Friday, June 30, 2023

Pismire Bluff Trail in Raymond Community Forest a must for hikers

By Abby Wilson

We all have a favorite spot for recreation during Maine’s summer and for many people hiking Pismire Bluff Trail in the Raymond Community Forest is a must.

Hiking the Pismire Bluff Trail in the Raymond Community
Forest is a year-round scenic experience that many continue
to enjoy year after year. PHOTO BY JON EVANS
This unique trail system is located off Conesca Road in Raymond and is managed by the Loon Echo Land Trust.

Prior to 2016, these 360 acres belonged to the Hancock Land Company which harvested timber for Hancock Lumber. Today, the Raymond Community Forest boasts several miles of multi-purpose trails and beautiful views.

This project had “a lot of different partners... with a lot of community support” says Jon Evans, Stewardship Manager for the Loon Echo Land Trust.

Evans said that funding for the purchase was fueled by a state program called Land for Maine’s Future (LMF), individual donors, and local foundations.

The land trust immediately began planning for trails since the property was already being accessed by people viewing the mountain vistas from the bluff.

“People have been scrambling up there for 100 years,” Evans said.

Loon Echo Land Trust hired the Appalachian Mountain Club to build a trail that had a goal of getting people to that bluff. The idea was the overall area impacted on the mountain would decrease if there was one route. A safe trail would also reduce erosion and safeguard impact to rare grasses and flowers.

According to Evans, the land trust is aware of several sensitive plant communities on the bluff, including the rare Fern-leaved False Foxglove, a late-summer flower that grows along the trails.

There is also a Maple Ash Basswood natural community and woodland. Summer Grapes are unique to the area and grow along the Grape Expectations Trail.

Another preliminary project for the Pismire Bluff Trail was the multiuse trail system by the parking area.

A local bike enthusiast and now a “super volunteer,” Dave Dowler, approached the Loon Echo Land Trust with an idea to create paths for bikes.

Today’s Spiller Homestead Loop is the result of years of hard work and about 400 volunteer hours coordinated by Dowler and while this particular type of trail was not an original Loon Echo Land Trust idea, it soon became an exciting project.

“You want to harness that volunteer spirit,” Evans said. "On this trail, there’s no roots or thresholds because bikers have higher standards, but pedestrians also benefit. To build a trail of that standards with volunteers is really incredible.”

In its first year, the infrared trail counters tracked 5,000 visitors at Raymond Community Forest.

That’s no surprise to Evans, who says ““It is one of my very favorite places… We are incredibly proud of how it turned out.”

At the Raymond Community Forest, there is a balance between ecological integrity and recreational use. The property is great for hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

Pismire Bluff is similar to Bald Mountain with no large investment in time.

Evans says it’s also a “great and satisfying hike for folks that are older or have mobility limitations”.

The Maple Ash community is particularly beautiful in the fall. Grasses grow in the understory and in September, when the canopy is turning yellow above, it creates a very unique and picturesque forest scene for hikers to enjoy.

The trails counter is still tracking about the same number of visitors but there was a radical increase during COVID. The rate at which people were visiting far exceeded the land trust’s ability to maintain the trails.

With 40 miles of trails across the land trust’s several properties, volunteers have played a critical role in trail management. Loon Echo Land Trust has a trail adoption program where people sign up to take responsibility of trails by cutting brush, reporting tree falls, and overall looking after the trails.

The major goal is to keep trails passable and have “eyes, ears, and boots on the ground,” says Evans.

Interested volunteers can also participate in trail workdays which are scheduled frequently throughout the summer and occur at different properties. Loon Echo Land Trust provides necessary training and tools.

Another benefit to volunteering is that it allows people to get out on the land a better understand conservation.

“There’s a large portion of people that use conserved land but don’t know what it means,” Evans said.

Maine is predominantly privately owned, so land trusts are critical in providing access for recreation. It’s good to get people out there so they can learn about what a land trust does.

“We want folks to be satisfied with their experiences and understand why it matters,” says Evans. “They are not making new land.”

