The original Armstrong Homestead is still standing today on Londonderry Road.
The 300th+ Anniversary of Settling in Windham
The Armstrong Family has been in Windham since 1722
The Armstrongs have always liked to boast that they got to “Windham” before the Dinsmores, which just might be true. However, the old records are also just a little murky.
The Armstrong family sailed to America from Northern, Ireland as part of the great 1718 Ulster migration. They followed the Rev. James McGregor and with other families went to Maine. Three Armstrong brothers, with wives, were on the ships. “We know certainly that several brothers named Armstrong landed on Richmond Isle near Falmouth, the old name for Portland and Cape Elizabeth, and founded families. James Armstrong and Mary his wife brought with them an infant son Thomas. John Armstrong and his wife brought an infant son James. Both children were born in Ireland in 1717.”
Robert Armstrong was also one of the party who landed in Falmouth, but he went to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and then to Londonderry…“The core of the company that settled Londonderry, New Hampshire, in April 1719, consisted of eighteen men with their families,—namely Robert Armstrong, Rev. James McGregor, James McKeen, etc. etc.” According to L.A. Morrison, “Robert Armstrong was one of the original proprietors of Londonderry, (*which comprised Windham, Derry, Londonderry and parts of Manchester), on June 21, 1722. There was a ‘home lot and 2nd division’ laid out to him, Dec. 21, 1722, and in the charter of the town it was provided, ‘That the Proprietors of each share shall build a dwelling-house within three years and settle a family therein.’ The fact that he owned this land after the three years would imply the conditions had been met.”
” Interestingly, James Armstrong (Windham Robert’s brother) had been made a Lieutenant by July of 1722, in the Company under the command of Col. Thomas Westbrook. John Dinsmoor, was also in this company from July to December 1722, having been conscripted as a guide after he had been captured by Indians earlier that year. So old Ulster friends, John Dinsmoor and James Armstrong served together in this military company in Maine.
“Whom Robert Armstrong married, or when he died is not known. He is undoubtedly the ancestor of the Armstrongs in Windham. Tradition says that the emigrant ancestor, of Scotch blood, emigrated from Northern Ireland, bringing two children with him. One died on the passage, which he buried in ‘the deep, deep sea.’ He often alluded to this painful experience as the greatest grief of his life. This could not have been John Armstrong, as he was born in 1713; came to America when a boy, and his oldest child was born in Windham; Sept 8, 1738. It must have been Charter Robert Armstrong, the proprietor, who was here with the first settlers in 1722, who lost his child on the passage, leaving an only son, who was John, of Windham, 9 years of age in 1722, If stronger evidence is needed, it is found in the fact that Charter Robert Armstrong’s Christian name has cropped out in successive generations, and is now honorably born by a living representative in Windham”
Robert’s son was Deacon John Armstrong who was a weaver. He was born in 1713 near Londonderry, Ireland and emigrated when young. He lived on the Armstrong “homestead” which is still standing on Londonderry Road, settling there previous to 1738. The current house was built about 1762. He was a Selectman and a moderator. He was a “trustworthy and respected” citizen and active in the Presbyterian church. He had eight children including David, who was born June 11, 1747. He succeeded his father on the family homestead. He signed the Association Test in 1776, was a surveyor and constable. He married Elizabeth Hemphill, January 8, 1775. They had twelve children. She died January 2, 1839 and he died June 21, 1836.”
The Armstrong Homestead in the Range was originally owned by Alexander Park, whose daughter Alice married Robert Armstrong in 1803.
“Robert was born on April 6, 1779. He married July 28, 1803, Alice, daughter of Alexander and Sarah (Maxwell) Park. As there were no sons in the family he became a son to Mr. Park, and resided on the farm with his wife’s parents in Windham Range. She died there November 10, 1830; he died there August 21, 1849. (This is the Armstrong farm that is now the Common Man.) This was one of the old “Range” farms that were laid out between Cobbett’s Pond and Canobie Lake which had water frontage on both.
A photograph of the Armstrong farm frontage on Cobbett’s Pond taken form the neighboring property.
His son Robert was born in February 21, 1812 and succeeded his father on the original homestead of the Park family. He married Mary B, Emerson. “A farm not naturally abundant has been made to yield abundant harvests…” They had four children including George F. Armstrong who succeeded his father on the farm.
The Victorian era home built by George F. Armstrong. These photographs were taken when Alex Ray was converting the barn into the Common Man Restaurant. The thing I remember most about that barn is the night the race-horse Drill-Rod was born, and my mom and I stopped by to see him… right there about where the first floor window is located.
According to Rural Oasis, George F. Armstrong built the newer (white) Victorian home on the property and his sisters then occupied the original homestead followed later by Maurice Armstrong from 1926 through 1945. George and Dorothy Armstrong occupied the homestead until 1957 when it was sold to the Foden family. The Armstrongs developed camp lots on their farm on the shore of Cobbett’s Pond and on Canobie Lake along what is now West Shore Road.
