Windham Life & Times – March 3, 2023

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.

Chronicles of the Armstrongs

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!

Windham Life and Times February 24, 2023

The 300th Anniversary of Settling in Windham

Top: A view from the John H. Dinsmore farm. Near this spot, haying one hot summer day, young Samuel Dinsmore, told his father William, he didn’t want to be a farmer, but wanted to go to Dartmouth college instead. He eventually became governor of New Hampshire.

The Dinsmore Family has been in Windham since 1723.

300 years is a very long time for one family to call a place home. Most people move on, looking for better opportunities, or just different scenery.  John Dinsmore came to America as part of the Ulster migration of 1718. In the winter of 1719, he left his fellow Scots-Irish companions, and used his skills as a  stone mason to find work building foundations, fireplaces and in construction of Forts for  the proprietors in Maine.  He was captured by Indians near the fort at St. George, Maine. When warfare between the British, and Indians  began in 1722, he abandoned his house in Maine and rejoined his friends from Northern Ireland here.  At the town meeting on March 5, 1723, it was agreed to grant him 60 acres in a section of then Londonderry NH, which is now Windham. He built a stone house on the property and was joined by his wife and children;  Robert Dinsmoor and Elizabeth Hopkins. John Dinsmoor, or “Daddy” as he was known to fellow townspeople, lived to the age of 99 and died in 1741. The foundations of the farm still exists.

   Matt Dinsmore at the ruins of the Dinsmoor-Hopkins Farm near the old Nashua & Rochester railroad line. The foundations of the house and barn are still located on the property and there is an apple tree that blooms in the woodlands.

Robert Dinsmoor, also a stone mason, was born in 1692 and died in 1751 in Windham. He was one of Windham’s first three Selectmen and was instrumental in the establishment of the town in 1742. After the town was founded, the Dinsmoor family was granted several thousand acres of land including the peaks of Jenny’s Hill and Dinsmoor Hill, where Searles Castle is located today, running to the shore of Cobbett’s Pond.  Portions of this land are still owned by my parents today.

  Robert’s son William was born in Windham on May 9, 1731. When his father’s farm was divided, the “Jenny’s Hill” place so called, consisting of 1,400 acres came to him by the drawing of lots. He married Elizabeth McKeen and built a house and barn on the south side of Jenny’s Hill and planted an orchard.  He and his wife had 12 children. He died in 1811.

The Poets Farewell to the Muses

Robert Dinsmoor, The Rustic Bard

Andover’s Steeples there were seen,

While  o’er the vast expanse between,

I did with wonder gaze;

There as it were beneath my feet,

I viewed my father’s pleasant seat—

My joy in younger days.

There Windham Range in flowery vest,

Was seen in robes of green,

While Cobbett’s Pond from east to west,

Spread her bright waves between.

Cows lowing, cocks crowing,

While frogs on Cobbett’s shore,

Lay croaking and mocking

The bull’s tremendous roar…

…Farewell sweet scenes of rural life,

My faithful friends and loving wife,

But transient blessing all…

     Robert Dinsmoor was born on October 7, 1757 and died March 16, 1836. He was widely known as the “Rustic Bard,” which was the name under which he submitted his poetry to local papers. He fought in the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Bunker Hill. “He was a most genial companion, very fond of society…and maintained a large correspondence.” His first wife was his “beloved” Mary “Polly” Park who died giving birth to their twelfth child. On New Years Eve 1801 he married his second wife Mary (Davidson) Anderson.

The Poems of Robert Dinsmoor, The Rustic Bard

      Robert Park Dinsmoor was born in 1797 and lived on the farm formerly owned by his father on Jenny’s Hill. He married Sally Gregg. They had ten children together and he died August 28, 1861 and she died March 15, 1877.

    John H. Dinsmore, my great grandfather, was born on June 3, 1840 and he occupied the farm owned by his father and grandfather. He married Adrianna Black, the daughter of Gardner and Nancy Black. He erected a new house and barn on his property in 1877 and demolished the old family home. Gardner Road in Windham is named for Adrianna’s father.

