Friday, January 29, 2021

Before the memory fades: Restoring the Presumpscot

The remarkable journey of a local non-profit is now a book – a good read 

By Walter Lunt

For those inspired by history and advocates for conservation, there’s a new book: River Voices – Perspectives on the Presumpscot, written and compiled by Robert M. Sanford and William S. Plumley, with Michael Shaughnessy as art editor. 

Initially formed as a rebuttal group against the construction of a large de-inking and recycling facility near the banks of the Presumpscot River on Gambo Road in Windham in the early 1990s, Friends of the Presumpscot River (FOPR) started out as a loose-knit collection of neighbors fearful of a new polluting industry that would bring trucks hauling chemicals over their narrow, dead-end road (estimated one every seven minutes), a 90-foot-high smokestack and, most worrisome, the project’s one-million-gallon-per-day wastewater treatment plant that would pour 750,000 gallons of effluent into the river. 

The 'River Voices' book is available in
paperback on for $26.88.
With their rallying cry SAVE OUR RIVER, the group soon attracted a diverse band of supporters, including life-long Windham residents, newcomers to town and the politically active. Principal opposition came from the local press and from town officials who courted the proposed industrial facility as a way to increase the town’s tax base, utilizing TIF (tax increment financing). What followed was beyond the imagination of those early activists. FOPR not only prevailed in its attempt to stop the facility but went on to fight for better water quality and fish passage along the river’s 25-mile flow which was restrained by nine dam impoundments between the river’s source at Sebago Lake and its confluence with Casco Bay in Falmouth. To that end, FOPR would engage countless federal and state agencies charged with environmental protections and dam relicensing. In 2005-06, in a battle before the United States Supreme Court that had legal ramifications for hydropower interests and environmental organizations nationwide, FOPR participated in a case involving water quality classification in federal dam relicensing. Ruling 9-0 in favor of the state of Maine and FOPR, the high court ruled that dams can cause chemical and biological changes to a stream and that states (here, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection) had the authority to issue water quality certification. The ruling went against SDW/Sappi papermill of Westbrook, the owner of five hydro-dams, in their effort to limit certain conditions for dam relicensing renewals. 

Many residents, living today, remember the Presumpscot of the mid-20th century. Its downstream course carried the by-products of the S.D. Warren Company’s paper making process. The writer recalls working an all-night shift at a radio station on Warren Avenue in the 1960s. On one particularly odorous June overnight, a listener phoned in to say, “Only in Westbrook, Maine can a beautiful spring night smell like feet.” He then requested the song Dirty Water, by the Standells. 

In those days, when traveling over the Riverton Bridge, one could observe puffy white cakes, resembling giant dumplings, floating on the Presumpscot’s dark brown current. A truly dead river, it was the exclusive effluent- carrier of the biggest employer in town. According to River Voices, no one faced the river. Homes and businesses fronted the street; trash bins and storage areas were reserved for the riverside. 

Central to the premise of River Voices is the question: why is this work important? In addition to FOPR’s remarkable history, the book, comprised of over 30 voices (perspectives), offers a comprehensive story of the Presumpscot River, from its geologic history to the 2000s, and its centuries-old relationship with humans. The reader learns how the river acquired its meandering course and about the origins of the geological Presumpscot Formation. 

Ethnohistorian Alvin Morrison discusses Native American settlements along the Presumpscot, beginning with sakamos (chief) Skitterygusset’s friendly and welcoming greeting of English explorer Christopher Levett in 1623 at the “Presumpscot First Falls” (later Smelt Hill in Falmouth). Morrison documents how this first encounter between English and Natives was a lost opportunity for lasting peace. Similarly, 100 years later Chief Polin’s efforts to assimilate the two cultures would be met with push-back. Morrison’s fair and unbiased account of Windham’s (New Marblehead’s) vicious confrontations between settler and Indian is in stark contrast to Windham history books written by Smith and Dole. Morrison also documents the true name of the local Presumpscot tribe: he maintains not Sokoki and not Rockameecook. Due to so-called Dawnland Diaspora; that is, movements and cultural mixing caused by natural disasters, diseases or warfare, “…the best we can do is to consider them simply as Presumpscot River Wabanaki…” (the all-encompassing term relating to all Maine Native tribes). 

Additional chapters in River Voices are devoted to the Quaker influence of Presumpscot development, Maurice Whitten’s exhaustive research on the Gambo Powder Mill, recreational opportunities on the river and its tributaries, fascinating information on the life-cycles and biology of diadromous fishes of the Presumpscot, exquisite and detailed drawings, literature and art uniquely related to the river’s mills and industrial history, as well as its aesthetic qualities. 

