rattlesnake Mountain with its rocky terrain and once massive oak forests were a source of knee, stem, keel and other pieces required for building Maine sailing vessels. Rather than haul heavy and awkward timbers, forks and roots to the waterfront shipyards, patterns for needed shapes were brought to the mountain for the hewers to use in removing the excess material.

With a limited supply of suitable trees which nature could only make by 100 or more years of growth, it is fitting that the building of wooden ships was abdicated when the use of iron became popular for shipbuilding.

Another product of never-ending supply but of diminished demand is split granite building foundation for stones and walls. It was once an active business as it was split from boulders and ledges by hand with a hammer, rock drill and wedges.

The Berry Brothers, John, Charles, and George, who lived on Plains Road, were practitioners of this craft and who from their outcropping on Rattlesnake Mountain split all the stone wall surrounding Riverside Cemetery near their home. Split stone has since given way understandably to concrete, brick, and cement blocks though the glamour has been lost. <

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, October 22, 2021

Before the memory fades: The haunting of the ell tower, and other ghostly tales of Windham’s Goold House

The Goold house in earlier times. The tower, which once sported
a bell (and purportedly a ghost), is seen at the end of the ell
on the left. According to an article written by Nation Goold
II in the early 1900s, the Goolds occupied the house from
1802 to around 1900. More on this amazing family
in our next installment. COURTESY OF WINDHAM
By Walter Lunt

It’s October 1958, and the Millard family is thinking about Halloween, especially the children. In addition to the spooky costumes and candy, the Millard’s wonder if the ghost will return to the small bell tower attached to the ell of their colonial home on Windham Center Road. The five Millard children, their father and a friend told a reporter that if the ghost were to return, Halloween might be the obvious time.

The story of the tower ghost originated more than 100 years earlier in the years following the War of 1812. The Millard’s first heard the legend when, just seven months earlier, they bought and moved into the house adorned with Greek pillars and a Greek Revival wrap-around porch, located near the intersection with Nash Road.

It seems an early owner of the house, Nathan Goold, for whom it is named, was a captain in the Windham militia. Goold built an ell with a bell tower attached. The bell was to be rung in case of danger during the War of 1812. It was said, and passed down through the decades, that after the bell was removed, footsteps on the squeaky floorboards in the tower could be heard when no one was there. It was further rumored that certain people, only those with ears tuned into the supernatural, would hear the clanging of the tower bell. Again, when no one was there.

The Goold House ghost apparently remained absent on that Halloween night in 1958, but the family remained wary due to other occurrences during their 30 years in the house.

The Millard’s eldest son, Michael (today known as Max Millard), recently shared memories of living in the house during his childhood years. “We loved the house from the moment we moved in. (It) was a magical place that seemed designed for large families with children.” All the same, he remembers some scary moments, “Because of the (old Goold family graveyard located behind the house), our house felt as if it were full of spirits. The ell was a dark place that we used mostly for storage, and none of us dared to go there while darkness reigned.”

Max remembers a time in the early 1960s when his father had a bedroom built for him on one end of the ell. “When I lay there at night, I would sometimes hear footsteps clunking up the stairway toward my room. Lying in bed, the covers over my head, …I would picture the ghost of William Goold (son of Nathan Goold) come gliding through the door. To this day, I remember those footsteps clearly and I don’t think they were my imagination.”

Asked by the reporter back in 1958 if the family believed in ghosts, most said yes. The father, Ben, seemed almost giddy about the prospect of a spiritual encounter. He commented, “I’m looking forward to meeting the old gent.”

Next time, more on the history and heritage of the Goold family, and the house that was home to several of their generations. <

Friday, October 15, 2021

Life of farmer’s wife embodies Raymond’s pioneering spirit

Carrie McLellan of Raymond is buried in
Raymond next to her husband, David at
Raymond Hill Cemetery.  FILE PHOTO 
By Ernest H. Knight

Born in Westbrook on Jan. 29, 1865, and christened Carrie Crockett, her cavalryman father was drowned, along with his horse crossing a river during a Civil War battle. She came to Raymond at the age of 3 when her mother married Hiram Cash, whose grandfather was John Cash, the famous rattlesnake charmer of Raymond Hill.

