The story of the Armstrong Memorial Building begins with Colonel Thomas Nesmith bequeathing the town the sum of three thousand dollars after his death in 1870. Nesmith had been born to one of Windham’s oldest families on September 7, 1788. Compared to many of the school-aged children in Windham, Nesmith was well educated, having attended Windham’s schoolhouses and completing his formal education at Pinkerton Academy. His father ran a small one-room store out of their home. Upon his father’s death at the age of 44, Thomas, with his brothers, helped their widowed mother keep the store open. In 1810 Thomas left his mother and siblings and decided to go into business for himself. He had realized that the supply of imported linen did not meet the demand; the result of such was that linen was spun and woven in households across the country. To take advantage of the opportunity at hand, Thomas purchased a horse and a two-wheeled cart. These he used to collect thread, which was then brought to his grandmother to color, and then to his sisters to coil long strands of the thread together. The finished product would then be brought to Lynn, MA, as well as other towns of considerable size, and offered for sale. In 1814, Thomas was forced to leave his family business in order to serve in the War of 1812. During his three months of service Lieutenant Nesmith remained in Portsmouth. Within a few years Thomas’ operation had yielded him with the considerable fortune of $6,000. Smitten with the entrepreneurial spirit, he decided to use some of the funds to expand his business, renting a room from Robert Clark at the town center. It was here that Nesmith opened a store with his brother, John; they ran the store together until 1822. In May of 1820 Nesmith became the colonel of the 8th Regiment of New Hampshire; this would be the end of his military career. During that time he also became active in town affairs, and served as the town clerk in 1821.
In 1822, John and Thomas Nesmith moved their store to Derry, which they operated from a building that had previously housed the store of Patterson & Chase. While in Derry, Thomas met his future wife, Lucinda Fay; the couple was married on May 20, 1832. At that time she was serving as the principal of Adams Female Seminary. Shortly after their marriage, John left the store in Derry and removed to New York City to open a new business. Thomas joined him shortly after, but did not remain there long. Around the time they left New York, one of the brothers saw an ad featuring an estate in Lowell, MA, which was for sale. Thomas and John decided to purchase the estate and settle in Lowell for the remainder of their lives. After purchasing the Lowell estate, Thomas retired from business, and concerned himself only with his personal affairs. However, he was involved in the founding of Lowell and was instrumental in helping many of the city’s earliest enterprises get a firm start.
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.