Today, according to River Voices co-author William Plumley, FOPR is working to help raise the classification of water quality from Saccarappa Falls in the center of Westbrook to the Casco Bay estuary from Class C to Class B, a higher, cleaner standard. 

FOPR and other environmental organizations are leading the effort to take the Presumpscot from an industrialized river to eco-tourism. Regarding the significance of River Voices, Plumley sums it up this way: “(The book) provides a broad appreciation of an iconic Maine river and many of the ways the Presumpscot influences life in its watershed. ‘The river to which I belong,’ as Chief Polin described it, is the life blood of the watershed’s whole environment, and it also plays vital roles in our culture, community and economy. Balancing all this for the greater good can lead to a sustainable, symbiotic relationship with the river that benefits all of these systems, human and ecological.” 

Regarding which way the future flows for the Presumpscot, witness the River Walk in Westbrook. It faces the river. < 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Virtual production nearing by Windham Center Stage Theater

By Ed Pierce

William Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It” contains the line “All the world’s a stage” and those words have been taken to heart by members of the Windham Center Stage Theater this year during the pandemic.

Despite not being able to host a live audience for performances because of COVID-19 restrictions, through the dedicated efforts of crew and performers, the theater’s annual production of “A Winter Wonderland Celebration” will be available for viewing online Feb. 1 through Feb. 6, 2021. Viewing will be free, but donations are encouraged to WCST Scholarship Fund for graduating high school seniors.  

Some of this year's 'A
Winter Wonderland
Celebration' performers
include, from left, 
Maddie Hancock, Elle
Hancock and Diane
Hancock. PHOTO
The virtual evening of entertainment features songs, dance and performances for all ages and was filmed earlier this month at the Gorham Arts Alliance.

“Our goal was to make a PBS-type holiday special using winter-themed local art as transition pieces,” said Rachel Scala, co-chair of Windham Center Stage Theater. “Viewers can expect to see 15 to 20 different acts, including the Maine State Ballet, theatrical skits, and lots of singing. It’s really an amalgamation of old school acts that the entire family will enjoy.”

Windham Center Stage Theater is a community theater that encourages people to participate in all aspects of theatrical arts in an environment that is safe and welcoming.

Because the theater’s home venue at Windham Town Hall was unavailable, the move was made to film the production and air it online.

“This is the first big online virtual event we’ve ever put together and it posed a challenge for us,” Scala said. “We didn’t know a lot about videography, which platform to use for this and all of the technical issues associated with doing this.”

Scala said that because of its success presenting this show virtually this year, the theater is looking at similar opportunities going forward during the pandemic.

“We really want to give performers a chance to show what they can do,” she said. “This presentation of ‘A Winter Wonderland Celebration’ is also a reminder for our community that Windham Center Stage Theater is still here and we’re not in the dark. We’re grateful to the Gorham Arts Alliance for their collaboration on this project.”

Many of the performers appeared in last year’s “A Winter Wonderland Celebration” production, with Maine State Ballet being new to the show this time.

Videography and editing for “A Winter Wonderland Celebration” was done by Evan Rivard and the production was directed by Darnell Stuart.

Andrew Linzell Shepard, a Windham Center Stage Theater board member and a 2016 graduate of Windham High School, said he’s anxious to see the final version of “A Winter Wonderland Celebration” production.

“I worked on the light and sound when it was filmed,” he said. “I’m really excited to see how the public will react to the wide variety of performances, music, skits and a cappela groups.”

Shepard moved back to Windham after graduating from Hampshire College in Massachusetts last year and said he was eager to help because the annual production serves as a fundraiser to provide a scholarship for drama students.

“Even though this event is free, and donations are optional, it’s an opportunity to help a graduating senior receive a scholarship,” he said.

Working on the production also helped foster Shepard’s technical abilities.

“I’ve learned a lot and added a technical level,” Shepard said. “It was an opportunity for me to explore bringing people together on stage, using different spaces to record the show and to see how it enhances the theater.”

Windham Center Stage Theater’s usual home for community productions is in the auditorium at Windham Town Hall and seats about 100. All activities for the theater were halted in April 2020 because of the pandemic and this will be the first production staged by theater members since then.