Carrie was a true embodiment of the pioneer woman, an inheritance from an ancestor, Davy Crockett of Alamo fame. Also, her husband, David McLellan, born Jan. 4, 1859, in Raymond, was undoubtedly an inspiration as he for many years had the reputation of being the hardest working and most powerful man in Raymond and Carrie worked along with him in running the farm in its developing years.

Yet while David was a very large man, Carrie weighed barely 100 pounds.

The McLellan homestead was on Otisfield Road, now Route 85, not far from the Casco line east of Rattlesnake Mountain and the nearby home of renowned 19th century Raymond resident Edgar Welch.

Originally the one-story farmhouse of his father, William, David rebuilt or replaced it with a 2 ½-story with gingerbread trim and that was considered a bit of foolishness by his neighbors. There was of course a large barn and connecting ell, the barn being where Edgar Welch met his dramatic and tragic end. The barn is still in use though the house burned down in 1954.

Carrie McLellan was well educated for the day, tutored at home by her schoolteacher stepfather who was noted for his skill in mathematics. She also took piano and organ lessons and played the organ in the Raymond Hill Church for many years. 

She worked in the corn shop at Webb’s Mills as a girl and attended Gorham Normal School from which she graduated with honors in 1885. Before and after she taught for many years in the schools of Raymond, Casco, and other nearby towns.

The McLellan farm was a prosperous family venture in which Carrie carried her full share of responsibility. The couple had one child, a son, Paul, who apparently was not inclined to the life of a farmer or woodsman as he went to Portland and became a well-known contractor.

Though her husband had been noted for his strength and abilities, he became incapacitated with rheumatism and had to leave the labor to Carrie and hired help.

Taking in summer boarders was then becoming popular, which Carrie adopted, for which she did the cooking and housekeeping in the big 13-room house along with milking the cows, tending the pigs and chickens, carrying the wood, planting, and harvesting the garden crops and all the things necessary to living in the country. Edgar Welch did the heavy work as long as he lived along with his employer, but it was Carrie that kept things moving.

But all was not work and drudgery for them in those days. There were frequent picnics on Sundays and on neighborhood or family occasions, at favorite pleasant spots in the woods or on the hilltops. At these gatherings Carrie would play her melodeon for singing, with Edgar adding his strong voice. Also, there was Jim Strout, a grandfather of Ina Witham. Called “Uncle Jim” by his many friends, who accompanied Carrie on his clarinet.

Following the death of his son, Cyrus, “Uncle Jim” never played his clarinet again except once a year when he went to a high point on Raymond Hill and played a memorial to his son, attended by sympathetic neighbors.

Carrie was also practical and inventive as well as active and ambitious. Women’s clothing of the day was not well adapted to physical labor, which she adequately solved by designing and making a form of long pants or pantaloons that enabled her to do those things not otherwise convenient, such as milking cows and navigating a wheelbarrow. Modern women have been liberated for some things, but Carrie was well ahead of her time in others.

She once tried to live in Portland with her son in her late years, but the confusion of the city was no substitute for the peace and quiet of Raymond with those she knew best. She soon returned to the town where she had spent all but the first childhood years.

Carrie lived a long and useful life, highly respected by her many friends until her death on June 28, 1952, at the age of 87. <

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, October 8, 2021

A matter of historical record: The Cumberland & Oxford Canal – the close of a great public enterprise

(Conclusion of a series)

By Walter Lunt

For over 40 years in the mid-19th century, the Cumberland & Oxford Canal followed the boundary of several towns in the Sebago Lake region, delivering trade and commerce to a wide frontier-like corridor devoid of economic prosperity. Its influence reached out into other settlements in both counties. By all accounts, it was a smart and successful venture, although unprofitable to stockholders, the canal company and some farmers along its route who suffered property damage and land acquisition.

The C. & O. was busiest, some historians would say prosperous, from its opening in 1830 to 1852 when toll collections reached over $16,000 – its highest year.

The threat that would eventually cast a death-knell on the canal arrived in Portland in 1842 – the railroad - a mere 12 years into the life of the canal. It was the Portland, Saco & Portsmouth Railway (shortly linking up to the Boston and Maine). This first rail line actually helped the canal, as it opened up an outlet for goods moving south; however, this new power-house of the Industrial Revolution represented a unique psychological impact which was best expressed by Prof. Joel Eastman in his early academic treatise, Carrying Commerce to the Countryside:

“The railroad came to symbolize economic progress – a role it was ideally suited for because the huge, iron, steam-powered engines running on iron rails seemed to epitomize…power and speed. The locomotive came to be viewed as the new cutting edge of economic growth and development. In contrast, the canal, with its small, slow, horse-drawn wooden boats seemed slow and old fashioned – more suited to the old pastoral era of the 18th century than to new urban industrial age of the mid-19th century”

It is a common misnomer that railroad transportation was cheaper, per mile, than canal shipping. As stated by Eastman, “…railroads were never less expensive than the canal, but they were faster and operated the year around (and on time), whereas the canal closed in the winter.”

