Oriental Hall was once a social center for East Windham. Contributed / Windham Historical Society

South Windham was a bustling place at the turn of the 20th century. Businesses lined Main Street on both sides of the Androscoggin River. The Androscoggin Pulp and Paper Mill and LC Andrew employed a large number of area residents and the railroad and trolley provided easy transportation to the busy, growing community.

It was becoming a more and more popular place to live and the population began expanding rapidly. That is why in 1903, members of the local Knights of Pythias fraternal order decided it was time to build a hall to serve as both their meeting place and a community center.

Prior to this, the Oriental Lodge members met at Bickford’s Store and other nearby places. The new hall would be state-of-the-art and would have any number of uses, all designed in the spirit of the organization that followed three distinguishing principles: friendship, charity and benevolence. It would be a place to promote cooperation, friendship and goodwill to the residents of South Windham.

According to a Portland newspaper of the day, Oriental Hall was considered “entirely modern” at the time of its construction. It had two stories that included an auditorium and a balcony. There was enough room to seat 400 people at one time. For stage performances, the Knights enlisted ES Caswell of Gray to paint some pastoral scenery as a backdrop. The building had all the latest electrical wiring, four dressing rooms, a ticket office and a check room. There was also a lodge hall and a banquet hall plus several anterooms, based on blueprints drawn by C. Hanson of Portland.

The Hall remained a favorite gathering place for the people in the Little Falls section of town for decades. People would walk down Main Street from their homes to watch plays and musical performances. Schoolchildren put on pageants there. For a while, a local basketball team, the Windham Wanderers, played their games at Oriental Hall to the delight of cheering fans. With the advent of movies, it was a favorite place to watch silent films that were accompanied by a piano player or player piano. It was a wonderful center of camaraderie that the whole community could enjoy.

For a while in 1925, after the John Andrew School burned to the ground, the Oriental Hall served as classrooms for South Windham students. The building also served as Windham’s second post office for a time. The main post office was in North Windham.

As years went by and the mills closed and businesses left town, the once-vibrant little village of South Windham seemed to go into a deep sleep similar to Rip Van Winkle’s long, long nap. With the population dwindling and more abandoned storefronts, Oriental Hall went by the wayside. By the 1990s, it was no longer needed as a cultural center or meeting place. It was sold and turned into apartments, which is how the building is still being used today.

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