To view “A Winter Wonderland Celebration” online from Feb. 1 to Feb. 6, or to make a financial donation to the WCST Scholarship fund, visit <  

Friday, January 15, 2021

A matter of historical record: the Kennard neighborhood and the rotary (Final in a series)

By Walter Lunt

When considering early Windham history, discussion often centers around the founding families of New Marblehead, the South Windham area or even Popeville. But one part of town that usually receives only scant attention in books and articles, yet contributed greatly to the unfolding heritage of this lakes region municipality, is the Kennard neighborhood near Windham Center, or the rotary (The Windham Eagle – Dec. 4, 18, 31, 2020). As discussed earlier, from Elias LeGrow’s pitchfork confrontation with the tax collector during post-Revolutionary times, to the creation of the Fosters Corner rotary in 1951, early farm families and merchants displayed extraordinary perseverance and creative ingenuity in creating a tradition of high character, hard work and fraternity.

Local historians differ on who first settled the Kennard neighborhood, but there is good evidence that It may have been Elias “pitchfork” LeGrow. The reader may recall that he had settled in the vicinity before joining the fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. Writing in 1904, citizen historian Isaac R. Jordan, utilizing “traditional” sources, recounted a story about LeGrow’s wife as she worked the Windham farm and cared for their children during his absence.

Before there was a traffic circle, this intersection
was known as Morrell's Corner. This copy of an
old post card shows, left, the Pleasant River Grange
Hall before it was moved several yards up an
embankment to accommodate the straightening
of Route 302; center, the Seavey store (formerly
Morrell's grocery store); right, the Pleasant River 
House, a boarding house. During the 1800s and
even into the 20th century this corner was often
referred to as Windham Center.
“...(she) must have depended for their daily bread largely upon corn which she raised herself. Tradition informs us that she (walked) to the mill with a grist (batch) of corn on her back. One time, getting short of food, she started off with a half bushel of corn for the far away mill (at ‘horse-beef’ or Mallison Falls). It was early winter and very cold; while she was gone a heavy snow came on and covered her forest pathway from sight, the snow nearly to her knees. She reached a spring and (drank furiously). Later, upon reaching home, she opened the door and fell completely exhausted.”

Mrs. LeGrow’s nearly six-mile journey “was performed by the aid of spotted (marked) trees,” and she often remarked that she hurried during the return trip because there was “most always a bear come to drink at (a certain) brook” along her path.

Commenting on his story, historian Jordan wrote, “(…these were) days that tried men’s souls, and women’s souls too.”

Jordan estimated the Kennard district covered about 1500 acres, and by the 1800s had “the wealthiest and best farms in town.”

One of the next settlers in the district was Samuel Kennard, for whom the early settlement was named. He came from Kittery to Falmouth (Portland). Unhappy with his new surroundings, Jordan says “…he loaded his house frame, which was already hewn, on an ox-team and moved to this place (Windham). His wife, on horseback, brought their child, Elijah, in her arms (about 1776). Like many of these early settlers, the Kennards were Quakers, so would not have served in the war. The Kennards would later have three more boys.

Around this time, a family named Varney had settled near Windham Hill on the road today named Hall Road, the only farm on the road at that time. They had four girls. And as was typical of the time, the four Kennard boys married the four Varney girls.

Apparently, the Varney farm was the jewel of the neighborhood. Jordan described its features this way: “(It) had a large and well-filled barn (and) frontage on the road for nearly a mile from his road to the Windham Hill road…nearly 100 acres. I have been informed that he used to keep two yokes of oxen, nearly the same number of steers, and a nice herd of cows, besides young stock, also two horses, and cut enough hay to keep them. This farm was a model of thrift and neatness. Fences and gates were all in trim order…they (also) were plough (plow) makers and were considered fine workmen.”

One of the best-known farmers in later years was Lott Morrell. His spread totaled nearly 200 acres and was located right where the Fosters Corner rotary is today. George Hall, who was born in the neighborhood in 1938 and is the proprietor of Hall Implements, knew the Morrell’s and recalls fondly their farming expertise. An astute historian, Hall has written a memoir of his knowledge and experiences in the Kennard neighborhood.

“I have memories of Lott and Annabelle who built a nice home with barn attached named Tri-Gon Farm. The buildings were taken down in the 1980s, which is now the location of Hancock Lumber (and) Mercy Hospital quick care and health services. In the area of the rotary’s location there were fields used for hay and (situated squarely inside today’s traffic circle) a blacksmith shop” operated by Lott Morrell. “I recall seeing the fields cut for hay with Lott’s 1936 John Deere tractor and an old homemade tractor used for pulling the hay rake. A neighbor, Warren Thomes drove the vintage tractor made from used automobile parts. The hay was hauled to the barn to feed Morrell’s animals.”

Old-timers still remember Annabelle’s spectacular flower garden of the ‘30s and 40’s directly across the road from the Morrell’s farmstead. The grounds were an ornamental landmark of the time; adding to its striking beauty were several used mill stones and a granite watering trough.