By the 1850s, more railroad lines, including the Atlantic & St. Lawrence (later Grand Trunk) had moved into the region, and they did siphon cargo from the C. & O., which forced the canal company into bankruptcy. Unable to pay off its numerous loans from the Canal Bank, the 27-year-old canal was sold in 1857 to private interests for $40,000 (less than 20 percent of the original construction price of the canal).

The ultimate irony in this course of events is that in the year 1829, while the C. & O. was under construction, it was a canal company in New York that decided to import the first railroad engines to the U.S. (probably used to pull canal boats over high terrain). So, the machine destined to kill canal travel was introduced by a canal company.

The new owners of the C. & O. Canal in 1857 (a businessman and a lawyer/politician) had to come up with ways make it pay. Their ideas were novel and enterprising. But the Civil War and declining interest in the canal destined its doom. Among their proposals for future use: 1) channel drinking water from Sebago Lake to Portland; 2) conversion of the canal to a series of fish hatcheries; 3) establishing a narrow-gauge railroad on the towpath. An earlier idea, never realized, proposed cutting two-foot chunks of Sebago ice in winter, storing the hard water underground in sawdust, then shipping it down the canal for domestic use and shipping.

All ideas for reinventing the C. & O. Canal fell through, and efforts to sell it off fizzled. A portion of its footprint in Portland was sold for the construction of Commercial Street. Lumber and some manufactured items continued to ship on the canal, but heavy maintenance costs and low income caused it to descend into disrepair. The death knell came in 1868 when the Portland and Ogdensburg (New York) Railroad (later the Mountain Division of Maine Central) laid tracks that paralleled the canal all the way to the foot of Sebago Lake, and later to Sebago Lake Station. Now, there was little need for cargo to be canaled all the way to Portland for shipment. It was the end of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal. Official operations ceased in 1872.

The distinction of being the last canal boat captain to sail any portion of the Big Ditch, according to historian Herb Jones (Sebago Lake Land – 1949) goes to Lewis P. Crockett in the canal boat Arthur Willis “to the store and mill of Goff and Plummer at Middle Jam (North Gorham), about one mile from the entrance to the canal,” after which Mr. Crockett continued deliveries of apples on Sebago Lake.

Following the canal closure, the armada of canal boats (some had converted to steam) operated on Sebago and Long Lakes, hauling cargo and passengers to Sebago Lake Station to meet the train.

And there’s still another twist to our story. The Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad failed to make a profit and eventually leased operations to Maine Central Railroad.

There remain portions of the old C. & O. waterway that can still be seen today, the most conspicuous being the channel that crosses Route 35 in Standish just past the Presumpscot River. It has been raised and widened for use as a feeder stream to the Eel Weir Dam. Two other locations that seem to capture a vision of days gone by are at Babb’s Covered Bridge and at the remains of the Gambo Powder Mills in South Windham. Adjacent to a small parking lot on the Gorham side of Babb’s Bridge, there is a gully, grown in with trees and brush (sadly, often sullied with litter); this is the old canal bed. At Gambo Mills, a few hundred yards beyond the foot bridge going into Gorham, on the right, are the remains of the canal, still with water, and the towpath.

Third grade students, studying Windham history, hear the stories of the canal’s glory days from a tour guide and try to picture what it all must have been like. On one such visit a few years ago, one young visitor commented, “Wow, a lot sure happened here before I was born.” <

Friday, October 1, 2021

Sweet treats come to Raymond

By Ernest H. Knight

Ever since the late 19th or early 20th century, Raymond Village has been a mecca for tourists and summer visitors.

Along with the many advantages and attractions for them was refreshment to satisfy the summer palate in the form of homemade ice cream dispensed in the building that was used as a fishing tackle shop for years on Main Street in the village.

