Windham Life and Times – July 29, 2021

Scenes from My Garden

So no history secrets…I ran out of time for the week. Instead, here is an interlude, in my favorite place on earth: My Garden! The Stewartia tree bosomed for over 4 weeks straight…non-stop.  I had given her a long,  loving talk this spring about how I longed for her to make a show of herself. Last year there was hardly a blossom; this year their was lush abundance of her beautiful white flowers, which dropped and floated across the water, like lotus blossoms in an Asian landscape. You do all know plants are sentient beings, right?  I saw recently that Lake Street Garden had two of these beautiful trees for sale. You won’t be disappointed. 

The Stewartia Treee

So… I have this birdbath that I really love, the only problem being the cement is disintegrating. So I thought about deep sixing it, and then I had second thoughts. Instead, this ruin is now one of my favorite places in the garden. There is now a beautiful variety of mosses, and small flowering plants happily growing on the shores of the water. It looks a little bit like a grand old dowager, slowing crumbling, but holding onto to her fading glory with a little bit of flash and bling.

Many evenings the bald eagle flies down the center of the lake, majestic…and I wonder if he or she remembers the game we played with the frozen pickerel over my head last winter. We live in an incredibly beautiful place, if only we can escape the prison wall of screens, so that we can rediscover it again. Away from the hysteria and hype, meant to coral us for the slaughter…meant to make us do their bidding. The bees are everywhere…and the hummingbirds are drinking from the blossoms that have opened to provide their nectar and in the act of freely giving, being pollinated for next year in turn. Away from the screens, the world moves on, with or without our attention, gratitude and adoration. She is silently waiting as a gift unopened: for the screens to darken, for our eyes to see, and for all of us to awaken… so we can really understand her secrets and feel the love of that One which upholds it all.

Windham Life and Times – July 23, 2021

Wreck of the Lancaster 4-4-0 in Windham -2-

Worcester, Nashua & Rochester Line

After publishing the first photograph of this crash, Jon Carpenter and I were wondering how they got that locomotive back on the tracks. I keep looking for landmarks trying to determine where exactly the crash took place in Windham.  Interesting, how workers back in the day, wore a full suit of clothes while doing manual labor.

Windham Life and Times July 16, 2021

Margaret Smith Simpson’s grave next to her husband John Simpson, who were both Revolutionary War soldiers. The John Simpson cellar hole on Marblehead Road in Windham,

Windham’s Female Revolutionary War Solider

Margaret Smith Simpson

    I had previously written about Deborah Sampson, a woman who fought as a man in the Revolutionary War. It seemed she was a unique case, but apparently that is not so, as the story of Margaret Smith Simpson will illustrate. There are also stories of many other women who fought. In fact, once you dig deeply into who fought in the Revolutionary War, away from the conventional retelling, the omission of certain of the participants is just amazing. And this leads to the cancel culture of today, who see the War of Independence as only a white man’s enterprise; nothing could be further from the truth and this huge misunderstanding of history has been brought about by a lack of intellectual curiosity. The fact is, if you had been on the battlefields, and looked down the lines of soldiers fighting in the War of Independence, you would have seen the thousands of black faces of the brave African American men that served. Also, Native Americans, and even as we shall see the faces of patriot woman. The service of Margaret Smith Simpson, is a story that should be told to your daughters and the story of Black Revolutionary War soldiers should also be told. If you cancel this American history, you cancel their stories.

    At one time in Windham, there was a couple, living on what is now Marblehead Road, and both husband and wife were veterans soldiers of the Revolutionary War. Let that sink in a moment. They both had been continental soldiers.

     Margaret Smith was the daughter of Francis Smith, who settled “in that part of  Salem that was once Windham.” When the dispute arose of over the meeting-house many families with kith and kin in Windham were trapped in Salem. In fact, over the years, many of these families petitioned to be returned to Windham. The reason why this is important to our story is because of the petition of 1777, which was voted down by the residents of Salem. It says; “to see if the town of Salem…will allow certain men with their respective families to be annexed to the town of Windham…They had enlisted and fought with the regiment of continental troops from Windham, still they were taxed in Salem. They then drew up a petition to the State of New Hampshire which stated in part, “We have always associated with and been connected to them as brothers, but have never associated with the inhabitants of Salem…” I use these facts in order to rest my case; Margaret Smith Simpson should be considered Windham’s female Revolutionary War hero, not Salem’s. The border line between Salem and Windham was not finally settled until after the commission of 1807 which determined the line. Margaret Smith along with many other Scots-Irish family members were part of the expedition to Canada in 1775-6. Obviously the people she fought with her knew she was a woman, and she fought as a woman, not disguised as a man. This distinguishes her from other woman patriots.

     The invasion of Canada was a perilous affair. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia; “In September 1775 rebel General Richard Montgomery led American forces on the first major offensive of the war, seizing the forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point in northern New York, and Fort Chambly in Québec. With 1,700 militia troops, Montgomery then captured Fort Saint-Jean outside Montréal in November – prompting Carleton to abandon Montréal and flee to Québec. The Americans occupied Montréal without a fight on 28 November.”     