Maurice’s sons, George and Robert lived in Windham and operated businesses here. Bob ran an excavating business and developed a section of Woodvue Road on Canobie Lake. George and his sons operated a well drilling company for many years and also had race-horses. They were harness racing horses and George’s son Alan was often the driver of the sulky. I sill remember riding in the back of the bronze Chevy wagon, Dot at the wheel, nobody wearing seat belts. I also remember the night we were visiting at George’s home on Range Road, when a car driven by one of his sons went flaming by, at what seemed at the time, to be over 100 miles and hour (and possibly on its side, but my memory is foggy).
Gilnockie Tower home to the Armstrong clan on the Scottish Borders.
The Armstrong family are descended from the fierce, Scottish border clan, whose fortress was Gilnockie Tower that is located between Canonbie and Langholm on the River Esk. Originally known as Hollows Tower, it was built in 1520 by Johnnie Armstrong, who was the famous Scottish outlaw or “reiver,’ who raided across the border in England.
Armstrong Beach and the rustic concession stand.
Armstrong Beach was operated by the family many years. My grandparents leased the concession stand one summer. It was one of five, public bathing beaches on the pond. According to Rural Oasis, “At one time this brook was the boundary between Dunkan and Armstrong Beaches and their was a dispute between the properties. “When Bill Ayer, owner of John Dinsmore’s farm on Indian Rock Road, sold his lake property in he 1930’s to George Dunkley of Salem for a public beach the question of correct boundaries arose. Dunkley’s deed read to the brook. Maurice Armstrong owner of the already established Armstrong Beach, claimed the line was several feet to the west of the brook. A bitter dispute, followed by legal actions with many witnesses, proved the brook was the legal boundary. Like the Hatfields and McCoys, George Dunkley and Maurice Armstrong harbored bitter feelings for the rest of their lives.” Apparently, long after, dead fish would go flying across the brook onto the opposite properties in a subtle war of attrition.
George Dunkley sold Dunkan Beach to Jeannette and Bob Comtois in 1966. They improved the property and in the spring of 1971 they decided to sell the property. George Dinsmore and George Armstrong who were good friends, decided to buy Dunkan Beach and combine it with Armstrong Beach and formed Castle View, Inc. In 1974, due to other business pressure George Dinsmore sold his share.
I worked at Dunkan Beach during the several summers that my father was involved in the operation. It was a very interesting place on a weekend afternoon. Parking was always packed on sunny days, 5 dollars on Sunday, and it was all cash. We used to sell hundreds of vinyl blow up rafts each day which would often return with tears when they popped. “Sorry no refunds.”
One day the place was packed and there was a near riot over an accusation of a rape having occurred on the raft. After things cooled down the two families involved were drinking beer together in the afternoon sun. Another day, somebody called in that a bomb had been planted in the pavilion. We called the Windham chief of police to the scene. Old Willis Low arrived, pipe billowing smoke, and he said to my father; “George, if we announce over the loud speaker that there is a bomb, there will be a stampede out of here, and people are sure to be hurt or even die. So my advice to you is that we forget about the whole thing and see what happens.” Nothing happened!
One day there was a couple hitting it pretty hot and heavy, laying on a blanket on the beach. So the decision was made to send out George Armstrong to get things under control. He stood there, stammering, “Miss! Sir! We don’t allow this on the beach!” “It is a family beach.” They totally ignored him and kept at it. George slunk away and we all had a good laugh.
The clientele changed and the era of public bathing beaches came to an end. The Armstrong family decided to build a function hall on the property which they have successfully operated for a number of years. The Armstrongs still own and operate Castleton on Cobbett’s Pond. I was thinking of having an open bar at my wake, I wonder if Castleton would host it? They could prop me up in a corner and my friends and relatives could toast my trip into the netherworld. I’m only slightly kidding!
Maurice Armstrong’s car at the “Robin’s Nest” on Route 28 in Windham.
“The Great Race.”
The Robin’s Nest was the local drinking establishment favored by Windham folks. People would meet there to have a beer and swap stories. So you know how when you’re drinking with your buddies, things can sometimes get out of hand? For example, I have heard recently how two local real estate developers, at a local bar, almost came to fist-a-cuffs over who was worth the most.
Anyway, George Dinsmore Sr. and Maurice Armstrong were having drinks at the Robin’s Nest. Somehow, the subject of which one of them could run faster came up in conversation. Everyone in the bar joined in the debate, egging the contestants on. Soon the dispute became heated, no doubt lit by the drinks. It was decided that the only way to settle the matter was for the whole crowd at the bar to go outside and conduct a race on the busy, state highway, Route 28. Wagers were made, the two forlorn and “slightly” inebriated runners were lined up and a race course designated. Bam! Off they went. Imagine what the motorists on Route 28 must have thought! I really don’t know who won, if anybody, but I know the Armstrongs are bound to claim it was Maurice…who won.
When I was a kid, I used to sit enraptured listening to my dad and George Armstrong talking at my house. They would be smoking and drinking beer, hatching plots, talking business deals, gossiping and laughing…I remember the laughter the most! Keeping the pipe lit was always a challenge…but good friends…I’ll never forget them together.
Happy 301st, to the Armstrongs!