This community forest will be extremely unique in the future because properties are constantly being developed in the lakes area. The property acts as a buffer between natural communities and development, making it ecologically valuable as well.

“We do this for the future and future generations, and all walks of life,” Evans said.

Learn more about Loon Echo Land Trust at <

Friday, June 23, 2023

Castleton Lodge was once hub of summer life in Raymond

By Ernest H. Knight

Places that came into being far into the past, whether they are historic landmarks or simply things that we have been used to seeing in their once natural settings, have a way of suddenly disappearing. And once gone, they assume greater importance than once accorded them, even to outraged protests that something should have been done to save them.

Schooner Cove in Raymond was the resting place of a derelict
canal boat hull and the site of the old Castleton Lodge, an
estate that once was a beehive of summer life for tourists
and locals in the 19th century. COURTESY PHOTO 
One of those disappearances in Raymond has been Castleton Lodge, as once identified on its entrance sign board on Raymond Cape Road, or as the J.J. Bond Estate by many who preferred a family appellation. Located on the northern end of Raymond Cape not far from South Casco, encompassing a block of land extending from Sebago Lake to the Cape Road of about 100 acres which included areas of majestic pines, swamp land, a beautiful sand beach and boulders with its center piece a three-story log house, progress and the future converged on Castleton Lodge in the form of the destruction of the log house and outbuildings, clearing of woods for parkway style roads and preparation of land for the building of expensive development houses.

About 100 years ago Joseph J. Bond of Reading, Massachusetts purchased the land, and from trees cut on his property, built a masterpiece of wood and stone for gracious summer “rustication.” Mr. and Mrs. Bond, native New Englanders, had migrated in the 1880s to Castleton, South Dakota, to manage an extensive wheat ranch owned by a Boston syndicate, a venture which was not a success and sold to Mr. Bond. After three bumper crops in a period of high market prices, he sold out and with his fortune returned to New England to devote the rest of his life to the acquisition and development of his estate in Raymond in the grand style of the day.

The big house was made of round logs, presumably of the same vintage as the remaining huge pines throughout the land. Faced toward the lake and on the east side by a massive stone porch and steps with second-story rooms projecting above, the main room was open upward through the first and second floors, the interior walls of the same round logs as outside, an imposing stone fireplace in one corner and the kitchen and service rooms in the rear. An open pine log stairway went up from another corner to a second-floor balcony surrounding the main room with doors on three sides to guest rooms while on the third floor were rooms probably for servants as there were few windows or comforts there.

Behind the house, in the woods, were garages, recreation and service buildings. On a scenic rocky point extending into Sebago was a small beach house with a sandy beach to either side, one of them in a cove that sheltered a boat wharf on which undoubtedly guests and supplies arrived from many of the steamboats meeting trains at Sebago Lake Station.

Offshore the view is spectacular with a background of distant mountains and in the foreground some of the Dingley Islands centered on Millstone Island. Truly a setting and substance that can be visualized as once a beehive of summer life.

The name given to this development is, appropriately enough, Cathedral Pines, the entrance from Raymond Cape being through what has been heavy growth of the 2-foot pine trees. Beside this entrance, hidden in brush, is the cellar hole of the house of Alfred Mains, who farmed the land more than a century ago. This divided road for two-way traffic for 1,000 feet or so is centered by a line of these big trees as straight as though they had been planted, as well they might have been by Mr. Bond’s plan.

But now all resembles Yellowstone Park or Mount St. Helens as bulldozers, chain saws and fiery piles of brush prepared the land for the coming buildings. The better of the two beaches was reserved as common land along with the scenic point. Another property transformed overnight from a hidden private reserve into a complex of residential glamour.

Of interest to those in the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and others attracted to the history of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal, 1830-1870, is that the canal boats traversed this part of Sebago on their way to and from the Songo River and lakeshore landings. The first cove is the resting place of a derelict canal boat hull, logically giving it the name “Schooner Cove.”

