Over the river and through the woods… the school bus full of curious children wound through back roads of Windham exploring historical sites. From the outside it looked like any ordinary yellow bus, but on the inside it was filled with stories, questions, and excited third graders from Windham Primary School. The fall curriculum includes a study of these students’ home town highlighting the importance of business, government, geography, and the rich history that comes to life on this day. The children prepare at school by engaging in a scavenger hunt using the computer and books from the library. Walter Lunt, member of the Windham Historical Society, teacher, and master story teller, comes to school days before the field trip and shares stories and pictures that spark the interest of each youngster. He asks thought provoking questions for the children to ponder as they prepare for the big day, keeping them hungry for the answers that make their learning authentic and fun.
The first stop on this trail of discovery is the Friends Meeting House, built in 1849, where they listen to stories about long, quiet services attended by the group of kind people who lived simply. The Quakers, as they came to be known, were very different from the founders of Windham. The children sat with the males on one side of the room and the females on the other to experience what a service or meeting may have been like in that building. Katie shared, “The thing that surprised me was that one of the men during the Quaker meeting had to go into the attic and turn a wheel that would make a fake wall come down. The girls would have a meeting on one side and the boys would meet on the other.” The pastor of the Friends Meeting House shared the connection between the Quaker community and the Underground Railroad activity, many houses in Windham being stations on the track to freedom.
Hiking into the wooded area near the old Gorham Gunpowder Mill site the students were challenged to see if they could find a part of what used to be the Cumberland-Oxford Canal that provided a passageway for barges and boats to carry people and goods from Portland to Sebago Lake and back. They found it beside a path that separates the canal from the Presumpscot River. Curious kids discussed how the boats were powered and what kinds of products came to and from the area in those days. “My favorite site was the gunpowder mill. I liked it because I never knew it was run by water and that’s why it has two holes in it.”, wrote Ezra. Shamus was surprised to know that, “if the gunpowder mill exploded, it was so loud you could hear it 10 miles away.” Another student was concerned that, “the bottom of the Presumpscot River may have poison because of the gunpowder mill.”
Other stops included The Parson Smith House, the site of the first lot to be developed in Windham, and the marker to remember the last battle of the French and Indian War in which Chief Polin was killed and his body taken to Sebago Basin by his braves for a burial beneath a tree. The stories are fascinating and the children said the following about the opportunity to learn about their hometown: “It’s important to learn about Windham because it’s important to learn about the place you live.” –Alex, It is important because it may have an effect on our future. It is also good to know about the town we live in.”—John, I think it’s important to learn about Windham in case you want to tell stories about Windham like Mr. Lunt.” –Tommy.
The Indian Steps, officially known as the Windham Formation (referring to the geologically unique rock formation), the final stop of the trip was a favorite for many. There are myths about how the narrow set of stairs got there and what events related to the Native American tradition occurred there many years ago. The stories are fun and like many other legends are made up stories, passed down through the generation to explain a phenomenon of nature. Mr. Lunt, in spite of his love of storytelling, clearly explained to the children that these steps were formed by years of erosion leaving a basalt staircase between walls of schist. Jake responded, “I really liked the Indian steps. I liked that it was in the middle of the woods. It taught me a lot of cool things about Windham.” Every child, teacher, and chaperone took the challenge of climbing the steps just before boarding the bus to head back to school.
The learning that goes beyond the walls of a school building into the community that children live in teaches them to be “responsible and involved citizens” and “integrative and informed thinkers”, Maine Learning Results Guiding Principles. Our young citizens understand that there is a cool club that studies the history and shares the story of a town that was born from a dream of a man form Marblehead, Massachusetts. The Windham Historical Society has been a partner and resource in the education of children in this town for many years. We are excited about future plans to preserve and bring Windham’s history to life in the Village Green project that is under way. In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning about how this growing community got started, just ask a third grader.
Article written by Patricia Raitto