Sebago Basin Camping, with its iconic A-frame recreation hall, is now the site of Walmart. Courtesy photo

In the 20th century in North Windham, there was once a spot known for its commitment to family-friendly activities and wholesome entertainment, as well as for its beautiful campsites and soft, sandy beach. Opened by Lawrence and Frances Manchester in 1958, Sebago Basin Tenting was a favorite summer place both of locals and visitors from all over New England and Canada.

The property was easily recognizable by its iconic A-frame recreation hall, a landmark in town at the time. The A-frame was the center of activity at the campground. It was where guests would register and also gather to play ping pong, Scrabble,  checkers and other games and to test their skills on pinball machines. The centerpiece of the building was its large stone fireplace that kept the rec hall warm on cooler evenings in the early fall.

Sebago Basin Tenting started off with 29 campsites that were scattered under tall, majestic pines. By the 1970s, the facility was home to 175 sites that could accommodate pop-up campers, RVs and motor homes in addition to traditional tents, and its name changed to Sebago Basin Camping. Open from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, the Manchesters would welcome families staying for a weekend or for the entire summer.

Sebago Basin Camping

The campground’s trail map. Courtesy photo

Sebago Basin Camping was a hub of wholesome family activity, where children of all ages could take part in fun and games throughout the summer. Some favorites were 7 o’clock hayrides every evening, a 6 p.m. ballgame for campers 16 years and older, outdoor movies and sing-alongs with Rick Charette.

During holiday weekends, special events might include a square dance or a performance by singer Frank Pratt, who would entertain with popular songs of the day. There were also three-legged races, tug-of-war competitions, horseshoe tournaments and watermelon-eating contests. In addition, campers could share their favorite family recipes at potluck suppers. During Old Home Days, everyone would get together to create a float for the annual parade.

One Manchester family member, Carol Manchester, a Windham Historical Society member, shared some of her memories in the society’s “Quarterly Review” newsletter. “One time, my husband, David Manchester, planned a bean hole supper. He and some of the other guys built a fire pit and worked on preparing the beans. There were backup beans in the kitchen oven as well, and it was a good thing. Let’s just say the hole beans were a bit overdone,” she recalled.

Television was not available at the campground, she said, with the exception of July 20, 1969. On that day, campers surrounded a TV in the rec hall to witness Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong make history by being the first person to step onto the surface of the moon.

Lifelong friendships were made at Sebago Basin Camping, Carol Manchester said, and some summer romances blossomed into marriages. Children made treasured summer memories there. Some people kept in touch even during the winter months. It was a unique and special place that will long be remembered by the people who visited each year.

Unfortunately, in February of 1987, two 13-year-old boys leveled the A-frame recreation hall when they “accidentally” set the building on fire. By the time the fire was contained on that cold winter day, only the structure’s chimney remained. Due to high insurance costs after the fire, the campground officially closed in 1988. Walmart occupies the space today.

Haley Pal, a Windham resident, is an active member of the Windham Historical Society.

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