Adrianna Black Dinsmore standing in front of my grandfather’s stone house on Indian Rock Road. George Dinsmore Sr. with his daughter Dorothy and George and Edith Dinsmore.

My grandfather, George Dinsmore almost escaped the clutches of Windham. He moved to Wyoming with his new wife, Edith Johnson, but they eventually returned to Windham where he built a beautiful stone home with his own hands, overlooking Cobbett’s Pond.

   The “Wyoming” a camp on Cobbett’s Pond owned by George Dinsmore Sr. and named in honor of the place that always lived large in his heart. It is said that he once shot a whisky bottle out of the hand of a resident that lived across the pond from this very porch.

George and Edith Dinsmore had three children (John, Dorothy, and George) including my dad George Dinsmore Jr (Jigger). My father was in construction, assisted by his wife Marion (Mackenzie) who he met because her family had a camp on Cobbett’s Pond. Their companies built many homes and commercial buildings in Salem and Windham. My father was a selectmen for two terms in the late sixties and served on the planning board. They are now 91 years old and have been married for over seventy years.

The tall tales of George Dinsmore Sr. were well known around Windham. He normally would light upon somebody new to town and begin his story. He often told tales of his grandmother, Sally (Gregg) Dinsmore. The one I remember from childhood is this one:

How Cobbett’s Pond Came to Be

My grandmother was a hardworking woman, and her pride and joy were her watermelons which always won awards for their size at the country fair. She grew her watermelons on the side of the hill on her farm overlooking the broad valley below. One summer, she decided to use a secret formula to make the melons grow large, fat and juicy. And the watermelons grew. And grew. AND GREW SOME MORE! Soon they were so big, they were taller than my grandmother and she became alarmed they would roll down the hill and be ruined. So she devised a plan. She had her husband build large wooden braces to hold the giant melons in place. One day grandmother was out hoeing weeds in her watermelon patch and she accidently hit one of the braces. Well, that was a huge mistake and the giant watermelons, shining in the bright sun, began to roll down the hill toward the valley below. Well grandmother went ass over teakettle, rolling down the hill along side the giant watermelons. When the watermelons hit the valley below, they literally exploded filling it with water. Poor grandmother would have drowned too, if she had not been able to latch onto one of the giant seeds and paddle herself to shore. And that my friends is how Cobbett’s Pond came into being!

George and Marion Dinsmore and their grandson Isaac Dinsmore

So why did I decide to stay in Windham? Tradition I guess, but there is more to it than that. Windham was also a great place to start a family, a business and it’s also a great location just 30 or so miles from Boston. And when I was able to purchase an acre and a half of land and a cottage overlooking Cobbett’s Pond for $155,000, in 1985, it was a done deal. I will always be grateful to Sue (Binns) Alosky for helping me find my place on Cobbett’s and for introducing me to my wife, Kristie; her cousin. Every day, I find a reason to be happy that I live in Windham, overlooking the lake and Dinsmoor Hill and knowing my son Isaac now lives in town as well. Maybe, 300 years, isn’t that long of a time after all!

John H. Dinsmore gathering hay

L.A. Morrison’s History of the Dinsmoor-Dinsmore Family

The following is from L.A. Morrion’s introduction to the second edition of Robert Dinsmoor, The Rustic Bard’s poetry. It verifies the early records of Londonderry that John Dinsmoor arrived here in 1723.

