Windham Life and Times – January 1, 2020

The Shields Place. An abandoned farm in Windham NH. Baldwin Coolidge photograph. Courtesy of SPNEA

We often Don’t See the Change Engulfing Us Until it has Passed.

Often times, we don’t even realize the merciless change that is impacting us until we look back upon it from the distant future. The people in the photograph are sitting by the once productive Shield’s farm that was abandoned sixty years prior to their rediscovery of it in the 1880’s. The past owners just walked away, and nobody took their place. In New England at the turn of the Nineteenth century (1800’s) the industrial revolution and the opening of vast amounts of productive farmland in the Mid-west caused the exodus. Why stay eking out a living on a rugged New England farm, when opportunities beckoned from other places. People simply left. They left for better opportunities elsewhere. Morrison says, “A change commenced at the death of Parson Williams, Nov. 10, 1793, and the removal of the church, 1798, though the population remained nearly the same till 1824. The farms were not so well tilled; the farmers did not keep so many horses and cattle. A spirit of unrest seemed to brood over the people; they were waiting for a change and it came at last. About this time, rumors were afloat that a great city would be built at the falls of the Merrimac. This was at the commencement of what is now the city of Lowell, MA. Men from Windham were employed in the construction of the dam and canal, and earned considerable money. When those who remained at home saw how much more easily money was made there than by farming, they grew restless and dissatisfied, and soon all the younger men were gone…”  Argentina was the richest country in the world at the turn of the twentieth century. Soon after, as a result of revolution, populism and socialism, this prosperous country was changed into a perennial basket-case of hyper-inflation, poverty and dictatorship. Just like today, people and businesses are leaving places like California and New York. Why struggle with no hope, facing a declining quality of life and pay exorbitant taxes at the hands of autocratic state officials when there are better opportunities elsewhere? New Hampshire has in its most recent past had advantages that drew people here. Hopefully, we don’t lose what has made this state competitive and attractive to so many. 

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