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A Short-Lived Club

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, January 26, 1982

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg (Article # 136)

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One of those organizations which only those living here 30 or 40 years ago will remember was the Burlington Civic Club. For part of its short career, its headquarters were located in a one-time ice cream parlor which once stood at the corner of Winn and Cambridge streets, a lot now occupied by Almy’s Department Store, Filene’s Basement, Busa Liquors, and a few other smaller units.

The organization was formed partly to promote the idea of a Burlington high school. At the time, Burlington’s teenagers went to high school in surrounding towns. In May of 1937, a group of 32 men met in the basement of the Union School to consider “the question of forming some kind of a local association for the purpose of civic betterment and to promote the building of a high School in Burlington.”

At that meeting the decision to organize was made and George B. Perkins was elected president. A few weeks later, on the 3rd of June, the club adopted a constitution which was signed at that time by George B. Perkins, Maurice J. DeMone, Ernst Makechnie, Loren H. Blenkhorn, Carl H. Bussey, William E. Porter and Chester MacDonald.

All applicants for the membership were to be male citizens of the Town of Burlington, 21 years of age or older, and no person was to be denied membership because of race, creed, color or political affiliation.

Application for a Charter was made in November but because of local politics which delayed that application, the Civic club Charter of Incorporation was not signed by Frederick W. Cook, then Secretary of the Commonwealth, until March 1, 1938. A short time later the newly organized club held a supper in the Town Hall to celebrate Charter Night and to mark the formal opening of an activities program.

The Toastmaster for the evening was Carl Bussey and the 75 or so members in attendance were served chicken pie and mashed potatoes with all the trimmings prepared by five of its members, Bill Bustead, Fred Richardson, Bob Carpenter, Hartley Bean and Tim Regan. At the head table were seated Selectmen Thomas J. Mohan and Chester H. Graham, the Rev. Ernest A. Sterling, President George B. Perkins, Loren H. Blenkhorn, F. Walter Johnson and Ernst Makechnie. Notably absent from the account of that night is the name of David M. Ward.

Two flags were presented: one, an American flag given by President Perkins; the other, a banner of dark blue silk which bore the simple inscription “Burlington Civic Club” in gold, beneath which appeared the Seal of the Town of Burlington in black and gold on a field of white, presented by Loren Blenkhorn.

The Civic Club played a prominent part in convincing the townspeople that a high school was something not to be put off much longer, was on hand for the ground breaking ceremonies in October 1938 and again in December when the cornerstone was laid.

Like the Grange in its heyday, the Civic Club sponsored a number of town activities. The first use of the school’s auditorium was a minstrel show given by the Civic Club. It helped with the bonfire and fireworks once given regularly on the 4th of July in Simonds Park. It organized and ran the annual Agricultural Fair for several years, an event started back in 1890. It ran a Strawberry Festival several times from which proceeds it purchased Defense Bonds in support of the War effort.

The club was responsible for several changes in town government during its short life. It advocated the creation of a Planning Board as early as 1940 and helped elect the first five members of that board in 1945. It also pushed for a town water supply and saw that objective bear fruit with the incorporation of the Burlington Water District in 1949.

The Club met regularly in the basement of the Public Library, now the Museum Building. Then, for a time, they were held in Aunt Nettie Foster’s barn which Loren Blenkhorn had turned into the Trading Post just prior to the War. In 1943 the Civic Club had become so financially sound that it bought the property on the corner of Winn and Cambridge streets and held their meetings and entertainments there. Their tenure there covered a period of ten years.

The building on that property had once been a very popular meeting place for both young and old 20 years earlier for it was known as Kimball’s Ice Cream Parlor. It could seat several hundred people and during the summer time became the place to go. A flat box-like affair built into the roof over the front entrance served as a balcony from which Edson Kimball’s Woburn Band would give concerts from time to time on Saturday evenings. And Edson always drew a good crowd. This writer seems to remember the roof being painted orange, a color since associated with Howard Johnson’s.

Kimball’s either went out of business or moved out of town and the building and land, still the property of the General Ice Cream Corp. (?) and assessed for eight acres of land, once Bennett land, and a refreshment building, was leased to Ben and Alma Bird who ran a restaurant there for a number of years. A golf driving range was operated in the flat pasture land to the rear of the building where many of Burlington’s young people first learned to hit a golf ball with some expertise. The Birds served excellent New England fried clams as well as other delicacies.

Ben and Alma Bird were an interesting pair. They lived in the first little white house off Cambridge Street on Church Lane. Ben had been a salesman during his younger days and had traveled over most of New England. To his wife he was always “Papa” although his Christian name was Raoul. When the American Legion Post No. 273 was organized in November 1943, Ben Bird was installed as the first commander. Ben and Alma Bird had been married 48 years when he died.

Alma, who was born in Aroostook County, Maine in 1887, now lives with relatives there. She reached her 90th birthday here in Burlington and drove her own car almost to that date. She was brought up and went to school in Medford where her family moved when she was but a girl of six.

She had three loves: Papa, the horses and the Red Sox. She knew every horse which ran on any Eastern track, it seemed, and she played them assiduously, thus her pocketbook was at times overflowing but at other times abysmally empty. She loved to swap gossip or jokes, some of a most questionable quality, with almost anybody.

As for the Red Sox, she once said that she watched them when they played on Huntington Avenue, so she had been a fan since childhood. She became one of Burlington’s most familiar and well-loved figures.

By 1953 the Civic Club had lost its energy and initiative, and plagued by dissention, loss of membership and interest, sold its property, divided the payment among the members after paying debts and taxes, thus ending a short but interesting existence. The building became an auction gallery.

Mrs. Dunham, writing while the club was still active, said “In September 1940, a flag pole was erected in Simonds Park, the gift to the Club of Mr. Samuel Walker and from which flies the town’s largest American flag, presented to the town by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert E. Lord. The club also has an 800-pound cannon, a relic of Civil War days, a donation from Mr. Walker.” Both the flag pole and the cannon are still here.