Maine, where there was an English fort, and while engaged in building a house for himself was taken captive by a band of Indians and carried away a prisoner. I have not been able to find any historic account of his settlement, or attempt to settle at that place, save that given by the Rustic Bard in the first edition of his poems, and I give it as the family tradition thus authenticated by his own pen : “The Indians had appeared quite friendly to him while so engaged in preparing himself a house, often visited him, and called him and themselves in their broken English ‘ all one brother,’ till one day they surrounded his unfinished cabin, with a war- whoop said, ‘ no longer one brother, you go Canada/ and he went with them, and was kept with them three months. The chief’s name was John, and his prisoner was made his body servant. One day when the chief was called away to a council of war, the prisoner was accused by two squaws of having been seen on a point of land near the shore in conference with some Englishmen, and although the edge of the St. George’s River, at the elbow, and a blockhouse at a short distance, having a large area between, enclosed by palisades and capable of receiving 250 men.” In Eaton’s Annals of Warren, Me., published years ago, is the following: “In 1719-20 two strong block- houses were erected, and the old trade house, which was situated directly in front of the spot, where the residence of the late General Knox now stands, was remodeled, being made a sort of fort.” The site of General Knox’s mansion was occupied in 1898 by the station of the Knox and Lincoln railway, at Thomaston, Me It was at Thomaston, Me , that Fort St. George stood. It was there that John Dinsmoor landed when he came to America. It was there he built his house, and while shingling it was captured by the Indians. The chief was still absent, he was condemned to be burned. He was bound to a tree, the fatal pile of wood made around him and that instant to be fired, when providentially the chief returned and commanded the execution delayed till he could enquire into the truth of the charge, alleging, if true, their tracks could be seen, as the ground there was sandy. The charge was soon proved to be false, and he, was reprieved. The last three days he was with them they traveled almost night and day, a great part of the time on k a dog trot,’ carrying their canoes with them. When they had a river to cross, as soon as the chief was in the boat it was the prisoner’s duty to push off and jump in after, and having just performed that duty at a certain river, the chief who had resolved to set him at liberty forbade him. He pleaded for liberty to step in, but the chief said, ‘ you much honest man John, you walk Boston.’ He replied, ‘ the Indians will kill me.’ The chief then told him how and where he could find a cave in a rock where he must lie three days and in that time the Indians would all be past. He gave him some bears’ grease and nuts, saying, ‘ Indians and French have all this land, you walk Boston John, then take English canoe, walk your own country. You much honest man John.’ He then took his solitary way and found the rock as he had been told. When he had lain there three days and nights, and seen the Indians, tribe after tribe, pass, till they had all gone, he arose from his cave and thought he must die of hunger, but by chance, or rather by Providence, he found some cranberries which supported him till he arrived at Fort George. From thence he got a passage to Boston, and from there he visited his old friends and countrymen in Nutfield. They had all been acquainted with him in Ireland. For the respect they had for the man, and perhaps moved by the narration of his perils and sufferings, the proprietors of Londonderry made him a gift of one hundred acres of land, and confirmed it by deed to him and his heirs forever. He was a mason by trade and built himself a stone house.” This appears to have been in 1723. After that he sent to Ireland for his wife and children, but they did not reach him in his new home till 1730. Neither tradition nor family records had handed down to the Rustic Bard, the Christian or sir-name of his maternal great-grandmother, and so far as my enquiry in the family extends, which comprehended every family of lineal descent up to 1883, I was not able to find the name, till during the current year the untiring research of Hon. Leonard Allison Morrison found that honest John had verified the appellation given him by the Indian chief, by his last will and testament, made Oct. 6, 1736, proven Jan. 4, 1736-7, now in the Probate Records Office of Rockingham County at Exeter, N. H., (as every honest man should, by providing for his widow) had answered our enquiry by calling her Hannah. John and Hannah had two children who came to this country, a son and daughter. The son Robert had married in Ireland Margaret Orr, and his sister Elizabeth married John Hopkins, and the wife and daughter with her family went to live in the stone house built by the husband and father on the land given him by the proprietors, and it is well authenticated that they continued to live as one family till the death of John the father, and that thereafter his widow, Hannah, lived till her death with the daughter Elizabeth, which facts go to show that the Bard was not warranted in his conclusion that the wife of John who came to this country was a second one, that had blessed him, for, genealogy rarely shows daughters falling in love with step- mothers. Robert Dinsmoor, the grandfather of the Rustic Bard, was evidently no ordinary man. We find him reaching the Londonderry Colonists in 1730, from whom he obtained title to a large tract of valuable land in the original town of Londonderry, which was near the tract deeded by the Colonists to his father, on which he built himself a residence, and which has been owned and occupied as a home- stead by his descendants till the present day. His eldest son, John, married the daughter of James McKeen, who, as chief man among the Colonists, came from Ireland in 1718, selected the Londonderry tract of land for settlement, then called Nut- field, and his daughter Elizabeth married James McKeen, Jr. Upon the organization of the town of Windham, under grant of charter from the provincial government of New Hampshire, this Robert Dinsmoor was named as Chairman of the three commissioners therein appointed to organize the town in 1742. His son William, born May 9, 1731, was the father of Robert, the Rustic Bard. He married Elizabeth Cochran, granddaughter of the same Justice McKeen, and settled on a part of his paternal acres which, then a primeval forest of oak and pine trees, awaited the axe of the pioneer man, whose strong arm should level the forest and compel a hard reluctant soil to yield the fruits necessary to support a christianized civilization. By lot, the father, Robert, divided his lands between his three sons, who lived to manhood. John, the eldest, drew that part which extended northerly toward Londonderry. Robert, Jr., drew the homestead, which occupied a commanding view of the country east and south, and in later years has been honored by a view of the once-renowned Boston and Concord Turnpike, and in still later years by the Lawrence and Manchester Railroad, and has had that rare attraction which has held spellbound to it the family name from generation to generation, known and honored for the intelligence and Christian vir- tues of its occupants that has made the spot a beacon light to the passing ages. The younger son, William, the father of the Rustic Bard, drew by the same cast that portion of the domain which embraced “Jenny’s hill,” a mound of sixty acres or more from which can be seen the Monadnock in New Hampshire and the Wachusett in Massachusetts. The land extended and embraced, in part, that charming lake, now surrounded by its beautiful farms and wood-capped hills, two and one-half miles long by one-half mile wide, and called ” Cob- bet’s pond ” from the fact that the colonial government in Massachusetts, which never owned a foot of land near it, granted it with five hundred acres of land to a minister by that name, Rev. Thomas Cobbet, in Ipswich, Essex County in Massachusetts, and thereby shows how unfortunate it is to get a bad name when young. But the very air of that place seems to have been poetic, as I find in the History of Windham a beautiful and touching tribute of affection to the memory of his deceased brother by the Bard’s father, found in a letter to his sister, that has escaped the ravages of the tooth of time by the thoughtful care of the historian and is given a place here as a meed of honor :


