Gambo Falls was a source of water power for Windham Mills in the 19th century. Photo by Haley Pal

On March 15, 1820, Maine became the 23rd state of the Union as part of the controversial Missouri Compromise. Though most of Cumberland County was in favor of the separation from Massachusetts with 70.4% of the state’s delegates voting for it, Windham was one of the few municipalities that voted against statehood. Nonetheless, when a convention was held in late 1819, Windham’s representatives, Noah Reed and Josiah Chute, placed their votes in favor of ratifying the new state’s constitution.

This came at the time when James Monroe was president of the United States. His presidency has been dubbed the Era of Good Feelings due to the fact that Monroe ignored old party lines and was impartial when making federal appointments and policy decisions. This eased political tensions of the time. The overall effect was a sense of unity and oneness that swept across the country.

Riding the national wave, Windham experienced a period of growth and prosperity in the 1820s. Both agriculture and manufacturing were thriving. In addition to the many existing saw mills, now mills producing fabric and gunpowder came into play. This led to small manufacturing communities springing up at Great Falls, Mallison Falls and Gambo Falls and with them came people from away to fill the jobs that they provided, and so Windham’s population began to grow and become more diverse.

The farming community also saw expansion. Now, in addition to the descendants of the town’s founding fathers, newcomers began arriving wanting to start farms of their own. These farms were typically small, about 100 acres, and they produced a variety of grains, potatoes, assorted vegetables and fruit. They also raised poultry, cattle and often, sheep. As the new arrivals began entwining with the more established farms, a system of mixed husbandry became popular in the rural sector.

The farmers would work hard in their fields over the growing season and warmer months in order to fortify their households with bushels of potatoes, oats, wheat, buckwheat and corn. They’d set aside barrels of salt pork, corned beef and sausage as well as bins of vegetables, root crops, crocks of butter, rounds of cheese and jars of fruit preserves. Then during the colder months, they would occupy their time with trades that could be used to barter for staples they might require during Maine’s frigid winters. The men would engage in producing handcrafted items such as furniture, clocks and barrels while the women worked on brooms, baskets or hats or took in sewing projects that they could trade with their neighbors for needed products or services. This system worked surprisingly well in keeping the farms sustainable year-round.

Economic development continued all throughout the 1820s. This decade also saw the birth of some famous people who would change the world one day. Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, Harriet Tubman, photographer Matthew Brady and William Tecumseh Sherman would all go on to make significant marks on the world. The country also lost some of its most famous heroes like Daniel Boone, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the new decade of the 2020s became the second “era of good feelings,” where the country comes together in unity and nonpartisanship? We can only hope and only time will tell.

Haley Pal is a Windham resident and an active member of the Windham Historical Society. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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