    “Meanwhile, a second American invasion force led by General Benedict

Arnold managed, despite hardships, faulty maps, near starvation and desertions, to bring about 700 men through the Maine wilderness to the St. Lawrence River and to the fortress of Québec. Arnold waited outside Québec until December, when Montgomery joined him with 300 additional men”

     “During a snowstorm on 31 December, the Americans assaulted Québec, which was defended by a garrison of 1,800 British soldiers and militiamen under Carleton. The Americans attacked from two directions. Arnold and his men penetrated some distance into Lower Town, but Arnold himself was wounded in the ankle and carried away from the fighting. His forces later surrendered under counterattack.

Montgomery’s force was repulsed after the general and his leading officers were killed by rifle fire in their initial assault on the other side of Lower Town. In total, 60 Americans were killed and 426 wounded at Québec. On the British side six were killed and 19 wounded.”

     “Under Arnold’s command, the remaining uncaptured Americans tried to maintain a siege of the town through the winter, but it was ineffective. The group was easily routed when the spring thaw brought 4,000 British troop reinforcements led by British General John Burgoyne. The Americans abandoned Montréal on 9 May, 1776 and the remains of the force was defeated at Trois Rivieres in June. The survivors then retreated to New York, ending their invasion.”

     Margaret Smith was the daughter of Francis Smith who purchased his farm in Windham in 1755. He married Margaret Smiley of Windham. John Simpson, was a Revolutionary War solider who had two fingers shot away by cannonball at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Morrison says, he was a well to do farmer and one of the wealthiest men in the southerly part of town.” Margaret Smith was Simpson’s second wife who died on October 22, 1809 at 49 years of age. This would have made her about 17 years old at the time she joined the army to fight in the American Revolution. She was in the same company as her brother Solomon. The Simpson cellar hole on Marblehead Road is marked. I think we need a new American flag to mark her grave in the Cemetery on the Hill, where she is buried next to he husband

Windham Life and Times – July 9, 2021

“Point of Rocks” Circa 1900

Point of Rocks or Horne Point

This photograph of “Point of Rocks” on Cobbett’s Pond was taken by William Austin Brooks about 1900.  One of the Brooks children is sitting on the point. The farms on the Range can be seen on the hillside in the background. The rock ledges actually extend out into the cove, and this was a favorite place for anchoring the boat and swimming, when my kids were young. Notice how low the water level of the like is at a time when the mills on Golden Brook were drawing water.

Windham Life and Times – June 18, 2021

Windham Train Wreck- 4-4-0 241 Lancaster in wreck east of station, Windham NH,

There were several wrecks in Windham on the Worcester, Nashua and Rochester line which met the B&M line at Windham “Junction.” One problem for engineers was a confusion between West Windham Station and Windham Junction. That is why “West Windham” was renamed the “Anderson Station.” Brings back memories of that Grateful Dead song, “Casey Jones,” Driving that train, High on Cocaine, Casey Jones you better, Watch your speed…” OK enough!

According to Wikipedia, John Luther “Casey” Jones (March 14, 1863 – April 30, 1900) was an American railroader who was killed when his passenger train collided with a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi.

Jones was a locomotive engineer for the Illinois Central Railroad, based in Memphis, Tennessee, and Jackson, Mississippi. He was noted for his exceptionally punctual schedules, which sometimes required a degree of risk, though this was not a factor on his fatal last journey. However, there is some disagreement about the sequence of events on that night, 29–30 April 1900.

He was due to run the southbound passenger service from Memphis to Canton, Mississippi, departing 11.35pm. Owing to engineer absence, he had to take over another service through the day, which may have deprived him of sleep. He eventually departed 75 minutes late, but was confident of making up the time, with the powerful ten-wheeler Engine No. 382, known as “Cannonball”.

Approaching Vaughan at high speed, he was unaware that three trains were occupying the station, one of them broken down and directly on his line. Some claim that he ignored a flagman signaling to him, though this person may have been out of sight on a tight bend, or obscured by fog. All are agreed, however, that Jones managed to avert a potentially disastrous crash through his exceptional skill at slowing the engine and saving the lives of the passengers at the cost of his own. For this, he was immortalized in a traditional song, “The Ballad of Casey Jones”.

Case Jones

“Jones may have been going too fast that fateful night near Vaughan, Mississippi, but there’s no evidence that he was high on cocaine or any other illicit substance.”

I would like to have seen how they put this behemoth in Windham back on the tracks. I am speculating that this wreck occurred east of the West Windham station. The WN&R used to be the tracks used for the “Bar Harbor Express, which brought wealthy Americans to Bar Harbor for their summer sojourn. People used to wait by the tracks to see the “rich people” go by during the lazy days of summer.

Windham Life and Times – June 11, 2021

Scenes from Boat Parades past

My thanks to Kenny Greenwood for the wonderful photographs taken from his dock so long ago. By the way, if you haven’t tried the pub pies from Thwaites (Real English) Market in Methuen, you don’t know what you’re missing!  You can find them on their food truck at various times at Griffin Park. (In store try Tomato Sausage & Polony.) 