Windham Life and Times – July 15, 2016

The Alosky Family Enjoys Summer on Cobbett’s Pond

Joe and Mary Alosky Relax on Cobbett's Pond

Joe and Mary Alosky Relax on Cobbett’s Pond

The photographs show Joe Sr. and Mary Alosky with their kids, Joe Jr. and Mary Ann, on Cobbett’s Pond. Some of the photos were taken at a camp on Farmer Road. Those wooden row-boats were everywhere at the time. I still remember the one’s my grandfather had. The Aloskys eventually purchased a summer home on Viau Road. On the same road where Sue Binns and her family had a summer camp. Joe’s request for a date with Sue, grew into a romance and 44 years later their marriage is still going strong. The camp on Viau Road, was built by Sue’s mother’s family, the Walkers.  James Walker purchased that property from William Emerson in 1922. Jason and Halie Alosky, along with their children Lily and Walker now live on the very same property. I will always be indebted to Sue for helping me purchase my property on Viau Road, from the Klemms.  Oh yeah, and I am also forever grateful for her fixing me up with her cousin, my wife, Kristie! Only 26 years but it seems like forever! And, the wheels keep on turning, on Cobbett’s Pond.

Joe and Mary Ann. The Family Boating on Cobbett's.

Joe and Mary Ann. The Family Boating on Cobbett’s.

