The Bodge House garden in full summer splendor. Contributed / Windham Historical Society

Herbs have been grown for their healing powers for thousands of years. Babylonian tablets from 3,000 years ago illustrate medical treatments used at the time. Over the next 1,000 years, parallel cultures in China, Assyria, Egypt and India also maintained written records of medicinal herbs and their uses.

As time went on, the harvesting of herbaceous plants became more of a pleasure for gardeners, who discovered that certain herbs enhanced the flavor of their favorite foods. The fragrance of drying herbs filled the air in many a Colonial homestead here in Windham, where they were cultivated to both heal and to delight.

In 1968, the Windham Historical Society was gifted a house that would certainly have had an herb garden on its property. The Bodge House, built in the early 1800s by Hugh Crague III, was donated to the society by Clyde and Ann Esty. At that time, it was located where the South Windham post office sits today and it needed to be moved to make way for a new post office building. Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Worthens stepped up and generously gave a 1-acre parcel of land on Chute Road to the society. On Christmas Eve 1969, the Bodge House arrived at its permanent new location.

The house was named for Edwin Bodge, its third owner who purchased the property in 1825. The Windham Historical Society was going to use it as their headquarters and plans were underway to renovate the building to reflect its early roots. In addition, a traditional early American herb garden was going to be planted on the grounds.

Mrs. Howard Hawkes, right, designed the Bodge House garden, which featured medicinal herbs. Contributed / Windham Historical Society

In 1975, society member and renowned local herbalist Mrs. Howard Hawkes designed an elaborate garden plan that featured a large variety of both medicinal and culinary herbs that would be used for display and for fundraising efforts. Both dried herbs and live plants would be sold to the public and garden tours would be given as well.

The cover of the booklet that described the garden in detail. Contributed / Windham Historical Society

Hawkes put together a booklet that was sold to accompany the tours. It identified each herb and its specific purpose. Among the culinary varieties discussed in the booklet were marjoram, thyme, sage, tarragon, dill, basil, caraway and chives. Medicinal plants such as foxglove, wormwood, digitalis and rue lined the back path. It was explained that southernwood was often put to use to lower fevers or to act as a moth repellant. Primroses were useful for muscle spasms and asthma. Sweet cicely was a wonderful sweetener in cakes and cookies, and rue was good for “griefs of ye hips and ye joints.” The garden was lovingly planted and maintained by Historical Society members and it flourished and served them well for years.

But in 1984, something happened that would change the fate of the Bodge House forever: The Old Town House on Windham Center Road was sold to the Historical Society for $1 by the town of Windham. Society members voted to make it their new headquarters and the Bodge House would be sold. It was a bittersweet decision for the many members who worked so diligently on the house and its magnificent garden.

Sadly, there is nothing left of the herb garden today. All that remains of that beautiful piece of land are memories and imaginings. But just think of what fun it would have been to take a walk through, sifting in the aromas and watching the bees and butterflies at play. It truly would have been a pleasure to see Windham’s very own garden of amazing, earthly delights.

The good news is that the Bodge House is now owned by a landscaper who has created a beautiful garden of her own. The next time you find yourself driving down Chute Road, slow down and take a peek.

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

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