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. <

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