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IT HAPPENED IN WINDHAM: Repairing shoes and writing history

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Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 2:07 pm

At the turn of the last century, Windham had a population of about 2,000. Most of the residents were farmers, but there were mills on the Presumpscot River making use of the abundant water power.  

Millworkers mostly lived in mill houses or boarding houses on Main Street. The village of South Windham bustled with shops of all types, catering to the hundreds of people who lived there. One of these shops belonged to Sam Dole. He may be best known as the author of “Windham in the Past,” but his occupation was cobbler.

Sam Thomas’ cobbler shop was on Main Street, just over the brim of the hill where the big white church presided over the homes that “clustered” down to the river. A small one-room yellow building, it was filled with the odor of leather, Neat’s Foot oil, corn-cob pipe smoke and the coffee simmering on the pot-bellied stove.

It’s hard to imagine that a cobbler would write a 600-page history book, but Sam was also a collector of information and when the town needed a history written, he was the chosen author.

One woman who was 10 years old in 1900 and whose father owned Robinson’s Woolen Mill, recalled going to the cobbler shop where she waited while Sam Thomas (no one called him Dole, she said) repaired her small leather shoes.

“He sat on a long bench which contained compartments to hold his needles, spools of thread, beeswax, pegs, nails and his tools. Knives were slipped into “envelopes” on the side of the bench. Some had odd-curved blades and others short stubby blades. He had many hammers for different uses, but all had short handles. Cobblers repaired shoes, they didn’t make them, but Sam Thomas had big pieces of tanned hides hanging on the wall from which he’d cut pieces of leather for repairs.”

The former customer of Dole’s recalls he was a small, old man with white hair, whose fingers were still nimble. He worked constantly while he talked and always had a smile. 

Samuel Thomas Dole died in 1912. He was an authority on town affairs, politics, weather, crops and state history. He collected information and vital statistics on most Windham families and after his death, his grandson completed the history of Windham which is continually used as a reference.

People tend to forget he was first of all, a cobbler. 

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