Windham Life and Times – May 18, 2018

Had Kin in Every U.S. War

Mrs. Henry Gilson | July 28, 1942

Mrs. Gilson is shown above knitting for the Red Cross during World War II. She and her husband purchased the J.C. Armstrong farm in 1898. It is pictured above and below and was located on Haverhill Road between the Center and West Windham. She was the librarian at Nesmith Library from 1922 until 1943. She was born in 1869 and died in 1950.

    Manchester Union Leader:  “Windham, July 27.— A remarkable family war record—dating back to the Revolution— is possessed by Mrs. Henry Y. Gilson of this 200-year-old town. Relatives have taken part in practically every war in which this country has been engaged since its birth, a fact of which she is duly proud but quite modest.”

“Two great, great grandfathers of Mrs. Gilson participated in the famed Boston tea party. They were Joseph Shed and William Wheeler, both of whom are buried in Tomb 69, Granary burying ground, near Park Street church, Boston, in the same cemetery with Paul Revere. Some of the colonist masquerading as Indians for this party changed their clothes in the general store of Mr. Shed in Boston. Two other great, great grandfathers served as captains in the war with Britain, Caleb Kimball and Samuel Carr.”

“Lorenzo B, Kimball, father of Mrs. Gilson served in the Civil war, along with two of her uncles, William H. Shed, who died a war prisoner, and Henry Fargo. The local woman’s husband, who died six years ago, was a first lieutenant in the Spanish-American War, Two of his brothers, and a brother-in-law, also took part in that conflict, besides several cousins. The trio were Howard A. Gilson, now in Chelsea, Mass., veteran’s hospital, recovering from a major operation; Valentine E. Gilson, who later served as a color guard for a Connecticut governor, and died two years ago; and Louis Winchenbach of Lexington Mass. “

“A son of Mrs. Gilson, Henry E. Gilson of Sunapee, was a fireman in the U.S. Navy in the First World War, and is now endeavoring to enlist in this war. A son-in-law, Paul B. Evans of Windham, also saw service in the European battle, enlisting at the age of 18. A nephew of Mrs. Gilson, Frederick F. Harmon, a brigade runner, was killed in the Argonne engagement.”

“A grandson Paul G. Evans, 19, enlisted in the U.S. Navy last January and is stationed at Boston as a second class seaman. Another grandson, Robert W. Evans, has tried twice to enlist in the Navy, but was rejected because of a slight ear ailment. He has been taking regular treatment, however, and when he made his second try last Thursday was told to come back a week later and there would be no doubt about his acceptance.”

“Mrs. Gilson is also doing her part in civilian defense activities. She serves at the local report center two afternoons weekly and does knitting for the Red Cross. She has been the librarian of the Nesmith Public Library for 20 years.”

She has belonged to the Molly Reid chapter D.A.R., of Derry for more than 25 years, and is past president of the Windham Woman’s club. She is a trustee of the Windham Presbyterian church and holds membership in Windham grange and Mizpah lodge of Derry.”


Windham Life and Times – May 11, 2018

Bette Davis and Chick Austin

Bette Davis greets fans at the Windham Playhouse


In 1948, Bette Davis agreed to attend one of Chick Austin’s performances at the Windham Playhouse.  You might wonder, as I did,  how Austin and Davis had formed their friendship. In Magician of the Modern, Eugene Gaddis details their relationship. “When Chick Austin arrived in Los Angeles, he was Paul Byk’s guest in one of the poolside cottages at the Garden of Allah, the former residence of the Russian actress and silent film star Alla Nazimova. It had become a popular resort hotel for writers like Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Christopher Isherwood, and W.H. Auden, along with artists, musicians, and movies stars. In 1943 Hollywood and New York were the two most stimulating places to be for anyone involved in the arts, and the Garden was a prime location for a meeting place. Chick already had friends in the film world—John Houseman, Virgil Thomson, Ruth Ford, Tonio Selwart, and George Balanchine among them—and Helen’s brother-in-law Willie Graff was in the movies. Chic soon had a large circle of acquaintances. Bette Davis, with her New England background, developed and immediate rapport with him…Chick soon bought a house on Miller Drive in the Hollywood hills overlooking the city, where he could throw his own parties. ‘It was always an event if you went to Chick’s.’ Angela Lansbury remembered, He always had an incredible mixture of people.’ He reverted to his premarital habit of using every dish in the house and never cleaning up. When a friend asked him how he coped with the mess he replied, ‘Oh, Bette Davis comes in once a week and does dishes…” In 1946, Austin was appointed head of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota Florida. “After a brief stop in Hartford, he dashed back to Hollywood to give a birthday party for Bette Davis. When he found out that one of the actors from ‘Tis Pity, Paul Geissler, was planning to visit a friend in Mexico, he invited Geissler to accompany him to Hollywood first to help with the party. Chick decided that nothing less than a total redecoration of the house would do. He borrowed paintings, furniture, and silver from Adolf Loewi to create the perfect setting for his guest of honor, and the  party was one of his most dazzling.” In 1948, Ruth Ford’s brother Charlie with Pavel Tchelitchew, Bette Davis, Tonio Selwart, and his wife Isa visited Chick in Sarasota.

