The Burlingtonians (Sports)
The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, August 14, 1979
Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg (Article # 008)
The boys were getting a little too old to be Boy Scouts any longer. Yet they wanted to belong to some organization they could call their own other than the Junior Grange or a church group.
In the early 20’s, 12 of them had formed the first Boy Scout troop in Burlington. The first scoutmaster was Ray Priestley and the assistant scoutmaster was Charlie McGinnis. The boy’s first summer camp had been to an island in Lake Quinsigamond, Worcester. Harrison and Herman Graham were of this group, and they didn’t want the comradeship built up in the Boy Scouts to evaporate as they grew older.
So eight of those boys, with the help and guidance of their scoutmasters, formed the club known for many years thereafter as the Burlingtonians. They began as a baseball team but by 1930 were also a hockey team. Both summer and winter schedules were full with the team playing teams from other communities such as Billerica, East Lexington, No. Woburn, Winchester and Woburn, and later with another Burlington baseball team named the Winmere Tigers.
In order to raise money, having no angel, patron or matching funds, the energetic boys ran whist parties and organized Saturday night dances in the Town Hall, conducted several small agricultural fairs and successfully produced a number of minstrel shows.
The proceeds from those events paid for their uniforms and equipment and allowed them to build Burlington’s first skating rink at the corner of Winn and Sears streets. The rink was not a regulation size hockey rink, but it served the purpose. Swamp alder, cat-o-nine-tails and skunk cabbage were cleared from the marshy area. The brook was damned and a two foot wooden barrier was erected surrounding the rink area.
Two years after that construction the boys had enough money to have the Edison Co. hang six big overhead lamps to light the area at night. The old streetcar waiting room on the corner served as a locker room. Campfires were built on the hillside, now Forbes Avenue, and groups of young people congregated there to toast marshmallows, change skates, gossip and, sometimes, during the light of the moon only, to do a little necking, human nature being what it is.
The daddy of all the regular activity was Ray Priestly, for he acted as both manager and advisor until World War II put an end to every team. Born in Framingham in 1902, he moved to Burlington in 1922 after serving two-and-a-half years in the Navy. He went to work for the Jenny Gas Co. as an electrician, got married and moved into a seven-room house on Harriett Avenue, for which he paid $28 a month rent.
He became an expert pump repair man whose services were in demand all over town when the rains came. Through the good offices of Edith Nourse Rogers, then representing this area in Congress, he was employed as head electrician at the Chelsea Naval Hospital where he worked for some 20 years. Retired as an electrician, he took a job as security guard for the Burlington Bank and Trust for several years. But during all these years, except for three years on active duty during World War II, he kept his interest in sports and youth. A hale and hearty 78 years young, he still lives in town with his second wife, Charlotte Kelly, whom he married in 1942. An indication of the deep regard the boys on his teams had for the Priestleys is the fact that all through the war as those boys served their country around the globe, they kept in touch by postcard and letter.
Another Burlington man who loved and lived sports and who took an active interest in the Burlingtonians as both coach and advisor was Frank Welsh. His interest in sports never lagged, for he worked with the Burlingtonians during the early years, with the Town Team they became in the late ’30s, and then supported and encouraged every athletic program sponsored by Burlington High School, starting with the first football team fielded in 1939.
Frank was born in Reading, where his father was a dairy and garden farmer. His interest in sports began in high school when he played ball for Reading High. After graduation he took a job with the Boston and Maine Railroad, whose employee he remained for over 50 years. When he was first married he lived on High Street in Woburn, then moved to Burlington in 1925 where the family lived in Bill Winn’s little house and then the old Bennett farmhouse for a while.
When his finances improved he bought a piece of land from Charles Dearborn and built the house still standing at 7 Dearborn Rd. Only there was no Dearborn Road at that time. The entrance to his property was a dirt driveway between the two Dearborn houses (the Tavern stood where the Fire Station is now, the new house on a rise of ground where the Middlesex Bank stands) from where it ran behind the Town Barn long since torn down. His wife died in 1958, and he retired from the railroad two years later.
To keep active, he took a part-time job in a Reading bank and became unofficial advisor and assistant to the high school coaches. He died in 1966 of a heart attack but he had thoroughly enjoyed those last few years, for he had attended every practice and athletic event he possibly could. Coaches and players, young and old, mourned his passing.
During the 15 years prior to this country’s involvement in World War II, scores of Burlington’s young men took an active part in small town sports. Involved during the early years were Charles Bennett, Wilbur MacIntire, Gene Rohwedder, Dave Skelton, Robert McLaughlin, Lesley Miller, Robert Turnbull, Calvin Pearsons, Francis Welsh, Louis Skelton, Elmer Larson and Wilbur Dobbins among others; the middle years included Roger Miller, Fred Waterman, Bill Graham, Bill Sheerin, and John Gould to name only a few; the late years saw the O’Connor boys, the Carroll twins, Jim Oldford, Bobby Gibbs, Elmer “Tiger” Larson and Jack Waldroup on the field.
Undoubtedly there were others this writer can’t remember offhand. Burlington has good reason to be proud of all of them.