RAYMOND - In just a few short months, this small, rural town on the banks of the Lamprey River and Onway Lake will celebrate its 250th anniversary.
Plans have been in the works for nearly a year for an elaborate celebration the week of Sept. 13 meant to coincide with the incorporation of the town in 1764.
The town has seen many changes in those years, as well as a cast of characters and families, some of whom still live in Raymond.
Longtime resident Sally Paradis, 73, said she and her friends still comment on how lucky they are to have grown up in a town where everyone knew each other.
"Consequently, we felt we had a wonderful life here growing up," Paradis said. "That's not to say life wasn't difficult at times."
She recalled quarrels over what to do about the school before the elementary and middle schools were built, a time when double sessions were being held in the town's one schoolhouse.
When she was growing up, life centered on the Berk Shoe Factory, which now houses Argo Cycle at Route 27 and Epping Street. That property had been owned by her grandfather, George Guptill, the town doctor, who operated a trotting track there in the 1920s and 1930s. It later became the town dump before Berk came to town and developed the property.
Paradis said there wasn't a child in town who did not have one or two parents working at the factory, including her mother, who worked as an accountant for the business. It was one of two shoe factories in town.
The town suffered when the factory closed and the nearby tannery burned in 1972 after 20 years of operation, Paradis said.
"Ill tell you, it was not a good situation for many, many years," Paradis said.
Paradis said the arrival of New England's first Walmart Distribution Center in the mid-1990s heralded a new beginning. New businesses popped up on routes 102, 107 and 27.
Paul Brown, 78, was born and raised in Raymond, in a house very close to the one in which he currently lives.
His parents came to town in the early 1900s because of the new Raymond Consolidated School, where Brown entered first grade in 1941.
He remembers seeing horses and wagons on Long Hill Road, which was then a dirt road, and the town's two shoe factories, but said a lot of the business in town was still agricultural.
The area around the Town Common has continued to be its center, despite two devastating fires, including the Great Fire of 1892, which destroyed nearly all the buildings in the downtown area.
Soon after that fire, the town established its first fire department and built a water tower, after turning down one offered by the railroad company in 1890.
The arrival of the railroad in the mid-1800s also changed the face of the town. Wealthy visitors started arriving from such cities as Boston and Manchester to take advantage of the beautiful location and the many water features the town continues to have in abundance.
In 1930, Mary Sargent established Camp Se-Sa-Ma-Ca, which operated as an elite girls' camp for more than 50 years before closing in 1982.
The local ice cream parlor, Candyland, even named a sundae after the camp. It featured two scoops of vanilla ice cream and loads of chocolate and marshmallow, and many residents still remember the girls coming into town each summer to enjoy the cool treat.
Brown recalled Candyland, the fruit store and the drugstore all having marble soda fountain countertops. Those places would serve as the gathering spots for residents.
A number of summer boarding houses and resorts dotted the town's shorelines, but the advent of the automobile and the end of passenger rail service to Raymond once again changed the town's direction.
Ahead of its time
Brown said Raymond was a rather progressive town until about the early 1960s.
"It was the only town around that had its water system in the main part of town. It was quite progressive," he said.
Brown said he has remained in town for a simple reason.
"It's home," Brown said. "Simple as that."
Residents both current and former have been sharing their memories on a website created by the town for its 250th anniversary - www.raymond250.org - and on the committee's Facebook page.
The Raymond Historical Society is busy raising money to renovate the old train depot, which serves as the historical archive of the town, ahead of the celebration next year. The group recently achieved its fundraising goal of $30,000 to replace the roof, a project that is underway, and is raising money that will be used forscraping and paint the exterior and replacing rotting base banding.
The 250th committee is raising money for the celebration through the sale of a town cookbook, which includes more than 400 recipes collected by townspeople, and souvenirs, including pewter ornaments depicting the bandstand.
Resident Joyce Wood said one of the events she is looking forward to during the celebration is a production based on the book "Letters from a Sharpshooter," based on the letters of local sharpshooter William Greene from the Civil War.
On Sept. 21, an alumni reunion will be held for all graduates of Raymond High School.