“He was now more of a celebrity in the museum world than ever, but as soon as Bette Davis told him she would attend the opening of Laura  at the Windham Playhouse that summer, he became once again the starstruck movie fan. He rushed to Boston to buy designer clothes for the leading lady and went all out on the set. At the last moment, Chick’s idol sent word that she could not come after all, but would attend the opening of the next play, Voice of the Turtle. Chick was so determined to impress her that, two days before Voice of the Turtle started rehearsal, he announced that he was bringing a professional company from New York to perform it. The summer actors were incensed, but when Miss Davis did appear, radiating charm, they all sat at her feet at Chick’s party in Uncle John’s.”

Despite Austin’s flamboyant and extravagant lifestyle, his true love was his theater and home in Windham.  He is buried on the Cemetery on the Hill.


Windham Life and Times – May 4, 2018

My Grandfather’s Barn

Cutting Pine Trees with My Brother

For those  of you who have lived in Windham for a while, you’ll remember my grandfather’s barn, that stood on a small rise, across from his field-stone house on Route 111. I loved to crawl around in that old barn because it smelled so cool, and because there was always some treasure to be found inside. It was quite beautiful with its field-stone first floor and shingled, gambrel second floor. As a kid, I always fantasized about turning it into my house someday. That was not to be. The reason the pine branches are on the roof in the photograph, is because  the large pine grove behind the barn had just been cleared to make way for what would eventually be the Woodland Ridge office building, which was developed by my dad, George Dinsmore. I can still remember clearing those massive 100 foot pine trees with my older brother and a friend of his, without much of any supervision. We were high school aged. We almost killed ourselves; but we didn’t, and we became more confident in our own prowess. That’s what being young and “privileged” got you, as you were allowed to prove your own worth, back in the day. Today, boys are required to follow rules they were never meant to obey. A life worth living is a risk. Can a safe space ever provide a substitute for the bold adrenaline rush? I will always remember as my brother and I watched in awe, as by our own young hands, massive old pines, first cracked and hissed, and then whooshed, before they hit the ground with a glorious, loud thud.


Windham Life and Times – April 27, 2018

Dunkan Beach

George Dunkley purchased this property on Cobbett’s Pond in the 1930’s and set about operating a public bathing beach here.  It was said that Mr. Dunkley had intended the name to be Dunkin Beach like the doughnut chain, but the sign maker made a mistake so the name became Dunkan Beach instead. He built a refreshment stand selling hot-dogs, soft drinks and ice cream. Later a pavilion was added with pinball machines, a jukebox and bowling alleys. “It was rumored that during the early forties there were one armed bandits housed in the boat house.” Speaking of boathouses, the whole east end of Cobbett’s Pond used to be covered with small, wooden, black and white row boats, for a far as the eye could see, many crammed with people and nearly capsizing.  Of course, Dunkan Beach was located where Castleton is today.


Windham Life and Times – April 13, 2018

Windham Junction

The Boston and Maine Railroad Station at Windham Junction circa 1930

There was a time in New Hampshire, in the late 1800’s, when the state government was controlled and did the bidding of the Boston and Maine Railroad. They picked the candidates and dictated many of the important decisions. By 1930, when this photograph was taken, the glory days of the B & M Railroad were long over. Describing the “Depot” about that time, Richard Hoisington says in the B&M Bulletin that, “In 1927, the general store and its attached buildings were destroyed in a spectacular fire that threatened other buildings in the junction area. After the fire, Postmaster Clyde began selling groceries and before long he installed gasoline pumps as well. Although his store inventory was limited, it is said that ‘if he didn’t stock it, he could get it for you.’ Clyde was postmaster until 1945 when the store was closed and eventually torn down in 1965. Effective September 14, 1935, the Windham station agency was closed and the sale of tickets discontinued. The few passengers who wished to entrain at Windham could buy their tickets from the conductor. Passenger service on the Manchester and Lawrence Branch was reduced to a single round trip daily prior to World War II. Weekday trains consisted of a gas-electric car and a trailer.  A K-7 Consolidation powered Sunday trains. The last scheduled passenger train, NO. 1511, consisting of gas-electric No. 182, was operated July 10, 1953 by conductor Harold Leavitt, Engineer John Bryant and Baggageman, Bernard Walls.”


Windham Life and Times – April 6, 2018

Anderson Station

Anderson Station was located in West Windham. It was originally built in conjunction with the Nashua & Rochester Railroad. Trains started running in 1874. This WN&R Railroad line was sold to the Boston and Maine Railroad June 1911. This picture is a witness to the coming end of the line. The last train, No 827, was operated by conductor Howard Andrews and Engineer Henry Bliss on March 3, 1934. The station was named for William Anderson a notable West Windham resident.