Windham Historical Society is quickly taking advantage of a rare opportunity.

The society heard a historic property that abuts the society’s headquarters in the old town hall on Windham Center Road was going to auction and acted quickly to negotiate with the family who holds the property in trust.

“We didn’t want to wait for an auction,” said society co-president Linda Hanscom. “We were afraid we’d get outbid. We’re now under contract and heading for the closing.”

The 2.5-acre property at 458 Gray Road is the longtime home of Clifton and Julia Reeves. Julia will be 100 years old Sunday and recently moved to a residential facility in Portland. She first moved to this circa 1860s Late Greek Revival cape in 1941. In honor of her centennial, the society has named its new nonprofit to carry out the acquisition October House, LLC.

“(The family) was so pleased when we said we wanted to purchase it,” said Hanscom. “They’ve donated many artifacts to us in the past.”

Ironically such donations have spurred the need to acquire a building with land. The society has had to refuse some items, especially old farming equipment, simply because it has run out of room to store anything.

“We desperately need space,” says Norma Rogers, co-president. “We have the Old Grocery Museum, which is full. This house is just a wonderful opportunity that was practically handed right to us.”

Founded in 1967, Windham Historical Society’s first headquarters was a circa 1800 cape that was moved to Chute Road where the South Windham Post Office is now. When the society was given its current headquarters, the old brick Town House on the Windham Center Road, in 1983, the society sold the Bodge house. Some of the money will go for the down payment for the purchase of the new Reeves property.

Connections to the new property go beyond its physical location. Rogers’ husband’s family has ties to the Reeves — Julia is Don Rogers’ aunt. Past society president Betty Winslow’s ancestors also lived here.

In September, after a unanimous vote by the society’s board of directors, a letter was mailed out to its 145 members outlining acquisition plans for the house. Donations to form a sizable down payment are still being sought. Nearly half of the $50,000 targeted amount has been raised. The society ultimately plans to rent the house, using the income to meet a monthly mortgage payment.

“We will have room for workshops, outdoor demonstrations and can provide parking and easy access,” the letter states.

The lack of handicap accessibility is a long-standing problem the society faces in its current headquarters. “This is a long-term plan for us, but handicap parking and a handicapped bathroom are really necessary,” said Hanscom. “We’re currently grandfathered, but it definitely limits the people who can come do research and attend events.”

In addition to cash donations, the society can also accept stock offerings. According to its financial adviser, any donor will receive a tax reduction for the full market value of the stock on the date of transfer. And since Windham Historical Society’s new October House is a nonprofit venture, such stock can be sold with no state or federal taxes levied.

The society plans to use the house as a base for school programs, adult programs, museum, research and more.

“It’s very exciting,” says Isabelle Gilman, society co-president. “The home’s been very well taken care of.”

Donations can go to Windham Historical Society, P. O. Box 1475,Windham, ME 04062.

 

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]