Brookline’s Daniels Academy building turns 100
Friday, September 6, 2013
BROOKLINE – Selectman Brandon Denehy recently gave a two-minute presentation to his fellow board members on the history of the Daniels Academy Building where their offices are located, noting that the building is now 100 years old.
But one can’t really compress 100 years into two minutes. He later recounted more of his research.
Funds to construct the school building were a bequest of Judge Thomas Dodge, in memory of his wife, Eliza Daniels Dodge, (1822-1908) with the stipulation that it be named for her. However, his will further stipulated that the money be held in a trust for 75 years before construction.
“The judge had made some investments,” Denehy said, “and in his will, he said to form an academy in her name for both boys and girls.”
He had left money to several parties “and they appealed to break the will. They won and the town received $15,000 for the school.”
Denehy often wondered, with no way to prove it one way or the other, if the money given in 1912 had been set aside for those 75 years, would it all have been lost in the bank panics of the 1930s as most other funds were.
“There are no real records,” he said.” Would it all have been wiped out?”
The builder was local carpenter Arthur Goss, who also built several houses in town, including the one where Denehy now lives.
“It was built as a multi-purpose building, with two classrooms on the lower floor, at the end of its use as a school housing first- and second-graders,” Denehy said of Daniels Academy.
The building also housed the town library. The upper floor was a social hall with a stage. In addition to town meetings, various groups put on plays, including the much more recent Way-Off Broadway Players. There was traveling entertainment, such as minstrel shows, during the 1930s and 1940s.
The lowest level contained a dining room and kitchen where town meetings dinners were served, as well as supper put on by the Grange and other organizations.
Denehy was a member of the last first grade to attend when the 40 or so students were moved to an addition to the present elementary school in 1967. The move was made during spring break.
“Our last art project was to bring a paper bag to school,” he recalled. “We decorated it and put in all our stuff. When we got to the new school, there were all of our things.”
When the school moved, the library expanded to fill the space, he said, “but they found that the books were too heavy for the construction.” The library moved to the former church in 1992.
The police department took over the lower level at that time.
The upper floor, once the site of dances and entertainments, is now mostly used by a karate school.
“In the 1930s and 1940s, there were a lot of dances,” Denehy said.”Different bands would come in sponsored by different organizations. My mother recalls they were mostly big bands, swing dances.”
While he was attending Keene State College, Denehy did a research paper on Brookline during the 1930s.
“There was this rule,” probably a local interpretation of a state regulation, “that you couldn’t have Town Meeting and school district meeting on the same day in the same place. So during dinner, they turned all the chairs 90 degrees to become a different space.”
There was a different atmosphere back, different protocols. One of the teachers was Alice Ouelette, he said, a resident of the town. “She taught a lot of her nieces and nephews, but while in school, they had to call her Miss Ouelette. After school she could be Aunt Alice.”
Brookline recently formed a committee to plan the town’s 250th anniversary in 2019, including a group to work on updating the town’s history.
“There are some big white boards were people are encouraged to write down their memories.” He noted that “those little things are important,” and added, “Your history begins when you were born. Now I’m so far removed from that, and it wasn’t that long ago.”
Denehy is an almost life-long resident of Brookline. He graduated from Hollis Area High School in 1979 and from Keene State College in 1984, where he still works in the registrar’s office. He lived for a few years in Keene, he said, but his parents lived in town and he often visited and never lost touch. He moved back into town in 2002.
“I never felt that I had left,” Deheny said.
History has always been one of his interests. “One reason I ran for the Selectboard (last March), I thought there should be someone there who knew some history. The others all bring a different perspective,” he said.
In addition to updating the history, tentative plans include a big celebration during Old Home Days. Resident Sandy Messore is looking into creating a historical accurate replica of a signature quilt.
“One reason I wanted to bring this to the selectmen is that this building is probably the biggest gift ever to the town. I wanted to acknowledge that,” she said.
The well landscaped grounds of the academy include the memorials to veterans of various wars. A large cast iron fountain-shaped watering trough was rescued some time ago and is now filled with flowers. The town Christmas tree is at one side where residents gather each holiday season to honor a resident and sing carols.
“It’s a nice tradition,” Denehy said. “Traditions are important.