The Old Town House when it served as a grade school back in 1910. Courtesy of Windham Historical Society

The Old Town House, now known as The Old Town House Museum, is now the headquarters of the Windham Historical Society, but the sturdy little brick building has been a fixture in Windham Center since 1833 when the plot of land on which it sits was sold to the Town of Windham for $15.

Prior to that, a variety of different buildings served as meeting sites for the people of town. The first town meeting in Windham was held at the old Province Fort on July 5, 1762, where town father Thomas Chute was elected our first town clerk. The fort continued to be the town meeting place until 1788. The following year, meetings began being held at the original Newhall School. In 1796, the meeting site was moved to the Fourth Congregational Church that was located at the corner of Chute and Webb roads. Then in 1811, Friends Meetinghouse took over as the place where people would gather for town meetings and the building was used in that capacity until 1833.

The Old Town House is home today to the Windham Historical Society. Courtesy of Haley Pal

At that time, it had become evident that a formal town hall should be built in a location central to people from all parts of town. It was determined the building should be 40 feet wide by 50 feet long and made of brick. For security purposes, it would contain a fireproof safe for important documents and enough cash necessary to conduct town affairs.

In 1893, a state law required towns to have an established high school rather than several schools of higher learning being held in private homes. The Town House became Windham’s first official high school with classes being held in the main part of the building. The town clerk/treasurer/secretary had a small office as well where civic duties were performed and where selectmen held meetings once or twice a month. It continued to serve as the town’s high school until a new, more modern high school was built in 1910.

After that, part of the Old Town House served as a grade school until 1936. For many years, Abbie Cartland was the teacher in charge. She was remembered for her “spare the rod, spoil the child” attitude and was known to be very handy with a rattan if lessons were not done or if discipline was in order.

By 1980 the town had clearly outgrown the Old Town House and town offices were moved into the remodeled former high school at 8 School Road where we do town business today.

In 1984, the Windham Town Council voted to sell the Old Town House to the Windham Historical Society for a nominal sum. The Society has maintained and improved the building ever since. It is used as an office, a meeting place and a place for changing historical exhibits. There is also an extensive research library for people who would like to explore Windham’s past and there are a number of interesting historic books, maps and bicentennial calendars for sale. In addition, there are fascinating historic artifacts on display for history lovers to enjoy. The original safe is still in use and now contains old documents and photos that are of value to the Society.

As the weather warms, the building will be open to the public on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon. You can also make an appointment by calling the Society at 892-1433. The Old Town House Museum is located at 234 Windham Center Road. The Historical Society welcomes visitors, so stop by some time and have a look around.

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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