The history of a museum

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, February 8, 1983

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 190)

Burlington today has one of the most pleasing commons in
the Metropolitan Boston-Route 128 area. Now that the old Union
School has been given a new lease on life, the other old build-
ings around, the General Walker House, the Marion Tavern and
the old Center School, seem to radiate a warmth that is most
satisfying, and the newer buildings, Town Hall, Post Office,
telephone company building and Police Station, do not detract,
but do much to add to the charm of the whole.
All those buildings, have a history but it is the old
Center School, now the Museum that has the most diversified one
for its story is long varied and interesting. Born in acrimon-
ious debate and controversy, its history begins long before it
was built.
At the April town meeting in 1839, it was voted, not
unanimously, to move the then center school house "to the plain
between Daniel Simonds and George McIntire and that the select-
men cause the same to be done" and followed that by orders that
the building be moved "on or before the first day of May next."
By the second meeting in April, the school house had been
moved, and the meeting approved its location "to near the Patio
Corner, so called." It became the West School.
Thus the people near the center of town lost their one-
room school. They were not pleased. So that November, an
article was placed on the warrant to authorize the building of
a new school in the center. It was defeated. In March of 1840,
Abner Marion, then running the Marion Tavern here, and others
had an article put on the warrant by petition to build. It,
too, was defeated.
The following year, a committee was appointed, consisting
of five well respected men to consider "the subject of building
a school house near the Meeting House." The five were Silas
Cutler, Abner Shed, Daniel McIntire, Nathan Blanchard and
William Winn. They brought back a favorable report. The Town
Meeting voted not to accept the report and discharged the
committee.
The people in the center tried again in 1843 and again
lost. Then the effort was shelved for several years while
another controversy raged relative to procuring "a better Meet-
ing House." But a Town House was built on the site of the old
school, and the first Town Meeting was held there in November
of 1844. After the church question was settled, the pressure to
build a new school in the center was resumed. The voters de-
clined to build in 1849 and again in 1852.
The two Town Meetings of April 1855 were long, loud and
angry.
The first finally voted to place seats in the new town
hall for school children. The second rescinded that move and
finally voted to build a new school in the center by a vote of
48 to 45. Every move was argued, voted, disputed and polled
before being passed. Burlington open Town Meetings were always
thus.
The new school was built on a quarter acre of land given
by Abner Marion. It was 28 by 40 feet inside with a 14 foot
ceiling, a cellar and a cupola on the roof; total cost
$2,329.82. But for the people in the center, troubles were not
over.
The November meeting of 1857 voted to prohibit any scholar
under 12 years of age from attending the Center School. It thus
became an advanced school for older youngsters. A Lucien B.
Eaton, student from Dartmouth College, was hired to teach, and
for a score of more years thereafter, men were hired to teach
here. His salary was $32.00 per month.
When consolidation of Burlington's five one-room schools
was achieved and the Union School built in 1897, the Center
School became empty and was sold to Abner Marian for one dol-
lar. What he was to do with it is not known, but another fellow
in town had definite ideas. His name was Edward S. Barker, and
he was living at the time in the Frothingham mansion just off
Lexington Street. He and his wife proposed to turn the building
into a public library at their expense if Marion would return
the building to the town. Marion agreed.
The Barkers then proceeded to renovate and furnish the
school house for use as a library. New hard pine flooring was
laid over the original floor, a single front entrance with
sidelights was installed to replace the original two front
doors, one stairway to the basement was removed, book shelves
were built and furniture bought. Then the whole was presented
to the town in the names of their two children. It was to serve
as the Burlington Town Library for the next 70 years.
Librarians over the years between that time and 1968 when
new quarters were furnished on Sears Street were Florence L.
Foster, Mary L. Foster, Ella Getchel, Nettie R. Foster, Lotta
C. Dunham and Alphonsine B. Harvey. Some of those who served
long terms as Library Trustees were Lester B. Skelton, Walter
S. McIntire James McLaughlin, Ella Getchel, Orray Skelton,
Joseph L. Foster and Stedman C. Rice.
The building, somewhat the worse for wear, was turned over
to the Historical Commission. That Commission, founded in 1967,
had been given jurisdiction over the West School. It had no
immediate plans for the second building, but one of its mem-
bers, Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett Lowther, had visions of its becom-
ing a building where Burlington could collect and show its many
historical artifacts so that future generations could catch a
glimpse of this town's past. But before her idea could be
translated into action, disaster struck.
This was a time when police departments all over the
nation were finding it more and more difficult to keep the
peace. Burlington was no exception. Its youth became as unhappy
as did youth elsewhere, due to resentment to the war in Viet-
nam, fancied wrongs in the classroom, and the various restric-
tions of society. Long hair for boys and sloppy dress for both
sexes became a symbol of revolt and unruly behavior on their
part became first a nuisance and then cause for alarm.
Officers on duty were often on the defensive. Their at-
tempts to make drug arrests, break up "pot" parties, control
unruly behavior at such places as Simonds Park and Almy's
parking lot were considered unnecessarily severe, and retalia-
tory action was always a threat.
In the meantime, the town had voted for and built a new
Town Hall. When the old one was emptied, it was demolished to
make way for the construction of a new Police Station. Without
notice to the Historical Commission, the police were transfer-
red to the old library building. They threw out old books,
magazines and shelving, cleaned out the basement, installed
their eguipment, moved the World War I memorial from the lawn
to make a parking lot for cruisers, and, in general, tried to
make themselves comfortable in temporary guarters.
Then it happened. About midnight on August 25, 1970, a
fire bomb was thrown through a window overlooking the garage
lot and flames guickly spread across the front of the old
building. The blast destroyed walls and stairway and put police
communications completely out of business.
Only prompt action by the Fire Dept. saved the building
from complete destruction. The perpetrator was never apprehend-
ed although investigations were made by the police, the state
Fire Marshal and the Attorney General.
The building soon reverted to the Historical Commission
and work was underway once more on a complete renovation. With
the belp of the Historical Society, funds were raised by the
sale of desks from the old Union School attic, by flea markets,
and some funds from insurance and the 175th Anniversary cele-
bration. With that as a base, matching funds were requested and
approved.
The interior was cleaned and painted, the stairway re-
built, two rest rooms installed in the basement because for a
time it was used as a meeting place for the elderly, electric
lights and plugs were installed, and shutters fitted to the
windows.
It became the Burlington Museum and opened officially in
the spring of 1975. Two Burlington youths, Don Gorvett and Jeff
Weaver, covered tbe walls of the entry with murals depicting
interesting and historical events in Burlington's past. That
work of art forms a delightful introduction to the interior.
At first the museum simply put its collection on display.
Then two other Burlington youths, Patrick Raske and David
D'Apice, came up with a proposition designed to create more
interest in the museum. They constructed and furnished a re-
plica of a country farmhouse typical of Burlington in the
1800s. That has since been replaced by the same two young men
with a replica of Silas Cutler's village store, circa 1850.
Both displays generated considerable interest.
During the summer months the building is open Thursday
evenings, staffed by volunteer members of the Commission or
Society. For school children or other groups, by request.
The building is now enjoying a quiet old age after a long
life of active, and sometimes exciting, service to the
community.