A Brief History
Settled in 1719 by Scottish immigrants seeking religious freedom, the Town of Windham was originally home to the Pawtucket Indians. It represented but a small part of a larger settlement, known by the residents as "Nutfield," which also encompassed the towns of Derry and Londonderry. By the year 1741, a small fraction of the original settlers had petitioned for a charter to form a separate community whose bounds included 27.2 square miles of land and water. In 1741-2, Governor Benning Wentworth granted their request and the Town of Windham was incorporated (PDF).
Why "Windham," though? One published theory holds that our community's name refers to Windham, Ireland, harkening back to the petitioners' homeland. There is a lesser known theory, however, which was presented a number of years ago in the Union Leader's NH Sunday News. In the article in question, part of a series entitled "New Hampshire Heritage," columnist Bill Fennell offers the following:
"The second town to be incorporated during the Governorship of Benning Wentworth, the name "Windham" remembers a good friend of the Wentworth family, Sir Charles Wyndham - a name which is often spelled 'Windham.'"
Regardless of the provenance of our name, that original band of dedicated individuals, primarily farmers and millworkers, worked diligently to create the rural oasis in which we now reside and now, over 260 years later, there are still several pieces of their history which remain. While not inclusive, some of the historic sites within the Town include: the Searles School, which has undergone extensive restoration, and though not completed, is currently being rented for functions; the Searles Castle, owned and renovated by the Sisters of Mercy, which is also available for functions; and the original "Town Center," the location of the Town Hall, Planning Department, Senior Center, Bartley House and the Armstrong Memorial Building, the latter of which houses the Town's museum.
Outside of these, there are numerous other pieces of history scattered throughout the Town: the Governor Dinsmore plaque; the old sections of the cemeteries; and Garaphelia Park, to name a few. Windham also has several natural phenomena, which have been historically documented. Sadly however, most of these, such as Butterfield Rock, are now inaccessible to the public. There are also various areas in Town, which have been registered with the State as Historic Districts and contain some of our oldest existing homes.
Those interested in learning more should inquire at the Nesmith Library about the “History of Windham in New Hampshire, 1719 to 1883” by L.A. Morrison, and its supplement, “Rural Oasis, 1883 to 1975,” researched and written by the Town History Committee.