At the Windham town meeting held in March of 1910, voters (all men at this point of history) agreed to purchase a lot of land near Windham Center and to “build, furnish and equip a modern high school building.” But where did they get the money? They approved $2,000 from taxes and borrowed $6,000 from Charles Stuart. Stuart owned a horse-trotting track at Windham Hill and was repaid within five years.
By November, the building was done and at the end of that month it was dedicated – the Portland newspaper’s front-page headline, “New Building for Free High School,” indicated this was a public school and students did not have to pay tuition.
Within a year, citizens again voted – this time to use money received from the sale of hay and apples from the high school lot, to install electric lights in the school – students to annually pay for electricity. It was also voted to build a stable at the school where students could keep their horses during the school day. It cost $2 per school term to use a stall.
The addition of a gymnasium in 1925 was the beginning of using the high school as Windham’s community center. Along with basketball, the gym was used for town meeting, voting, high school dances and graduation. A stage at one side of the gym was home to plays and eventually the community theater met here. In the 1940s, during World War II, the grounds outside the building became the collection spot for piles of metal and rubber, used in the war effort.
The increase in population created the need for more school space and in 1957 a multi-room addition for kindergarten was built on the front of the high school. This addition was named for Fred Aikins, who had served as school superintendent from 1926 to 1955.
High school classes were held in the main part of the building until 1964 when a new high school on Route 202 was opened. The former high school became the junior high school, until the structure was condemned in 1977, creating another crisis in school space.
In 1978, the town secured a $494,000 grant from the Federal Economic Development Administration and the building was renovated and turned into a Community Center containing a kitchen, nine rooms and, of course, the gym. The new Community Center had a Council Room where the council and school committee met. The building was used by many organizations in town including the Community Theater, Windham-Raymond Senior Citizens, Boy Scouts, Chamber of Commerce, Crossroads Garden Club, Nature Study Club, Lioness, Jaycees, Channel 12 and others.
The Community Center was short lived.
By 1980, Windham’s population was above 11,000, an increase of more than 9,000 since the building was originally constructed. All municipal offices including the superintendent’s office, were housed in the brick town house, built in 1833. In the early 1980s, it was decided to move the municipal offices into the Community Center, and the school administration offices into the Hanson House (which at the turn of the century had been a boarding home for teachers, and was the property of the town.)
By 1983, the original town house was turned over to the Windham Historical Society. There was still talk around town about a Community Center, but more dire need was for municipal office space. Population growth and demand for municipal services made more renovations necessary. In 2006-2007, the 100-year-old building was changed once more.
The building that began life without electricity now has built-in technology for a new century and the town that sold hay and apples to pay for that electricity still has no community center.