GORHAM – A photograph of a trolley on a tree-lined street hangs in Sawyer’s Variety, a store owned by the same family for 101 years. The picture was shot a few feet from where it hangs, but shows a different world.

“That village was once the hub of the community,” said Tom Bartell, Windham’s economic development director, speaking of a mile-long stretch of Route 202 that straddles the Gorham-Windham border.

The village is bisected by the Presumpscot River. On the Gorham side, it’s called Little Falls; across the river to the northeast, it’s South Windham. But they’ve always been seen as one and the same.

Since the closure four decades ago of the Keddy Mill, which produced paper and steel at different times in its history, the village has lost its vibrancy. Sawyer’s is one of just a few businesses left in its heart.

But the two towns hope a plan to spruce up the streetscape this summer will start bringing it back.

Together, Gorham and Windham applied for — and received — an $80,000 Community Development Block Grant to begin giving the village a new look. Each town is also contributing $10,000 toward the project.

The towns are accepting design proposals for the first phase, which could include crosswalks, street lamps, benches and bike racks.

Gorham Town Planner Thomas Poirier said he expects the improvements to be made this summer.

It’s been a long time coming. A revitalization plan developed by the two towns in 1998 called for these improvements and more.

“I think the towns have just been looking for funding,” Poirier said of why it’s taken so long to start implementing the plan. He credited the grant, awarded last fall, for making the revitalization of the village a priority again.

Both Poirier and Bartell said this summer’s project would be “the first step” in implementing that plan. Poirier said he hopes it doesn’t take another 14 years for the next step. The idea, he said, is that improving the look of the area will prompt residents to spruce up their properties, which could then spur more development.

Bartell envisions a future with neighborhood residents strolling along the river or sitting in a new park, and parents sending their kids down to the corner store to pick up a loaf of bread.

“It could be a really nice spot,” he said.

Jamas Gibbons, who has lived in the area for about a year, said he would be more likely to walk the half-mile from his home to his job if there were crosswalks in place. Now, it’s too dangerous.

“It looks like a thruway,” said Gibbons, the manager at Blue Seal Feeds & Needs.

But David Tobin, a former Windham councilor and lifelong resident of the area, believes it will take much more than park benches and street lamps to bring back the kind of activity there was in the past.

Sitting outside his home across from the South Windham post office, Tobin recalled a time when there were three barber shops within walking distance.

Now, he said, he has to drive to Westbrook to get his hair cut — not that it bothers him. “You’re going to have change,” he said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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