A Classic, Cobbett's Pond Wooden Rowboat

A Classic, Cobbett’s Pond Wooden Rowboat

Windham Life and Times – April 16, 2015

Club Miramar

I.H.P. Cobbett's Pond, 1935

I.H.P. Cobbett’s Pond, 1935

I recently acquired these old photographs which were taken on Cobbett’s Pond in 1935. Unfortunately, the people in the photographs have not been identified. The photographs were definitely taken at or near Bella Vista Beach. Bella Vista was a speak-easy for a time, but by the 1935 prohibition would have been over? Club “Mariana” is mentioned in “rural Oasis” and was a night-club/speakeasy owned by Rene Dubois. Could it have really been called Club Mirimar or Club Miramar? In 1935, the Bella Vista property was owned by Cecil and Ethel Banan. Do you know these people? E-mail and tell me what you know.

I.H.P. Cobbett’s 1935. Cobbett's Pond Club Mirimar 1935

I.H.P. Cobbett’s 1935. Cobbett’s Pond Club Mirimar 1935

Club Mirimar. Andrew 1935

Club Mirimar. Andrew 1935

Indian Rock Road, Windham NH

Morrison Family Homestead

Morrison Family Homestead

The changes on Route 111 and Interstate 93 in Windham NH have totally transformed the area which was composed of Dinsmoor Hill and Indian Rock Road. At the turn of the twentieth century, this scenic country road traversed some incredibly beautiful scenery. Beginning at it’s intersection with Range Road, Indian Rock Road, where the Morrison family homestead once stood, it began a decent toward Cobbett’s Pond in the Valley below. Along the way, this scenic road passed hills, farms and the shores of a truly panoramic lakes-shore view. Much of the land along the road was part of the Dinsmore Family farm.

Searles Castle, Windham NH, Main Gate

Searles Castle, Windham NH, Main Gate

"Behind the Walls" View of Searles Castle

“Behind the Walls” View of Searles Castle

The biggest change along Indian Rock Road, at the beginning of the twentieth century, was the construction of Searles Castle. Ponds were dug, walls were built and the castle itself could be seen rising on the distant hillside. The main feature a traveler along the road would have noticed would have been the gate-house that was built right on the road. At this time , the road passed behind where Citizens Bank is located today. The road was moved when Route 111 was reconstructed by the state of NH in the 1950’s.

Dinsmore Farm and Dinsmoor's Hill in Windham NH (John H. Dinsmore pictured

Dinsmore Farm and Dinsmoor’s Hill in Windham NH (John H. Dinsmore pictured)

Continuing along Indian Rock Road, you would have come to the John H. Dinsmore farm. The road actually ran between the barn an the house, where the horse and carriage are shown in the photograph above. When Route 111 was rebuilt in the 1950’s this stretch of Indian Rock Road became Wyman Road where the Windham Exxon was located. Today the southbound exit ramps pass just about where the house was located. The road shown veering to the right was county road which was a straight shot to Windham Depot. When Interstate 93 was built it was discontinued except on one end, but it could still be seen, making its way in the median strip of the highway, before the most recent construction. John Dinsmore’s land ran to Cobbett’s Pond and his son George Dinsmore Sr. built a stone house on Indian Rock Road, past the farm, when he returned from Wyoming. He built the house himself, with his own hands. Across the street from the house he built a barn. The road was still dirt at the time. There would have been glimpses of the pond from the road but it would have really come into view at Dinsmore Ravine. Today you can still see it from the road near Rocky Ridge Road.

When Route 111 was rebuilt in the 1950’s this stretch of Indian Rock Road became Wyman Road, where the Windham Exxon was located. Today the southbound exit ramps pass just about where the house was located. The road shown veering to the right was County Road, which was a straight shot to Windham Depot. When Interstate 93 was built, it was discontinued except on one end, but it could still be seen, making its way, lined with stone walls, in the median strip of the highway, before the most recent construction. The picture at the upper right shows John H. Dinsmore pushing a wheelbarrow beside Indian Rock Road. County Road and Dinsmore Hill is behind him. The southbound lanes of Interstate 93 are located today, just about where the beautiful stone wall is shown in this photograph. After passing the barn, Indian Rock Road took a steep decent into a gully where a small brook ran into Cobbett’s Pond. On the left, there was a hillside, totally cleared of trees, that offered a panoramic view of Cobbett’s Pond to anyone who took the time to climb it. Today, the residences of “Granite Hill” are located there. On the water, near the brook, John Dinsmore’s son, George Dinsmore Sr., built cottages. At this time, many farmers, who owned frontage on Cobbett’s Pond were doing the same. You might want to know if these photographs make me nostalgic. Since I never knew this time or place in Windham, I do feel that something is lost but it’s not really tangible because I never experienced it. For the people of my grandfather’s generation, however, the construction of Interstate 93 changed everything