As the lake below the high-water mark is state/public property, it will not be subject to development jurisdiction and members of the canal society are engaged in underwater measurement and photography to gain knowledge from one of the very last known canal boats in physical shape for study. Furthermore, it appears to be of a type other than the conventional C & O design that may have had its idea or origin on salt water before finding its way from there to the lake through the canal, a novel consideration. <

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, June 9, 2023

Early telephone service dazzles Raymond residents

By Ernest H. Knight

Communication by wire has come a long way since the invention of the telegraph by Samuel F.B. Morse and the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell, even though some time after those and other inventions had changed society the then-head of the Bureau of Patents in Washington recommended that the agency be abolished as everything that could be invented had already been accomplished. But even now more than a century and a half later, our telephone system is still offering new gimmicks of expanded equipment and wireless service.

The Raymond & Webb's Mills Telephone Company
was created in the late 19th century and each customer
was issued a wall phone like this one with their
own number, usually a combination of one number
for the line they were on. COURTESY PHOTO
More than a century ago in the late 19th century, the telephone came to Raymond and Casco even though there was no electricity for lights and motors for another decade or more.

The Raymond & Webb’s Mills Telephone Company, soon to become the Webb’s Mills Exchange of the Poland Telephone Company, improved somewhat on the communications at Squawk Hill, a suburb of Webb’s Mills, where a few residents started the day with a shouted message which resounded in the hills and valleys to be answered in kind by neighbors.

But the reassuring sound of another voice in the clear morning air was superior to the scratchy sound coming from a receiver clapped against the ear, mingled with the sounds of babies crying and doors slamming.

The first telephone lines were run along roads and across fields by those who wanted the newfangled gadget to connect into the exchange at Webb’s Mills where they could be connected to whomever they desired.

Every customer had their own number, a combination of one number for the line they were on, followed by a dash if written or a pause of being rung and then the particular number on that line for the individual. A single long ring would get the exchange.

As each ring was by a crank that turned a magneto to send the signal over the wire to all receivers on the line, the lower digits were used first up to five or six at the most to minimize the ringing, and then double digits using the 1s, 2s and 3s.

This meant a lot of jangling of bells along the line which only the number was supposed to answer. In practice almost every receiver was lifted to listen anyway but a hand, held discreetly over the mouthpiece, might fool the talkers into thinking they had secrecy.

But when waiting for the recipient to answer, a series of random clicks indicated others were preparing to listen. Too many open receivers diminished the loudness, but an angry complaint could persuade some to hang up.

To call someone on another line the extension was relayed at the exchange.

Every line had its own pair of wires, strung on insulators attached to poles or trees. As customers increased and the lines were taken over by companies seeing business opportunities, wires were combined on company poles resulting in eventually seeing some roads being festooned with wires, each pole having multiple cross arms, each arm with multiple pairs of wires attached to glass insulators.

Eventually for the Patent Office, not having gone out of business for lack of work, developments permitted single wires to carry multiple conversations, wires were combined into cables and on and on through the amazing services we enjoy today.

But there is one nostalgic thing from that era, along with a lot of useful improvements, that came to be known as the music from the singing wires.

A small or large number of telephone wires gave a steady humming sound, varying only in intensity, somewhat like that of a distant horde of locusts though of a higher pitch, most pronounced when heard close to the pole, which acted as a sounding board. As in a well-known painting of the Frederick Remington type showing a vast expanse of western prairie with a line of poles stretching off into infinity, a trio of blanketed Indians standing by the pole with their ears close to it, probably wondering at the significance of the “Singing Wires,” the title of the painting. <

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, June 2, 2023

Before the memory fades: In honor of Windham’s hometown heroes during World War II

By Walter Lunt

The Windham High School Kiwanis Band, orchestra and glee clubs were halfway through a command performance that was being broadcast to a local radio audience on the Sunday afternoon of Dec. 7, 1941 when, suddenly, all activity came to a halt. The radio show, known as Maine Schools on the Air, was a live remote broadcast from the school’s auditorium (town hall gym today). The production was the culmination of weeks of preparation by the students and the music staff, consisting largely of Windham’s Class of 1942.