The family of Warren Thomes, the vintage tractor driver, operated a small store with gas pumps on the corner of (today’s) Lott’s Drive and route 302. After several owners, and now closed, it remains there today.

One of Hall’s tastiest memories involves Seavey’s Red & White Store, which opened in 1941 (The Windham Eagle – photo, page 10 – Dec. 18, 2020). Owners Clyde and Helen (Hall)

Seavey sold groceries….and ice cream cones. “My parents always gave me a few cents, knowing it would buy an ice cream. Us kids would wait until Clyde was busy at the counter so Helen would dip. (She) would always give us a larger scoop of ice cream.”

Kennard neighborhood dairy cows have contributed to Oakhurst Dairy since the 1940s, and farming continues in the area to this day. George Hall’s parents, Stanley V. and Mary (Libby) Hall, bought land and farmed in the area in the 1940s, and purchased land around the rotary from the heirs of Lott Morrell in the early 1950s. They built a large barn at their home across from Lott’s Drive and for many years raised Holsteins. In order to move his cows from the barn to a grazing field across route 202 on the rotary’s east side, an underground tunnel beneath the road was built. About 40 cows accessed the tunnel, often twice a day. The tunnel, unused, remains there today.

Stanley Hall farmed all his life and found time to represent Windham as both a selectman and state legislator. As a teen in the 1930s, he milked cows for a neighbor before school, earning $2.50 a week. The late Charles Legrow, local historian and one of the founding members of the Windham Historical Society once said of Hall, “In my opinion, he is one of Windham’s most successful businessmen.”

As referenced in our earlier installment, there may be more changes coming to the rotary. According to the transportation analysis division of the Maine Department of Transportation, due to lengthy rush-hour back-ups at both 302 rotary entrances, right turn “by-passes” will be built to accommodate traffic accessing route 202. Vehicles approaching the traffic circle from the north and headed west (toward South Windham) will simply take the by-pass road without having to enter the rotary. Vehicles traveling north and headed toward Gray could also access a by-pass road. Construction may begin later this year or in early 2022. <

Friday, January 8, 2021

Windham teacher wins big in Dunkin’ sweepstakes

A Windham teacher and her school received a huge surprise recently when Megan Juhase-Nehez was recently honored as a grand prize winner in the “Dunkin’ Raise a Cup to Teachers” sweepstakes. 

Juhase-Nehez, a special education teacher at Manchester School, was chosen from more than 6,000 sweepstakes nominations in Maine for Dunkin’s grand prize of $5,000, a new computer, free Dunkin’ coffee for a year, and $10 Dunkin’ gift cards for her students. Manchester School was also awarded $5,000 by Dunkin.’


Megan Juhase-Nehez has been
a teacher for 13 years and has
taught special education at
Manchester School for the past
three years. She has been honored
as one of two 'Dunkin' Raise a Cup
to Teachers' sweepstakes winners
in Maine this year. 

The promotion asked Mainers to nominate deserving teachers in their community to help shine a light on the invaluable role they play in children’s lives both in and out of the classroom. Juhase-Nehez was nominated by Casey Melanson of Windham whose son had the teacher in her class last year.


“She is the kind of teacher that figures out what works best for each student and then adapts her teaching to them,” Melanson said about Juhase-Nehez. “She gave him the confidence to know he could do anything he put his mind to. She always has her students’ well-being in mind and encourages them to aim high.”


Overall, Juhase-Nehez has been a teacher for 13 years and has taught special education at Manchester School for three years. She says the new computer will be used by her children for remote learning sessions.


As a vegan, she said that she loves Dunkin’s Beyond Breakfast Sausage patty and Dunkin’s new oatmilk latte.


Juhase-Nehez was one of two “Dunkin’ Raise a Cup to Teachers” grand prize winners in Maine. Dunkin’ also awarded more than 400 weekly $50 Dunkin’ gift card prizes to nominated Maine teachers and their nominators. And Dunkin’ also selected 20 different Maine teachers to receive free Dunkin’ coffee for a year on World Teachers’ Day in October.


Founded in 1950, Dunkin' is America's favorite all-day, everyday stop for coffee and baked goods. Dunkin' is a market leader in the hot regular/decaf/flavored coffee, iced regular/decaf/flavored coffee, donut, bagel and muffin categories.


Dunkin' has earned a No. 1 ranking for customer loyalty in the coffee category by Brand Keys for 14 years running. The company has more than 12,600 restaurants in 40 countries worldwide. Dunkin' is part of the Inspire Brands family of restaurants.


Follow Dunkin’ on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to learn about other sweepstakes, holiday menu items, or promotions on the Dunkin’ app.


For more information, visit <