Several ice cream freezers like the one shown
were part of the original process of how ice 
cream was made and then sold in Raymond by
Daniel and Grace Mussey in the 19 century.
Built by Daniel and Grace Mussey, the buildings with a store on Maine Street with a dwelling in the rear and the very necessary ice house further behind that, were sandwiched between the old blacksmith shop, long since gone, and the Wharf Road.

Main Street at that time was the county road to Bridgton, later called Roosevelt Trail and Route 302. Wharf Road was the regularly traveled way from the village to the canal boat and steamboat landing built on the rocky shoal in front of Swan’s Island.

Before the days of minimum frontage lot sizes, village buildings were snuggled closely together, perhaps as a carryover from colonial days when closeness was a necessity for safety and survival. But with the towering elm trees through the village overshadowing the buildings, there was a charm and peacefulness in the combination that is now not as apparent.

Grace and Daniel built their shop for the sale of the ice cream that they made in the back room, together with homemade and commercial candies as well as novelty and souvenir items and a few necessities such as cigars and cut and plug tobacco. Also, Dan being the town barber kept an eye on two shops at once.

Ice cream that was made in the days before the invention of all the wonder chemicals and substitute food stuffs had to use natural ingredients – rich cream, fresh fruits and flavorings, without the solidifying sub-zero temperatures of mechanical refrigeration. Ice from the ice house, chipped and mixed with rock salt, provided the moderately low freezing temperatures and human muscle power provided the churning of the freezer that produced the soft texture for a tasty treat.

And so a part of the day’s ritual for travelers, for boarders at the nearby guest houses, and for the local gentry was apt to be a cooling dish of delicious homemade ice cream or a sweet.  

Later, the Mussey Ice Cream Parlor was taken over by Leta and John Leavitt, and the building and the business was expanded. A wide porch was added to the front and side to give more room for tables and provide comfortable relaxation on a hot summer day. While perhaps not equaling the “29 Flavors” made popular by the later Howard Johnson chain, there was a great variety of flavors, fruit and nutty mixtures and various toppings (all non-fattening of course) to suit at least some of the individual choices.

Natural ingredients were still the rule, but somewhere along the line, muscle power gave way to an engine-driven mixer, and after electricity came to Raymond in 1924, the acme of easy labor arrived with the electric motor that could be put to work with the mere flick of a switch.

The career of the building as a place of gastronomical refreshment ended with its years as a quick lunch emporium operated by Arnold Knox, where ice cream was still on the bill of fare, but now of the more prosaic commercial variety. It was colder and perhaps less apt to drip, but not the delectably rich, smooth and satisfying product of previous days.

For those who, along with the ice cream, appreciated local atmosphere, there was next door the old blacksmith shop of Irving (Scott) Morton with its flame-belching forge, the clang of a hammer on anvil and the pungent odor of hoof as the red-hot shoe was applied for a better fit as a horse or an ox was prepared for its work. And if the wind was right, perhaps a garnish of soft coal soot from the forge chimney in lieu of chocolate sprinkles crowning the topping. <

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, September 24, 2021

A matter of historical record: The Wolfman of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal and an account of a headless horse – more stories and legends

Part seven of a series

By Walter Lunt

Although hard to imagine today, over a century and a half ago, and for about 40 years, a canal measuring 30-feet across and just shy of 4-feet deep wound its way through Windham and Gorham on the westerly side of the Presumpscot River between North and South Windham. Boats, 60-feet long and loaded down with merchandise weighing many tons, were pulled by horses as they proceeded at a walker’s pace, occasionally being raised or lowered through locks.

The Wolfman of the Cumberland &
Oxford Canal. His hideous appearance
precluded daytime activity, so to survive
he robbed canal boats by night.
Drawing by Hannah Bowker, age 14,
of Windham.  

The canal enterprise added a special nuance to the culture of the neighborhoods through which it passed. Children, in particular, were fascinated by the big boats, the cargo and especially the men who maneuvered them. Crews that steered, sailed and poled the ungainly looking vessels tended to be high spirited, outspoken and tough. Most worked seven to 10 days at a stretch and were, at times, short-tempered with inattentive crewmen, bank cave-ins or slow (or absent) lock tenders. After all, time was money. Late shipments could affect shipping schedules at Portland harbor or hold up production at various mills along the Presumpscot. Still, there was always time for a friendly wave or a trumpet blow for children who had paused their play to greet the passing fresh-water ships.