Windham Life & Times- June 4, 2021

Bella Vista Dance Hall – Cobbett’s Pond

The Dance Hall at Bella Vista Beach was built by John Evans in 1925. It was unique in that it was built right over the water. Many famous orchestras of the day came to play here and the hall held between 400 and 500 people. The strains of live jazz could be heard all over the lake. The hall was destroyed by a fire in 1931.

Windham Life and Times – May 28, 2021

West of Baker Farm…Did Mr. Horne Photograph the Old Simpson Road

So I was writing a few weeks back about the old Simpson Road in Windham. I think I’ve stumbled across a photograph taken by Herbert Horne of Simpson Road, early in the twentieth century. It is on the right and hand written on it was “West of Baker Farm.” The Baker Farm was owned by Julia Baker, who operated a boarding house there. It was located on the West end of the Range overlooking Cobbett’s Pond where Baker Road is today. Sorry for the poor quality photos of the farm, they’re all I have.

Windham Life and Times – May 21, 2021

Bank Swallows-Winged Acrobats flying over a Lake or Pond near you.

So I have been really impressed this year by the numbers of swallows flying over Cobbett’s Pond.  In early Spring, there were groups near the hundreds darting, dropping and rising over the water. I’ve never seen so many. The best time to spot them is at dusk and dawn. So on Monday night, I was standing on my wall near the shore admiring a pod of three sparrows, performing their acrobatics. Suddenly, they came following the shore, in a tight formation, inches from each other, and flew just past my face as if they knew I was watching them. My wife, a natural born skeptic, thinks this is just a quaint tale that I fabricated, but they really did soar past me, up close and personal and it was incredible!

    Audubon says the following: “The smallest of our swallows, the Bank Swallow is usually seen in flocks flying low over ponds and rivers with quick, fluttery wingbeats. It nests in dense colonies, in holes in dirt or sand banks. Some of these colonies are quite large and a tall cut bank may be pockmarked with several hundred holes. Despite their tiny size, tiny bills and small feet, these swallows generally dig their own nesting burrows, sometimes up to five feet long.”

    Also according to Audubon these swallows “migrate north relatively late in spring compared to other swallows. A long distance migrant, wintering in lowlands of South America. In late summer, may gather in huge flocks before southward migration.”

     According to the Cornell Lab: The svelte and speedy little Bank Swallow zips through the air with quick twists and buzzy wingbeats. Look for them in chattering nesting colonies dug into the sides of sandy cliffs or banks, or pick them out

of mixed swallow flocks as they catch insects over the water. These birds occur on all the continents except Australia and Antarctica—but in North America their numbers have mysteriously plummeted since 1970, and they are recognized as a Common Bird in Steep Decline.” Well, if Cobbett’s Pond is any indication, they are making a rapid recovery.

· “Bank Swallows are one of the most widely distributed birds in the world. In the Old World, this species is known as the Sand Martin.”

· “Bank Swallows nest in burrows in banks and sandy cliffs. In recent years, they have started to nest in gravel and sand piles in construction sites and freight yards. The small birds dig the burrows themselves, using their feet, wings, and bill.”

· “Male Bank Swallows are able to distinguish heavier, apparently more receptive, female birds in flight and preferentially chase them for mating.”

· “The oldest known Bank Swallow was at least 8 years old when it was recaptured and rereleased at a banding station in Wisconsin

     “Look for nesting Bank Swallows in banks and bluffs along rivers and lakes, where they can occur in colonies of up to 2,000 nests. These birds stick to open, wet areas and steer clear of forested habitats. Their harsh, doubled call note is distinctive as they pass overhead. Also, remember that flocks of swallows often contain several species—so linger with big flocks and keep your eyes out for a slightly smaller, brown swallow with quick, fluttery wingbeats—then look for the neat brown band across the chest.”

     According to New Hampshire Wildlife: Aerial insectivores (here including nightjars, swifts, flycatchers, and swallows) have recently received increased conservation attention due to significant declines in several species (Hunt 2009, Nebel et al. 2010). Because all species share a common prey base of flying insects, there has been much speculation on a potential common cause for many of the declines. Much current research has been directed toward swifts and swallows in North America, resulting in greater knowledge of potential threats. Swifts and swallows have several ecological characteristics in common. All are highly aerial, and feed entirely on insects captured during sustained flight – often quite high in the air column. Threats identified for the group as a whole include changes in food supply, effects of insecticides on adults or young, loss of nesting locations, climate change. It should be noted that any of these factors could be affecting birds at any point in their annual cycle, and knowledge of their winter ecology is currently largely unknown. Like many aerial insectivores, populations of Bank Swallow are in strong decline. Based on BBS (Sauer et al. 2014) data the species has declined at 9.25% annually since 1966 in NH (‐8.46% from 2003‐2013). Regionally, declines are higher in the north (BCR 14: ‐10.59%) than the south (BCR 30: ‐4.09%) (see also Nebel et al. 2010). Repeated Breeding Bird Atlases have documented declines in occupancy of 30‐45% (Cadman et al. 2007, McGowan and Corwin 2008, Renfrew 2013) Sources online.

   On the other hand, maybe birds aren’t even real: