Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 006)
Center School had a stormy start
The old building sitting in quiet dignity at the corner of Bedford and Cambridge Streets still resounds now and then with the noise and laughter of children as they come with their parents or teachers to see a little of what is left of a Burlington now long gone. Today’s youth and young adults, with their quilting displays and spinning exhibitions, their drawings and rubbings, have helped bring back a little of the stir and bustle once so prevalent there in its earlier days. And the murals now in the front entranceway, the work of two young Burlington artists, Donald Gorvette and Jeffrey Weaver, have given the old place a new distinction only the cupola supporting its exquisite weathervane, probably made by the local blacksmith, A.J. Alley, could give it years ago.
When the Central District School was moved to Havenville in 1839, it left the center of town without any schoolhouse. Families there with names like Marion, Gleason, Sewall, Alley, Carter, Walker, Caldwell and Bell were not too happy. They complained bitterly for years and introduced article after article in the town warrants for a replacement. But it wasn’t until the April meeting of 1855 that they finally succeeded. But only by a majority of three votes did that meeting agree to keep a school in the “center of town for a term not exceeding sixteen weeks by a male teacher in winter.”
Thus the Center School, now the Historical Museum, was built at a cost of $2,329.82. Its interior measurements were 28 by 40 by 14 feet. William R. Adams, a graduate student from Dartmouth College, was the first teacher there, starting a tradition of employing Dartmouth students, which lasted for many years.
In 1857, after a tumultuous town meeting, the members voted to prohibit any child under twelve from attending that Center School during that winter. Thus the school became a ninth grade school for older children. For a time it was referred to as a high school. A Mr. Lucien B. Eaton, another boy from Dartmouth, was engaged to teach for twelve weeks starting in December for the princely salary of $45.00 a month. This must have been incentive pay for teaching older pupils, because by 1868, Warren Thompson was teaching there for only $32.00 a month. Women in the four outlying schools were paid but $26.00 a month. No wonder Martha Sewall Curtis was an early proponent of Women’s Lib.
Then came the move for consolidation, resulting in the Union School. When it opened in 1897, the Center School closed. The town sold it to Abner Marion. He returned it to the town for a library and Edward S. Barker picked up the tab for the renovation. The most noteworthy changes were the replacing of the two front entrances with the present doorway, the elimination of one stairway to the basement, the installation of new hardwood floors over the old, and erecting six rows of bookshelves. The first librarian in that building was Florence I. Foster, and her salary for the year 1900 was $100.00.When the four-room Union School became crowded in 1921, the small second grade class was sheltered in the reading area, and the old building became both library and classroom at the same time. This unpleasant situation was relieved when four more rooms were added to the Union School in 1923.
Following Florence Foster as librarian were Mary L. Foster, Ella I. Getchel, Aunt Nettie Foster, Lotta C. Dunham and Alphonsine B. Harvey. Mrs. Harvey is now retired but she is still active and helps out from time to time in the new building. When the new library opened in 1968, the future looked bleak for the proud old building. But then the old Town Hall was torn down to make way for the new police station, so the police needed temporary quarters. Thus the old building came into active use once more as the police moved in with their equipment. Police occupation did not last long, however, for they were practically blown out of the place one night in August, 1970.
The uneasy 60s had produced Burlington’s quota of unrest among the young people of the area. Their antagonism to the rules of society in general culminated one Saturday night when local police and several hundred youths clashed during the breakup of a noisy beer and “pot?” party in the rear of Northeastern University’s Suburban Campus. Resentment among a small minority of teenagers reached new proportions. The following Tuesday night, a Molotov cocktail was thrown through one of the rear windows of the old building. The blast destroyed police communication equipment, and the resultant fire did extensive damage to the interior. Prompt action on the part of the fire department saved the building from total destruction. The police moved into civil defense quarters in the Meadowbrook school.
Under the direction of the Historical Commission, a board appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the old school has been given a new lease on life as the Town’s Historical Museum. Insurance money paid for the replacement of an interior wall, repair of the basement room and the exterior painting. With some of this money and funds raised by conducting a number of flea markets on the Union School grounds, a matching grant of $4,551.00 was secured from the Federal Government to pursue the renovation. Extensive smoke damage was removed, the interior painted, the floors cleaned and polished, and display cases acquired. The Historical Society subsidized the murals and the Garden Club did the landscaping.
Now efforts to preserve and show off some of Burlington’s rich and colorful heritage, starting with the building itself, is practically complete. All that is needed now is public interest and maybe active membership in the Historical Society. And a parking place!