The Windham High School Kiwanis Band. Clinton Graham,
center, was director and played oboe for the Portland
Symphony Orchestra. The band was unable to complete
a remote radio broadcast from the high school when the
national network cut in to announce the attack on
WHS CLASS OF 1942    
“It was a special event – big doings,” said Carroll McDonald, a high school senior at the time, “…and it required a lot of preparation – lots of rehearsals. It had to be as professional as possible.” McDonald was waiting to present a solo on trumpet, “but I didn’t get to play it. At first, we didn’t know what was going on. We were off the air, but you could hear (an announcer) talking. Then everyone was quiet – people were floored, astounded.”

The on-air interruption was, of course, breaking news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. McDonald, 98, remembered, “This (event) changed the rest of our school year quite a bit.”

Writing in the 1942 Windham High School yearbook, Editor-in-Chief Louise Manchester wrote, “Our country is now involved in a second great World War…We, the youth of today, realize that it is our duty to share the responsibilities that accompany our fight for democracy…One of our most important projects has been the training of all high school boys and many girls in the study of First Aid. Many girls have completed courses in Home Nursing…”

McDonald remembers buying U.S. Defense Stamps, “for pennies.” Later, the stamps would be turned in for a $25 War Bond. By the spring of ’42, the students were calling for scrap metal to be dropped off at the school. “We had a huge pile of donations: old, unused farm equipment, tea kettles, plows, harrows…anything made of metal. It got melted down and made into something to fight the war with; the U.S. was ill-prepared.”

School buses could no longer transport students to after school activities, however those who had cars provided conveyance. The yearbook also reported, “This year, because of the demand for more food, the boys of the Future Farmers of America Club (a school sponsored group) are having more and larger projects. Members of the boy’s 4-H Club participated in a “Food for Victory” project while the girls Hi-Y Club made white shirts for the Red Cross.

As a young lad, barely 17, McDonald was called upon to help out with the war effort by manning an aircraft warning tower situated on a high point of land at the intersection of Chute and Webb Roads. His job: Keep eyes on the sky and listen. His tools: Binoculars and a phone. His shift: 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. one day a week. He cannot recall if he was ever late for his first period class at school.

Rationing of critical resources such as gasoline, rubber, sugar and even cigarettes soon followed. Folks who were “holding down the home front” learned to get along with less. McDonald recalls one of his neighbors, Arthur Cobb, who lived on the corner of Gray Road (Route 202) and Gambo Road. “His nickname was pipe because he was always smoking a crooked corn-cob pipe; he would always brag about saving gas by shifting his car into neutral when going downhill. He’d leave his house going toward South Windham; when he got to Grant’s Corner (Binga’s today) he’d coast until he crossed the railroad tracks. Another time, there was a crash at that corner and the car started leaking gas. The fellow who lived in the brick house ran across the road (to the disabled car) and put a milk pail under the wreck to catch the gas.”

Perhaps the most grievous and disheartening effect of the war was the impact on family roles. Husbands, dads and brothers went off to serve the country; grandparents, wives, moms, sisters and children willingly and diligently assumed new duties – in some cases on a learning curve.

Kenneth Griffin was 8 years old, living with his mom and dad, grandmother, two brothers and a little sister on the family farm on River Road, when the radio soap opera "One Man’s Family" he was listening to was suddenly interrupted with the disturbing news of Pearl Harbor. “I went from childhood to early adulthood that day in 1941,” recalled Griffin, “A few minutes later my father (a machinist’s mate in the U.S. Coast Guard) drives into the yard. He rushes into the house and runs upstairs. In no time he’s back in uniform kissing Mom goodbye and drives away. I couldn’t grasp what was going on, but life for the Griffin family changed that day.”

Griffin’s brothers soon left school to work in the “new” shipyard in South Portland; by 1943 they would leave home to serve in the military, but not before teaching young Kenneth how to run the farm. “I was almost 11 by then. We had two cows, 25 chickens, one pig and a John Deere tractor complete with tow bar, hay mower and plow.” He was now “man of the house.”