Horns, whistles, conch shells or trumpets were familiar sounds along the “big ditch,” as they were used to alert lock tenders of an approaching canal boat. Residents along the route were also accustomed to the shouts of the canal boat captain as he bellowed orders to crewmen. There was also the flurry of activity when horse-drawn wagons pulled in and out of neighborhoods to meet the boats that had stopped at local wharves. Men with loud voices scurried to load or unload cargo, such as the one located near the South Windham/Little Falls bridge (Note Towpath Road at that location which follows roughly the path used by hoggies – young men who led the horses pulling the canal boats).

At nightfall, tired and sometimes disgruntled canalers would frequent taverns that lined the route of the C. & O. Canal, sometimes resulting in loud liquor-induced altercations, replete with inglorious language that spilled out into streets. In Portland, deep water sailors from the tall-masted sloops and schooners would spot canalers at Broad’s Tavern and begin shouting “Fresh water sailors from the raging canal.” The taunting would inevitably lead to a boisterous full-scale brawl.

Most boat crews, however, spent their evenings in more sedate surroundings. Night travel on the waterway was prohibited. Boatmen would drop anchor, stable their horse at a boarding house and enjoy a meal and a comfortable place to sleep. Others would catch and cook trout from the canal, boil potatoes and dandelion greens on the stove in the small, square cabin at the stern of the boat where they would also sleep.

In late August of 1859, a writer for the Bridgton Reporter newspaper traveled the C. & O. Canal from Bridgton to Portland aboard the canal boat Green Lake. Notes from his log-book recorded the start of his voyage back “up” the canal:

“Leaving Portland, the scenery becomes beautiful – fair cottages, elegant mansions half hidden by the rich foliage; green lawns sloping down to the water’s edge, where the willow and other shrubs bend gracefully down and are reflected in the glassy surface of the Canal; little boats drawn upon the bank; the many bridges; the view of some distant village; the occasional appearance of a canal boat…At one place we pass a host of naked urchins bathing in the canal – all comprise to form a picture seldom surpassed.”

Farther on, upon leaving the canal at Sebago Basin, the writer described what seemed to be a perilous lake crossing:

“The waves ran high and our boat tipped sideways to a fearful extent, as ever and anon a big wave dashed over the deck; but our little vessel ploughed gallantly through the waters under the guidance of our skilled helmsman; while the faint light of the moon aided in making the scene of unusual grandeur…the dark outline of the opposite shore (appeared) around 9 o’clock (and) we ran safely into the mouth of the Songo. (Here) the scene changed as if by magic – no sound of wind and waves…but a death-like stillness.”

Entry from Sebago Pond into the Songo River was notorious for the change of atmosphere and scenery. The poet, Henry W. Longfellow, describing the river’s tricky twists and turns and its umbilical hitch to Sebago and Long Ponds, penned these words following his journey on a canal boat:

Nowhere such a devious stream,
Save in fancy or in dream,
Winding slow through bush and brake
Links together lake and lake.

Two of the most peculiar stories from C. & O. Canal days involve a “headless” horse and a Wolfman (not the New York disc jockey type):

Before night travel on the canal was banned around 1835, passengers and crews were aware of nocturnal animals following the boats on the waterway. Passengers and crew reported seeing eyes reflected from the bush, following the progress of the boats. Big cats, known variously as cougars, mountain lions or catamounts, in search of a meal, were usually stalking the horse as it slowly pulled the floating cargo along the 20-mile channel.

The Bridgton newspaper writer recorded a story he heard from a crewman during his journey on the canal. His log-book entry read:

“Mr. Plummer (the crewman) who had had long experience as a voyager, related many thrilling stories of the adventures of the Canal when boating was in its infancy, how he and others had been followed by catamounts and being met by other wild beasts; how boat crews had been frightened and fled in the cabins. One night while following the horse on the towpaths, seeing a horse without a head coming towards (them) bearing some fearful monster on its back.”

And then there’s the story, both fascinating and tragic, of the Wolfman of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal.

Irish immigrants were largely responsible for construction of the canal in the late 1820s. After completion, many were left homeless and destitute. Some moved on, a few even became canalers – one, the individual who would become known as the Wolfman, suffered horrible facial burns in a fire. Taunted mercilessly by children, he grew long hair and an unruly mustache and beard to hide his deformity. To ease pain and depression, the poor soul took to drink and stealing brandy and foodstuffs from moored canal boats at night. Some boat crews were aware of his thievery but chose to ignore it out of sympathy. The boat owners felt no such compassion and hired detectives to rout out the scoundrel. According to the legend, Wolfman broke his ankle in the midst of a robbery one night and escaped to his cave in Stroudwater, detectives in pursuit. A posse smoked him out and killed him. The Wolfman now resides in an unmarked grave somewhere at Stroudwater Cemetery.

