While the shores and waters of Shadow Lake lie partially in Windham and Salem, the local prominence of Cobbett's Pond, the Windham shore of Canobie Lake, and the several other ponds in Windham, often shadow over that of Shadow Lake. However, on a summer day in 1953, Shadow Lake was given national attention likely never seen by another Windham pond or lake. On Monday, July 20, 1953, Lawrence W. Allen was sitting on a raft at Shadow Lake when a friend sharing the dock with him hit him on the back. The force of the friendly blow knocked Allen into the water, and when he returned to the surface he quickly realized he had lost his upper set of dentures. Not an experienced diver, Allen hired the services of a diver to attempt to recover his $150 set of false teeth. Sensing public interest in the mishap of Allen, the Associated Press picked up the story and, within just one day, readers across the nation were able to open their local paper and read about the search for false teeth at the bottom of a lake they had likely never heard of in the small town of Windham, New Hampshire.
There are several towns by the name of "Windham" located throughout the nation, located in Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, and other states. While these towns share a common name, the story behind the name varies from town to town. For example, Windham, Maine was named for the town of Wymondham in Norfolk, England. Windham, New Hampshire is generally accepted to be the namesake of Sir Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont.
Born in 1710, Sir Charles Wyndham was born into a politically powerful English family; his father, Sir William Wyndham served as Secretary of War and the leader of the House of Commons. According to Max Egremont, a descendant of Sir Charles Wyndham, and the current 2nd Baron Egremont, Sir Charles Wyndham was "the heir to a huge fortune, ... one of the richest peers in the kingdom." Charles Wyndham was educated at the Westminster School in London, as well as the historic Christ Church in Oxford. After completing his formal education, Wyndham "went on a Grand Tour of Europe, visiting Germany, France and Italy. While traveling through Europe, Wyndham developed an appreciation for art and collected paintings and sculpture, which were brought back to his family estate, the Petworth House; some of the art he collected still remains in the Petworth House, which is partially occupied by his descendants.
After returning from his jaunt through Europe, Wyndham became involved in politics, and served as a Member of Parliament from 1734 to 1750. During his tenure as a Member of Parliament, he became a close friend of Benning Wentworth, the colonial governor of New Hampshire from 1741 to 1766. When the residents of the portion of Londonderry that would become Windham petitioned for incorporation in 1741, they did so knowing approval from Governor Wentworth was required for their effort to succeed. Although, the identity of the person, or persons, who chose the name "Windham" are likely lost to history, it can be surmised the name was chosen to please Governor Wentworth; naming the town after a close friend of the Governor would certainly give the petitioners a leg up in the petition's approval process.
When Windham became a town on February 12, 1742, Charles Wyndham was just at the beginning of what would become a successful career, not only as a politician, but as a family man. In 1751 he married Alicia Maria Carpenter, the daughter of an Irish peer, and the couple raised four sons and three daughters together. Just a year after the birth of his last son, Wyndham was appointed secretary of state for the southern department, the most prominent position of his career. Wyndham's tenure as secretary of state is best summarized by Max Egremeont:
"He was competent rather than exciting, trying (and generally succeeding) to make peace with France on terms that were favourable to the British. In 1763, he was involved in the prosecution of the journalist and politician John Wilkes who had published supposedly libellous comments on King George 111 in his paper The North Briton."
Unfortunately, Wyndham would not hold his post for long. In 1763 he suffered and apoplectic stroke and died. Wyndham family legend holds that his death may have been caused by overeating, and that a few days prior to his death, Wyndham had remarked "but three turtle dinners to come, and if I survive them I shall be immortal." Alas, he evidently did not achieve immortality. However, his name has proved to be immortal, with North Egremont and South Egremont, Massachusetts bearing his name, and our town of Windham serving as a permanent legacy of Sir Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont.
Derek Saffie is an avid Windham historian who enjoys researching and sharing his collection with all those interested in the history of the New England town.