George Dinsmore Sr. built the stone house and was know for his tall tales.

George Dinsmore Sr. built the stone house and was know for his tall tales.

George Dinsmore Sr., loved to tell tall tales and his favorite character was his heroic grandmother. According to his account, the brook that crossed Indian Rock Road, near his house, was known as “Scalding Brook.” There was a reason for this rather peculiar name. Back when Mr. Dinmore’s grandmother, was in her prime, she was quite the woods-woman. The men who cleared trees in Windham had nothing on her. She would cut down massive trees and chopped wood at such an incredible rate of speed, that her double sided axes would glow red hot. The reason why the brook was called “Scalding Brook” was because Grandmother always had several red hot axes cooling in the water of the brook. In fact, the water in the brook boiled red hot constantly from the axes and the towns-people would bring their pigs there to boil the hides. Mr. Dinsmore’s grandmother would be what you would call an emancipated woman and her strength made her a legend in Windham, as well as in surrounding towns. In fact, she lived to be 104 years of age, but sadly died in child birth while digging a well. She passed away thirty feet below ground. When Grandmother was in her prime, there used to be competitions in Windham to see who could plow the most field with a team of horses. The men did their best to beat Mrs. Dinsmore but she had a maneuver that none of them could match, and for this reason, she always won the competition. When the men and their teams would reach the end of a row, they would have to take the time to get their horses turned around. Grandmother didn’t have this problem, because of her great strength, she just picked her team of horses up over her head and turned them in the row. In this manner, she always won. And of course, Mrs. Dinsmore was quite the watermelon farmer. She grew championship watermelons that were almost as big as a small houses. She grew these on Dinsmore Hill, high above the valley below. They grew so mammoth that she had to prop them up with large planks of wood. One day, she was on the hillside, hoeing weeds around her melons, when she accidentally hit one of the boards holding them in place. All of a sudden, there was a tremendous roar, as the first one, then all of the giant watermelons became dislodged and began to roll down the hill toward the valley, carrying Grandmother along with them. The poor lady would have surely drowned but she was able to grab onto a giant watermelon seed and survive. That is how Cobbett’s Pond came to be. As a great story-teller, George Dinsmore Sr., would have added more details and feigned sincerity, in order to take his listeners in, but you get the idea. The pictures show George Dinsmore Sr. and the stone house that he built by hand, early in the twentieth century. Many of you, will remember the barn that sat across the street. At left, my great-grandmother is standing in front of the stone house. Behind her, Indian Rock Road, passes over “Scalding Brook,” with John H. Dinsmore’s barn in the background. Of course, the rock shown behind her, was once located near Indian Rock. It was the chief’s chair and he used to sit in it while the members of his tribe ground corn. Grandmother, carried the stone chair on her back, and placed it where it still sits today, in front of my grandfather’s house on Indian Rock Road.