Next time, the final installment of our series will examine the demise of the canal, and one man’s modern- day tribute to this intriguing era in regional history. <

Friday, September 17, 2021

An eventful baseball trip to Bridgton by canal boat

A canal boat converted to seam, like this vessel,
was grounded while taking a baseball team and
its supporters home from a game in Bridgton 
back to Raymond in 1904. The group was
rescued the next morning. COURTESY PHOTO 
By Ernest H. Knight

Shipwrecks anywhere in the world are now instant news everywhere, thanks to such modern aids as satellite communications and rapid air travel by various news media to the scene, but it was not many years past that even local events happened beyond the knowledge of those nearby.

The people of Raymond were once faced with the imagined possibility of a nautical emergency due to slow communication that turned out to be only a minor inconvenience though it did cause much concern to those involved on the scene and back at home. 

On Aug. 6, 1904, an excursion was arranged for a group of people from Raymond made up of the Raymond Red Stripe Baseball Team and supporters from both local families and summer vacationers from the many hotels and boarding houses in the area. A canal boat once used on the old Cumberland & Oxford Canal, still being used on Sebago and Long Ponds, and owned by the Crockett Family that had a sawmill, store and other enterprises on the Muddy River on the north shore on Sebago not far from the Songo River, was chartered to convey them to Bridgton for a baseball game.

In those days, baseball was a very popular activity with any respectable town having its own team to uphold its honor and public spirit, and enthusiasm ran high throughout the summer season. But with the roads of the day very poor and vehicles limited to horse and wagon, the main means of transportation was by boat on Sebago and its connecting waters, for which there were many boats left over from the canal days plus the newer steamboats for both passenger and freight transport, providing more comfort, speed and scenery to travel.

The Crockett canal boat, as were many others still in use, had been converted to steam power in addition to the two original sails to permit operation on somewhat of a schedule independent of the weather. As the weather that weekend was threatening, the group on board totaled only about 75, all carried on deck except for a few who might get into the tiny cabin along with the steam engine and its engineer.

The events of the day were a great success as the traveling team from Raymond defeated Bridgton by a wide margin and all was joyful as they started home after the game. Darkness came on early and travel through the winding and treacherous Songo River was slow so that when they emerged on Sebago, visibility was very poor.

From the mouth of the river to deep water there was a half-mile long channel that still had to be followed even though the level of Sebago had been raised. In the darkness, the craft grounded on the channel bank and remained stuck in spite of efforts of the captain and engineer to refloat, which suited the captain as the weather conditions and lack of navigational aids made running on the rocks while rounding Raymond Cape a real possibility.

Rowboats, presumably carried or towed by the canal boat but perhaps also provided by cottagers on the nearby shore, ferried the passengers to land. The women were taken into the cottages for shelter while the men made themselves as comfortable as possible on the beach with whatever means were at hand and cheered somewhat by a bonfire of driftwood. Totally out of contact with anyone except for the cottagers, Raymond seemed a long way off.

But four of the more resourceful undertook to walk to the first farm they could find where a horse and carriage were obtained and they drove on to Raymond, Paul Revere style.

Word spread quickly along the way and at Raymond Village to allay the fears of the families and the hotels waiting for the overdue travelers.

Now knowing where to go, a small steamer was dispatched to rescue the stranded group, which arrived back at the wharf about 6 a.m. Sunday morning. Those who were weary had part of Sunday to recover from that ordeal, and for some of those there was no doubt a need for explanation. <

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, September 10, 2021

A matter of historical record: Traditional and true stories, fascinating facts and the subculture created by the 50-mile route of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal

A C.&O. boat, converted to steam power, in the 1890s is shown
here at the rail depot at Sebago Lake Station. Captain Benjamin 
Knight (tall, bearded fellow at center of standing gentlemen) was
the grandfather of C. & O. Canal historian Ernest Knight.
Part six of a series

By Walter Lunt

Recent installments of this series discussed the origin and operation of one of the most advanced and celebrated engineering feats of 19th century Maine: the Cumberland & Oxford Canal.