Now, age 91 and living in California, Griffin emailed a few memories of those war years. “The plow lever was so heavy that I had to stand up on the tractor and use both hands and legs to pull it down or lift it up. Fortunately, our (vegetable garden) rows were long so there was time between the exercise. (My brother) was a fine teacher and gave me good instructions before he left.”

The following year, Griffin’s dad would be missing in action, “…and the checks stopped coming!” Mom would find work in Portland where she found living accommodations and work at a five-and-dime store. Back on the farm, 12-year-old Griffin and his grandmother would keep the fires burning. Dad would eventually be located, recuperating in a Halifax hospital.

Lloyd “Buster” Gilman of Windham says he was about 10 years old and lived on Gambo Road when the war impacted his family. “We had a big garden: cukes, tomatoes and potatoes. There was a neighbor who used to sneak into our cellar and steal potatoes. We raised chickens and my mother would can them. They were good in those jars. I remember eating a lot of hot dogs, poor man’s food.” Gilman said the abandoned Gambo Gunpowder Mills, located near his home, had a canon that was once used to test the gunpowder. He said it disappeared – scrapped for the war effort. Gilman’s mother, Alice, kept a diary. Her entries are revealing regarding the burdens and concerns of the home front in Windham during World War II.

Feb. 23, 1942: Listened at 10 p.m. President Roosevelt talk.

May 5, 1942: Got our sugar rationing books, each (family) allowed ½ pound a week.

June 23, 1942: Took all our old rubber and tires to salvage. Got 1 cent a pound. We had 88 pounds.

March 29, 1943: Started rationing meat, butter, fats and canned fish.

July 13, 1944: Army bomber crashed over at South Portland into a lot of trailer camps, killing 16 – injuring several.

April 17, 1945: Put up clothes for the relief of war victims in Europe.

May 8, 1945: The war is over in Europe. A great day for everyone.

July 7 and 8, 1945: No eggs anywhere in any store. Butter has gone up to 89 cents a pound. In Portland charging over $1.

Aug. 14, 1945: They announced over the radio that war ended with Japan. Everyone celebrates. Built fires in the streets, threw tons of paper, Everyone happy. I was so happy not only for my boy that is fighting, but for all others too, and their mothers, wives and sweethearts.

Another Windham resident named Gilman who also remembers the sorrow and hardships of the war years is Hazel Gilman, who has lived nearly all of her 104 years in the same house on River Road near Grant’s Corner. Hazel holds the town’s Boston Post Cane and says life in Windham during World War II “changed immensely.” She married Kenneth Gilman in 1941 and no sooner had they started a life together when he was called to the war in the Pacific. “I had a hard time getting used to the idea that he was gone.”

Hazel and Ken did not have children but were helping to support members of their family. As a result, Hazel determined she would have to find work. “We simply didn’t have all the things we needed and things were scarce, especially meat and sugar. We depended on ration stamps. We didn’t go anywhere – there was just not enough money.” She found work a short walk up the road at Thayer’s Store.

Ken was in the Navy on a sub tender. Hazel would check the newspaper every day hoping to learn the location of his ship. They would write to each other nearly every day, but often his letters were held up until five or six would arrive at the South Windham Post Office on the same day. When that happened, she recalls that the letter carrier would drive to her house after hours so she wouldn’t have to wait an additional day.

“Everybody had someone they were worried about – a husband, brother or nephew.”

But there was a bright side to the period, she recalls. “People helped each other out. Some large families had more ration stamps than they really needed, so they’d drop the extras off at the store and we’d give them out to folks we knew needed them.”

Hazel chuckled as she remembered the time a shipment of cigarettes, which were rationed, arrived at the store. “We had to hide them because people would try to steal them.” It seems a young store clerk received the shipment and immediately shoved the cartons under the counter, out of sight, but right beside and on top of packages of mothballs. The mothball flavored smokes resulted in many irate patrons. Store staff, however, couldn’t help but find some amusement in the bungled butt blunder.

This column wishes to extend deep respect and remembrance to all lost in war on this Memorial Day. And special thanks to the reader of this column who suggested we highlight and remember “the folks back home,” before the memory fades. <