Most of us who pass along Indian Rock Road, never consider this area was for thousands of years, the home to Native American tribes. Morrison says that “the Indians of this town were of the Pawtucket nation, and derived their name from the Pawtucket Falls at Lowell, MA… Their domain included New Hampshire. Efforts were made to Christianize the Indians at Pawtucket previous to 1653, and it is not improbable that the same Indians whose wigwams were on the banks of our ponds, and whose canoes glided over our waters, taking fish therefrom, may have heard the gospel at Pawtucket (now Lowell), twelve miles away…The Indians congregated at the Falls, as it was a good place for fishing. Our Indians, confined to no permanent places of abode, of course visited these Falls, as the rushing of its waters could be distinctly heard in Windham, before they were in 1818-20, turned from their rocky bed for the Lowell factories. The last great chief of this tribe was Passaconnaway. In 1660, at a great feast and dance, he warned his people, as a dying man, not to quarrel with their English neighbors, as it would be the means of their own destruction. They left this section as a residence about 1685, but in their wanderings for fifty years after, spent much time at the Falls. After the settlement of Londonderry Colony, there is but one recorded instance of Indian cruelty to a citizen of Londonderry,—that of the killing the boy on the banks of Golden Brook in what is now Windham.”

Indian Rock and Dinsmore Ravine leading to Cobbett's Pond

Indian Rock and Dinsmore Ravine leading to Cobbett’s Pond

“In early days the Indians used to encamp on the shores of Cobbett’s’ and Policy Ponds, and many arrowheads have been found as they were turned up by plows near the shore…” I was told that there was a large agricultural settlement located in Windham, between Cobbett’s Pond and Canobie Lake. Native Americans did in fact have large settlements and open agricultural fields. Of course, the Indian grinding holes, on “Indian Rock,” prove that corn was grown by the Indians in the area. Back when Cobbett’s Pond Road was rebuilt by the state of New Hampshire, a great number of Native American implements and tools were found in the there.
So that is why there is a memorial plaque on Indian Rock. It is there to remember a forgotten people, who once lived nobly and in harmony with nature. It allows us to picture in our minds, these people sitting upon this rock, grinding their corn, as they looked out through the ravine to the shores of Cobbett’s Pond. Before Route 111 was rebuilt in the 1950’s, Indian Rock was visible from the road.

THE PLAQUE SAYS- INDIAN ROCK- “Over these rock strewn hills and through these woods the Indians roamed on their hunt for game, on these waters their canoes were launched in their quest for fish, nearby fields yielded their harvest of corn and on this rock it was ground in to meal.” This tablet erected by the Town of Windham, A.D. 1933.”

The Harris Homestead and North Shore of Cobbett's Pond

The Harris Homestead and North Shore of Cobbett’s Pond

Continuing along Indian Rock Road was the Harris Homestead which was built by the Rev. Samuel Harris in 1811. He was a beloved pastor at the Windham Presbyterian Church. His son, William Harris wrote a “Windham” column for the Exeter Newsletter from 188o though 1917. His columns and interest in Windham History have preserved much of what we know about Windham’s past.  Beginning in the late 1800’s, William Harris began a summer resort on the North Shore of Cobbett’s Pond, building several cottages and renting them out to summer tourists, by the week and month. The Harris Homestead was located where Windham Village Green is today.

Inidan Rock Road Ended in the Center of Windham

Inidan Rock Road Ended in the Center of Windham

The final section of Indian Rock Road was laid out much differently than it is today. When Route 111 was widened and straightened in the 1950’s, it was also rerouted to bypass the Center of town. Today, this bypassed section of Route 111, runs from about where “Windham Commons” is today to the current intersection with North Lowell Road. Prior to the 1950’s, Indian Rock Road, ran along what is Church Street today. It ended right in front of the Presbyterian Church, where it intersected with Lowell Road. Yes, Lowell Road, because before the bypass of the Center, there was no Lowell and North Lowell Roads, there was just Lowell Road. 1) The view looking from where the “Village Green” is today toward the “Center.” 2) The current location of the plaza where Klemm’s Bakery is located. 3) The site of “The Commons,” the wall is still there. 4) Indian Rock Road before it became Church Road. 5) Indian Rock Road running in front of the Windham Presbyterian Church. 6) The intersection of Indian Rock Road and Lowell Road. I hope you enjoyed this look back at Indian Rock Road. Within a couple of years, you will never be able to imagine that it could have looked as it did and you will also have forgotten how it looked just 10 years ago.

Indian Rock Road prior to the 1950's Reconstruction

Indian Rock Road prior to the 1950’s Reconstruction