April 8, 2013

Windham planning future of historical park

The Windham Historical Society hopes its look back in time is a success.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WINDHAM - All the makings of a one-room schoolhouse are there: the building, the blackboards, the pot-bellied stove.

click image to enlarge

Windham’s original town office building, built in 1833, houses the town’s historical society. A plan from the society calls for six new buildings and one addition to add to a Civil War park project.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Additional Photos Below

"Basically, I just need the manpower to put it up," said David Tanguay, vice president of the Windham Historical Society.

The replica of a 19th-century schoolhouse is one of about a dozen buildings planned for the Village Green, a post-Civil War era living history park gradually taking shape in Windham Center. With a little work, a couple of the buildings could open as soon as this summer.

The future schoolhouse, which is a former gun shop, needs a mudroom off the side and beadboard on the walls. The old Windham Center Library has to be rotated so the entrance is facing toward the green.

The South Windham library, which was moved to the site after it closed last year, will be converted into a museum of artifacts from that part of town, but first it needs a foundation, a new roof and repairs to the back wall.

Those are the short-term plans, which can start as soon as the site gets approval from the Planning Board, which could happen next month.

The long-term plans depend on funding, Tanguay said, and that will determine just what kind of attraction the Village Green will be.

Throughout the state are different varieties of living history centers. Some simply aim to preserve an estate, while others are used to display historic artifacts and a couple try to truly take their visitors back in time.

There are the big names, like the 19th century Willowbrook Village in Newfield and Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore.

Lesser-known sites include the Acadian Village in Van Buren and the Stewart M. Lord Memorial Historical Society Museum, a collection of buildings along Main Road in Burlington.

The vision for the Village Green is eventually to have a post-and-beam barn, a grocery store and a blacksmith shop, where Sam Simonson plans to demonstrate how to make hooks, pokers and plant hangers.

"I'd love to see a building big enough so we could have two forges, so we could actually give some lessons," and Simonson, a retired firefighter who has been a hobbyist blacksmith for 30 years.

He'd be happy to get into character for the visitors, too. "It's just a matter of putting on a pair of overalls," he said.

Meanwhile, Walter Lunt hopes to be giving lessons in the schoolhouse nearby.

Lunt, who leads history tours of Windham every year for all of the third-graders in town, would like for them to experience a school day as someone who lived there 150 years ago.

He would play the school master and the kids would get in character, too.

"You are not Charlotte today, you are Abby Allen of Windham Center," he said.

He's looked into getting docent training, but doesn't expect to be teaching out of McGuffey Readers for at least a couple of years.

The project is about a year behind the schedule laid out in 2010 after the historical society purchased the site -- an old farm on the corner of Route 202 and Windham Center Road, adjacent to the society's home in a 180-year-old brick building that was once the town office.

The biggest snag was resolved last month, when the Windham-Raymond School District gave the society permission to use a slice of its land behind the superintendent's office for a driveway.

Now, the project can go back to the Planning Board. The society hopes to get final site plan approval in May.

Tanguay said engineering, legal fees and other expenses have already cost the society $140,000, money it has gotten through members, private donations and fundraisers. The goal is to raise $40,000 a year for the next five years.

"Basically, we're going to have to start looking at a larger magnitude of how we fundraise," Tanguay said.

That will include getting grants -- something he believes will be easier to do once a couple of buildings are up and running.

"Once we've established, for example, the library or the school or the blacksmith shop, that shows we're dedicated to our cause," he said.

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

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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Additional Photos

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David Tanguay is vice president of the Windham Historical Society and says he already has all the makings of a one-room schoolhouse, but not the structure itself.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

  


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