Friday, March 12, 2021

Before the memory fades: If you could salvage one thing from your burning home, what would it be?

Windham Historical Society vice-president Sam
Simonson examines the anvil 'rescued' from the
1940 Haskell House on River Road.
By Walter Lunt

In the summer of 1940, a long-standing and well-known farmhouse on River Road in Windham burned to the ground, destroying virtually everything within. Friends and neighbors rushed to the scene, filled buckets from several dug wells on the property and tossed the water into the ever-growing flames – to no avail.

At one point, when the home was fully engulfed, owner Herman Haskell broke from the assembled firefighters and, despite loud warnings against the move, dashed into the burning building. There were no people or pets left inside the home; apparently, there was an item he wanted to save.

The Haskell house, a post and beam structure located on the east side of an uphill slope near today’s the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints, was built in the late 1700s, according to Steve Libby, who lives next door to the site of the fire and is related to the Haskell family. He says, at some point in the 1800s, the house was moved from the opposite side of the road.

In the 1930s, it was occupied by Herman and Kemis Haskell; Herman operated a dairy farm and sold butter; Kemis was a longtime and highly respected Windham school teacher.

As they stood and watched the fruit of their toil and all their possessions go up in flames, Herman bolted and ran toward the door of the burning house, ignoring cries for restraint from the crowd.

Moments later, a heavy object was thrown from a second- floor window of the carriage house. It would leave a deep and distinctive indentation in the ground. Seconds later, in what must have seemed like long minutes, Herman emerged safely- breathless but seemingly satisfied with what he had done.

What had Herman tossed from his burning shed? A 145-pound anvil!

If Herman had shared his reason for choosing this particular commodity for rescue, or, moreover, why such an implement was kept on the second floor, the explanation never got passed down through the generations. Family members still don’t know but have never tired of telling the story.

Libby, son of the late, well known Windham resident Glenn S. Libby, speculates that the anvil was an invaluable tool for maintaining operations on the farm. It was used to repair machinery and horse-drawn equipment parts. Starting over would be difficult without it.
A few years ago, the Windham Historical Society got a call from Glenn Libby, who was aware of the organization’s plans to include a blacksmith shop in its Village Green history park at Windham Center.

He told Sam Simonson, a blacksmith who helped establish the shop, that he wanted to donate the old anvil for use in the operation of the living history park.

Simonson confirmed that fire would have damaged the anvil, “it could have lost all its temper,” and added that it was not uncommon for farmers in those days to have a fire forge, since it would have been inconvenient to visit a commercial shop for small jobs. Still, the reason for the anvil’s location on a second story remains a mystery.

In 1940, an anvil was important enough to be granted a second life. Apparently, in the 2020s it will have a third.

If your house were on fire, what object would you save? From which floor? <

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