On a cold, damp day in March of 1884, three Windham men met with the citizens at the town’s annual meeting. This meeting was held at the town house, a brick building on Windham Center Road. The three selectmen, together with the treasurer of the town, comprised the town management of the day.

The Town Warrant, on that day in 1884, included 32 items to be decided, including whether to expand the Smith burying ground, to see if the town would authorize the expenditure of $2,000 for school operations, $1,000 for support of the poor, and another item, one which had been on the warrant three years in a row and had yet to be approved.

“To see if the town would authorize the selectmen to purchase a hearse, for not more than $500.00, and to take action to provide a suitable building to house it, in the center of town.”

Now, $500 doesn’t sound like much to us today, but at that time, this was a considerable expense. Windham has never made up its collective mind quickly, when it comes to spending money, and, as noted, this was a third try to get the voters to OK this expense.

That year in Windham, the tax rate was $15 per thousand in valuation. The tax collector expected to get about $15,000 in taxes, based on the real estate valuation of $684,000 and personal property valued at $197,000. Another $1,500 would be received from the 515 men in town over age 21, who were assessed a poll tax of $3 each.

It must have been a difficult decision to make, whether or not to expend this $500, but apparently the vote was favorable by the town, if not in 1884 than a year or so later, because in the annual report for the year 1885, a separate page itemizes the cost of the hearse and hearse house. It appears that the townspeople added to the asked-for amount, because they appropriated $700.

The horse-drawn hearse cost $400, from the George Brownell Company. Freight paid to Portland Steam Freight Co. was $12.85. It was a fancy horse-drawn carriage, painted so well that to this day, it is still bright. Four lanterns adorn each corner.

The selectmen then “took action” to provide shelter for the hearse.

A lot in Windham Center was purchased from William Morrell for $5. Lumber for the building cost a little over $65 from Legrow Brothers and others; shingles were purchased from Thomas Varney for $10.50. Nails and other items totaled $10. J.A. Hammond made a harness for the hearse for $32, and Albert Rogers built the hearse house for $45 labor, with the help of William Varney who was paid $3.

On Oct. 23, 2004, the Windham Historical Society moved the old hearse out of this falling-down building where it had rested for more than a century, and has it stored in a safe place for future generations to admire. The fate of the rickety little building may be determined this summer.


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