100 Years Ago in Windham
WS Harris in the Exeter Newsletter
Disaster as Searles Tax Windfall Ends | Tragic Drowning in Cobbett’s Pond
WINDHAM, JULY 2, 1915— “The family of John J. Smullen of Dorchester, Mass., are spending the summer vacation in Mrs. Blake’s house. Mrs. Ella Prescott and granddaughter Ella E. Cogger, are moving this week to their new home at Salem Depot, and the purchasers of the Prescott place, Miss Bertha E. Griffin and Mrs. Blanche G. North, of Somerville, Mass., are moving in for the summer.”
“Writs of “extent” levying on the property of the selectman and if necessary other citizens of the town have been served through Sheriff Spinney for the unpaid state tax of $11,000 and county tax of $8,000 due for the year 1914. It will come hard for the town to pay these large sums, but the longer it is fought the more there will be to pay (here is the background from a previous article.) APRIL 13, 1915— The town in special meeting today voted to pay 25 cents per hour for fighting forest fires, to authorize the treasurer to hire money as needed, and to authorize the selectmen to sell the stone crusher. Relative to state and county taxes it was voted that the Selectmen pay the state treasurer the $1,464 which the town claims is the rightful amount due the state, and to adjourn for four weeks until counsel for the town are able to report on the advisability of the state’s claim of $11,000.
I am guessing that this tax dispute had something to do with the Searles property assessment when the castle was his personal residence. MARCH 19, 1915—The inventory of the town as compared with the that year before indicates that the bottom has dropped out of something, the total valuation standing at $732,389, as compared to over six and half millions in April 1913.” The explanation is found in Rural Oasis; “In 1913 Searles was taxed (by the town of Windham) on his money at interest, that is for his liquid assets. This proved to be a windfall for the town because much of his wealth was in cash. The result was that the tax rate dropped to about 55 cents per $1,000 valuation. The town fathers’ reaction was: how can we spend all that money? With the approval of the voters the selectmen decided on a road building program. A steam roller and stone crusher were purchased and construction began at the Windham Depot to appoint three hundred yards south of Londonderry Road and on a portion of Kendall Pond Road north of Old Mill Road. However, the project was ill fated for two main reasons: first the attitude of the construction crew was geared more towards play than work. As one longtime resident explains, baseball was so popular that when the crew felt they needed practice they would do just that, practice, regardless of their work. Secondly, and more importantly was Searles erratic behavior. Upset by the huge tax assessment in 1914 he packed and established residency in New York, which he maintained until his death in 1920. This move left Windham facing a large state assessment with no way of paying it: $25,000 of gold notes were issued and the man whose departure had caused the trouble proceeded to buy half the amount. In addition he purchased the stone crusher for $2,500 while Hudson purchased the steam roller.” And herein lies the lesson for all state and local governments: Taxing the rich to bail out the government will only work if you cut off their feet. The rich are free to move from town to town and state to state when the tax burden placed on them become unbearable. This was the lesson that Windham learned the hard way in 1915.
“One of the saddest of drowning accidents occurred in Cobbett’s Pond Friday noon, June 25, when Roydon S. Pierce, of Dorchester, Mass., sixteen years of age, lost his life by the overturning of a canoe. Only the day before, young Pierce had come with his cousin, Edmund G. Wilson, to the Wilson cottage, to spend a week or two. While paddling about the pond alone, in some way he fell into the water, and although a good swimmer and not far from shore he was unable to reach the shore or canoe and sank in about twelve feet of water. His friends, Edmund Wilson, James and Howard Upham, hearing his cries for help, put off from shore with all possible speed and, diving, brought the body to the surface and to shore at Haseltine’s point. They, with the help of others worked for nearly and hour in unavailing attempts of resuscitation, until the arrival of Dr. E.A. Wade, of Salem Depot, who pronounced the case hopeless. Later in the day the medical referee, Dr. L.G. Dearborn, of Derry, with an undertaker, came and took charge of the body. Royden was the second of three sons of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pierce, residing at 114 Rosseter Street, Dorchester, and was in his seventeenth year. He would have graduated from the Dorchester High School next year. A slight acquaintance was sufficient to reveal his exceptionally bright and winning personality. He was an attendant at the Harvard Congregational Church of Dorchester, where funeral services were held on Sunday afternoon. A pocket edition of the Book of Proverbs was found floating on the water where Royden sank, which it is thought he had been reading. The loss of this promising young life in so sudden and sad manner, with assistance in sight but too far away to be availing until too late, has cast gloom over the whole North Shore colony and all who knew the young man. The hope of immorality is the only thing that gives meaning to this present existence and unlocks its mysteries.” W.H.S. It is rather ironic that he was reading Proverbs when he stumbled out of the canoe into the water since one section reads as follows:
“My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgement and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will lie down in safety, and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.” Proverbs 3: 21-26