In the next two parts of the series, we attempt to capture the life and times, and the subculture created by the 50-mile transportation corridor that stretched from the town of Harrison near Oxford County, to the seaport of Portland in Cumberland County. What follows, in no particular order, are some of those facts and stories.

The dug portion of the C. & O. Canal extending from Portland to Sebago Lake Basin, was approximately 20 miles long and, for most of the way, ran on the westerly side of the Presumpscot River. It passed through Little Falls Village (South Windham) and the farmland along River Road.

As a young boy living beside the canal in Little Falls, Ernest Bragdon would “go for rides” on the waterway by jumping onto a canal boat from the South Windham bridge, riding down to Horsebeef locks (Mallison Falls) and then hopping another boat back.

Although mainly a freighting operation, the canal boats would occasionally carry passengers, who would usually ride atop sacks of merchandise. Some would travel from Portland to Harrison, but it was more common to travel partial distances between neighborhoods. Some of the travelers paid a fee, others just hitched a ride. Many were pressed into service, helping to raise or lower masts for lake travel, or wield 20-foot poles during the trip on the Songo River. One passenger, lacking experience with the maneuver, described the task this way: “They have long poles with one end padded and the other pointed with iron. First placing the pole perpendicularly, they sent it with a quick motion to the bottom, then lean with their shoulders against the padded end and walk toward the stern as the boat moves along…We found upon trial that even this work required some practice, as we were unable to throw the pole to the bottom. When placed for us and we had walked to the end of the boat, we could not get it out of the mud again.”

Poling was also necessary when boats entered and exited locks, when moving across Sebago Basin from the canal headgate to White’s Bridge and when traversing a dug channel in Sebago Lake leading into the Songo River.

Once in operation, the canal’s sole source of income was tolls placed on the value of cargo moving through the locks. Sawed plank, boards and joists, for example, were assessed at 3-cents per thousand feet per mile and molasses at 2-cents a hogshead. In the five-year period from 1832 to 1836, users paid the canal corporation an average of $14,000 annually. The revenue went to pay the interest on loans secured from the Canal Bank and for upkeep and damage costs on the canal.

Repairs were never ending; they included flooding, cave-ins, vandalism and lock damage (malleable clay soil at Saccarappa and Stroudwater pressed against lock walls causing major damage). Where the canal cut across pasture land, the canal corporation was obligated to build fences, and when public roads were bisected, bridges had to be built – 13 in all.

In 1836, William Whitney submitted a claim for the value of his horse that drowned in the canal. Alley Hawkes, an ancestor of a well-known Windham farming family, placed a claim for damages to his horse and carriage after busting through what he insisted was weak planking on the bridge at Great Falls.

Following opening day of the canal in 1830, the 50-mile corridor became busy, even crowded, almost immediately. At its peak of activity in the 1840s and 50s, almost 150 boats plied its waters. Red-shirted captains and crews carried all manner of merchandise to and from Portland, and numerous wharves in between; wood products were the most common. The town of Portland, for example, burned about 20,000 cords of firewood a year. With the advent of the canal, transportation costs for cordwood were reduced from $4 per cord to one dollar. Other products flowing into Portland for local consumption or for shipment to foreign ports were lumber, shook and staves, farm products – especially apples (500 to 700 bushels per boatload) – powder kegs for the Gambo gunpowder mills, clapboard and shingles, and even shade trees to be planted around Portland, a municipality destined to be known as the “Forest City.” It was also not uncommon to see disassembled barns and other structures being transported from town to town for re-building. Granite slabs, quarried on Raymond Neck, were also hauled on the canal.

Products moving north into the Sebago hinterland included salt, sugar, chests of tea, coffee, ingredients for the manufacture of gunpowder at Gambo, molasses and rum by the hogshead, tobacco and certain dry goods.

Canal boats approaching each other, travelling in opposite directions, had to deal with tow lines getting crossed. The tow-horses, pulling the boats from the same tow path, also came face-to-face. The two boats were able to pass when one hoggie (person leading the tow horse) disconnected the tow rope and dropped it onto the tow path, clearing the way for the other horse to continue on. The “downstream” boat always had the right of way.

Next time, we’ll discuss the foils and frustrations of the crusty canal boat captains and crews. And we meet the tragic “Wolfman of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal. <