Windham in Cumberland County is fairly close to Maine’s largest city, Portland. It has a population of around 17,000 and was originally settled by farmers before the middle of the 18th century. Agriculture remained important until the development of industry using the power created from water.
Then known as New Marblehead, it was not the safest place to be because of Red Indian attacks, but gradually things settled down. It was incorporated in 1762 and renamed after a place in Norfolk, England.
The local Historical Society recently celebrated its 50th birthday and has been responsible for ensuring that visitors interested in history will have much to see and admire. There is also the chance for visitors to enjoy outdoor activities.
To give you a flavor of the place, here are some ideas of the 15 Best Things to do in Windham.
1. John A. Andrew
The Pleasant River Grange building where John A Andrew, a Governor of Massachusetts, was born in 1818 is found in South Windham. He served for five years during the Civil War and died a year later in 1867.
It is now a private home. Together with many other historic buildings in Windham, you can find out more in the Historical Society’s headquarters, which itself was one of the early buildings and formerly used as the Schoolhouse.
2. Parson Smith House
Parson Peter Thatcher Smith was the second of Windham’s ministers. His former home, built around 1764, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
It was constructed on the high point in the town, where Province Fort was the town’s defense against attack.
On Smith’s death in 1826, the property was bought by his neighbors, who lived there for five generations before it was gifted to the Society for the Protection of New England Antiquities. Subsequently, it was a museum before being bought privately, with the proviso that nothing can be changed.
3. Old Town Hall
Windham’s first town hall was built in brick in 1833 for use as the Town Meeting House, School, and Office.
It was only in the 1980s, when it was no longer needed for offices, that Windham Historical Society assumed control. The Society transformed it into a museum a few years later, with a research center and meeting room included. Valuable historical documents are safely stored there in the vaults.
Outside, volunteers have landscaped the immediate area and created a nice herb garden.
4. Old Grocery
This 19th-century wooden building was originally the tailor’s shop, measuring 30 feet x 50 feet. It was improved by the later addition of some imported oak leaves from St. Paul’s Church in Portland.
As time went by, the building became a cobbler’s, then a grocery and grain store. It closed down, and the Historical Society took over to renovate and repair without changing the structure itself. Today, as a museum, it has a range of interesting artifacts that cover its history. While there, you should look at the horse-drawn hearse in the neighboring shed.
5. Old Town Library
Initially a rental property for families, this building became the town library in 1907 and remained so until 1972.
When the new library was built, its collection of books was handed over and it was primarily used for storage, having been moved closer to the new library.
Space was limited, and when the Historical Society took over, it was moved again. It became a museum where visitors can see the original furnishings and several interesting displays.
6. Windham Hill United Church of Christ
The first local church was built in 1737 when the settlement was known as New Marblehead.
This existing church was the fifth in what became Windham. It was built in 1835 and was the first to have a bell. Little has changed in the church subsequently, with box pews, beams, vaulted ceilings, and plaster walls.
Additions over time have been the Italianate steeple – which was added in 1885 and repaired three decades ago – and the stained-glass window in 1924.
7. South Windham Community Church
One fairly rare feature in churches can be found in this 1840 building: the congregation faces the entrance. At the time, it was known as the Universalist Meeting House.
The names of those responsible for its construction and the original congregation can be seen close to the pulpit. The total cost of the land and structure is recorded as $1,500 and its dimensions were 38 feet x 48 feet. Its bell was the first in South Windham and has been in place since 1908.
8. Village Green
The Windham Historical Society is very active; one of its ongoing projects is to create a museum in the School House on the Green to tell the story of the railroad.
The Green is seen as an ideal location for many of Windham’s historic buildings, away from the problems created by modern day living and transport. The project of developing a historic center is being done by an ‘’arm’’ of the Society. When you visit Windham, you will see the progress being made if you visit the Green.
9. Mallison Falls & Dam
Industrial development in Windham was possible because of the power that Mallison Falls and Dam was able to provide.
The Falls, with an elevation of almost 80 feet, were the site of the first sawmill on the river. Later, a large textile mill was also built as a result of the power available. Several more dams followed to harness the power of the water courses. Mallison Falls are just to the south of South Windham.
In order to allow the greater movement of fish along the river to the sea, ‘’lifts’’ have been constructed to help them bypass the dams.
10. Summit Adventures
This entertainment facility for kids up to the age of 10 is a great place. Several different things are there to amuse them, from laser tag and mini golf to a series of inflatable obstacles. It is located on Roosevelt Trail near the Windham Shopping Mall. If mum wants to shop while you keep an eye on the kids, she can do so.
You can sit and watch them at nearby tables and be prepared for two or three hours if you leave it entirely up to them how long you stay.
11. Jet Ski Guy
You may not have tried jet skiing before, and unless you are in Windham for a few days with time on your hands, jet skiing may not be on your program. However, if you want to give it a go, Jet Ski Guy will ensure you enjoy time on the water.
Based in River Road, he can hire you a jet ski or provide help as required to get some fresh air and excitement while you are in town.
12. Armand’s Kitchen Cooking Classes
Less exciting but certainly interesting, is the opportunity to learn from a top quality chef. You can go individually or as a group for a session with Doug Armand, with the emphasis on your favorite foods.
You can choose your menu and watch how an expert prepares the food, joining in with the less exacting parts of the preparation and eating the resulting dishes.
13. Windham Indoor Shooting Range
If you want an indoor activity that is fun and exciting, the Windham Shooting Range is the place for you. Here, you can shoot automatic pistols at targets various distances away.
Safety is something the staff stress throughout your time in the range. You can choose from a choice of weapons, pistols, and rifles. The range attracts complete novices as well as experienced shooters.
14. Babbs Covered Bridge
This bridge linking Windham with Gorham is named after a family that lived close to the railroad line when the Bridge opened in 1840.
It was destroyed in 1973 by fire, but as the oldest of such bridges in Maine, it was seen as essential to rebuild it in its original form. The State Transport Department agreed, with many organizations and volunteers getting involved in the project.
It was ready in time for dedication on the Bicentennial of the USA, 4TH July 1976.
15. Chute’s Family Restaurant
Whatever your taste in food, you will find a restaurant to suit you in Windham. This family restaurant on Roosevelt Trail has been in Windham for many years, serving a wide-ranging menu of popular, wholesome food – starting with a very early breakfast.
The daughter of the original owners and her husband now run the place, which has been in the family for 40 years. You can have a late brunch or lunch seven days a week.
Parking is slightly limited but the food is worth walking a little way if you must.