By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — Matt Laliberte is uncovering Windham’s history.
The 17-year-old Windham High junior is working toward becoming an Eagle Scout.
His project is a little short of an architectural dig, but not by much.
Matt has spent hundreds of hours removing brush and trash in and around a historic town landmark, the stone foundation of the Stickney general store in Windham Depot.
“We’re at about 400 hours now. We expect to be at 500 when we’re done,” Matt said, looking over the site recently.
The “we” includes his father, Mike, mother Karen, sister Natalie and fellow members of Boy Scout Troop 266.
What they’ve done is give people a good, clear look at the remnants of a central part of the Windham Depot area.
Edwin Noyes Stickney built the store there in 1861.
The 24-year-old not only was the town’s storekeeper, he also was postmaster.
What was known as the West Windham Store would stand until fire destroyed it in 1927.
But the stone cellar remains, a reminder of the generations who made the store a social center of town, where they shopped, conversed and even danced.
State historical markers declare Windham Depot an “archaelogically sensitive area.”
Matt’s job has been to beautify a small corner of it, without disturbing the history of the place.
Visitors will find that his project gives them a good view of the site.
It’s next to the Boston & Maine caboose alongside the rail trail.
Matt created a stone dust path that leads them up to a rock wall overlooking the store cellar.
He has planted flowers there and will install a 14-by-14-inch informational plaque that will relate the history of the place.
“Matt took this on and what a fabulous job he’s done,” said Carol Pynn, chairman of the town’s Historic District Commission. “He’s cleared all the brush out of it and cleared all around it.”
Matt found a little history in the process, turning up an old New England Telephone sign he plans to give to the town for its museum.
A beam uncovered from the cellar hole was placed in back of the flowers that decorate the site.
His dad said six trailer-loads of brush and metal debris were hauled from that cellar hole. What looked like an old furnace was removed.
Matt also raised $1,500 for the project. The Scouts brought in $450 from a car wash. Lincoln Financial Group, where his father works, also supported the project with a donation.
Besides installing the rock wall on 90-degree days, a challenge was documenting the history of the site.
“There wasn’t much,” Matt said, after reading a brief account of the story of the store. “It was hard to find this.”
Matt’s work continues an ongoing relationship between the Scout troop and Windham Depot.
Greg Samsel’s Eagle Scout project involved installing benches near the caboose.
Mike Laliberte said he likes that his son took away lessons in how to plan and complete a project, while giving something back to the community others will enjoy.
“A lot of people use this area,” he said.
Matt wants one thing out of the project.
“I hope it lasts,” he said. “That was the main goal of it.”