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Shining Once Again

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, December 7, 1982

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg (Article # 181)


The grand old lady never looked so good! All spruced up from a new roof to a landscaped setting, she fairly sparkled as she once again became the dominant architectural feature of Burlington’s beautiful Common this Christmas season, thanks to the Old Colony Bank people who will now occupy office space there. Her new coat of colonial yellow glistened as it caught the rays of the setting sun and her new window sashes giving those within a view of the old Marion Tavern to one side and the new town library on the other, now connects with dignity two distinct periods of Burlington history.

Built after years of raging controversy between those who firmly believed in the neighborhood schools and those who insisted that a better education for Burlington’s youngsters could be had through consolidation, the Union School began its career in 1898. At that time the building contained only four rooms, two up and two down, one of which became the selectmen’s room, since but three of those rooms were needed to house all the town’s students, grades one through nine.

The Town Report for the year 1898 contains this statement from then Superintendent of Schools Lewis T. McKenney: “June 17, 1898, the schools of the town closed the spring term with appropriate exercises pertaining to bidding farewell to the old district school system, for our new graded school building was ready for occupancy upon the opening of the Fall term, Sept. 6.” Only four schools had been in operation during the winter and spring terms that year since the Center School had been turned into a library two years previously.

Cora McIntire taught 22 students in the East School, Lizzie McIntire had but 11 youngsters in the West School, Mary E. Harvell taught 20 youngsters in the North School and Grace Spinney taught 21 boys and girls in the South School. The fall term saw a new faculty begin operations in the new building. Nellie F. Sweetman taught 26 students in the Primary grades 1 to 3; Beatrice B. McGlauflin had 24 Inter- mediate students grades 4 to 6; and Nellie E. Cooledge taught the Grammar section, 17 students grades 7 to 9. The following year, since the school population had dropped to but 60 pupils, only two rooms were used, grades 1 to 4 in one room and grades 5 to 9 in another, the Intermediate division having been discontinued for the time being. A year later in 1900 the school population was down to 56 pupils and the School Committee that year were complaining about the fence around the school property which not only allowed McIntires cows to enter the school grounds but did not keep young boys from helping themselves to whatever crops the abutters were growing.

The school population continued to decline until in 1907 there were but four students graduated from here, Dorothy Foster, Jessie Dinsmore, Freda Walker and Jesse Barnaby, but the total school enrollment had increased for two years in a row, then standing at 65 and the three divisions were restored. Special mention was given in those old reports to students whose attendance was exemplary and that year, 1907, neither absent nor tardy for the whole school year were Arthur Barnaby, Maitland Pearsons, Wilmot Pearsons and Arline Rogan. Graduation exercises, by the way, between 1902 when the first Town Hall burned down until 1915 when the Second Town Hall was built, were held in the church.

By 1922, however, the school population had grown to 209 pupils with five teachers packed into four classrooms and the Library and the 9th grade had been sent to Woburn High School along with the other high school students. Thus the town was actually forced to build an addition to the Union School, which was done in 1923, adding another four rooms and lavatories.

The lunchroom in the basement was opened mostly for just sandwiches until Ivanetta Smith became a member of the School Committee after 1928. Graduating in June 1923, just prior to opening the addition, were Louis Beard, Joel Bennett, Anne Gillingsley, Marion Bustead, Wilbur Dobbins, Edward Keating, Mauretta Libby, Marjorie Lord, Mabel Lovely, Norman McElhinney, Joseph Meuse, Marion Miller, Louise Moglia, Warren Penny, Gladys Skelton, Beatrice Stearns, Lawrence Straw and Donald Symmes, all of whom went on to Woburn High except Meuse, who went to work.

Closely connected with the Union School during much of its life as a school from 1897 to 1973 was one of Burlington’s highly respected senior citizens, Miss Mabel Keating. Her relationship ran the gamut from student to teacher, from school committee person to principal.

The Keating family had moved to Burlington sometime around 1880 with five children. Patrick and Hannah Roache Keating were to have four more children born here, John, Helen, Alice and Emily. John, born in 1884, lived but a few days; Helen was born in 1888 when the family was living in the old Kent place, now part of the RCA property; Alice came along in 1890 and after graduating from the Union School went on to graduate from the first nurses program begun by the Choate Hospital in Woburn; and Emily was born in 1893 in the little house on Lexington St. now owned by Mildred Young. Of the five older children, young Patrick had been born in 1875 in Lexington.

He and some of the others attended the Center School, now the Museum building. He became the foreman and groundskeeper for the Henderson family who occupied the old Frothingham Mansion at that time. He married Anna Madden of Woburn in 1903 and the young couple started housekeeping in what was the lodge or gatehouse belonging to that estate. That small house was later moved down to Lexington Street where it still stands as part of a larger house on the corner of Spruce Hill Road. Mabel Keating was born of that union in 1904, to be followed by Thomas, Edward and Anna. All attended the Union School and went on to Woburn High School.

Mabel graduated from the Union School in 1918 and from Woburn High in 1922. Determined to become a teacher, she applied for admission to Lowell Normal School, was accepted, and graduated from there two years later. In September of 1924 she joined the faculty of the Union School where she taught the 4th grade for five years. With her on the faculty in 1924 were two other Burlington girls, Cora McIntire who had returned to Burlington several years before, and Madeline Chandler.

Mabel accepted a position teaching in Medford where in the course of time she became Assistant Principal of a grade school housing some 850 students in grades 1 to 6. In 1945, with the encouragement of Selwyn Graham, who had been on the School Committee when Mabel was hired in 1924, Mabel Keating ran for and was elected to the School Committee, a position she held until 1960, a period of time which saw a tremendous increase in the town’s population and subsequent strains on the local school system.

In 1961 she returned to Burlington as principal of the Union and Center schools, where she earned the reputation as a strict disciplinarian. Some said her school ran like clockwork. With the opening of Burlington’s new high school in 1973, the Union School was no longer needed as a school facility and was closed. Mabel retired that same year and now lives comfortably in the house on Lexington Street that her father built in 1932. As an educator Mabel Keating gave to the youngsters of Burlington and their parents a rich and rewarding half a century. And the old Union School has served those same people as the focal point of their younger years almost twice as long.