A beautiful, two-story home owned by Windham’s first doctor was built on this property in 1796. Contributed / Windham Historical Society

In Windham’s earliest days, when it was known as New Marblehead, the town was a wilderness. Life was dangerous and crude. Common illnesses and minor injuries were often fatal because a qualified physician was nowhere to be found. The settlers would have had to rely on their knowledge of medicinal herbs and tried-and-true remedies to help people heal.

Caleb Rea, who moved to Windham in 1783, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and the town’s much-beloved first doctor. Contributed / Windham Historical Society

So, when Dr. Caleb Rea moved to town in 1783, he was a welcome addition to the community. Rea was married to Sarah White Webb, who inherited Lot 1 in Windham’s First Settlement from her father, Eli Webb. The property had been slated for a school, but one was never built there, and Webb purchased the 100-acre parcel for a farm.

Rea and his family moved onto the homestead and word soon spread that Windham had its first real doctor. Rea was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, when he served as a physician and surgeon. He was one of the first people in the territory to be allowed a liquor license as it was the only means of anesthesia at the time.

Rea conducted his rounds on horseback. His practice stretched from Windham to Naples and Baldwin to Westbrook. Often, he would spend the night at the home of the last patient he saw for the day. He was a generous, heartwarming man and his patients were delighted to have him. Considered a scholar, a man of sound judgment and a skillful surgeon, he was also one of the most respected men in the township.

Rea and his wife and children lived in the old farmhouse on their property until 1796, when he commissioned his brother Pierce to build him a grand new house on the site. It was an elegant dwelling of two stories that looked regally out onto River Road and was considered to be one of the finest homes in Windham at the time.

Unfortunately, Rea did not enjoy the house for long. He succumbed to a fever on Dec. 29, 1796, at the age of 38. His death was “greatly deplored by townsmen and friends,” according to Samuel Dole in his book, “Windham in the Past.” His wife remained in the house, where she and her daughter Mary later opened a school for girls. She died in the house in 1836.

The Rea home on River Road is now long gone, destroyed by a fire in 1896. But the next time you drive past the New Marblehead sign at the marker for Lot 1 on River Road, imagine a beautiful home sitting behind it and think of the young doctor who lived there for far too brief a time.

If you would like to visit Dr. Rea’s gravesite, he is buried in Brown Cemetery on nearby Chute Road. His remains were moved from their original resting place on his River Road property in 1882 for fear that the grave would eventually be destroyed or obliterated if it remained in its original location.

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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