Camden High School

By Paul Putnam | Aug 18, 2012

I went to the annual high school banquet last Saturday night, and got to swap memories Sunday with classmates of the class of 1949. Somehow it doesn’t seem that long ago when we were there getting a head start on life as an adult. So I thought maybe I could dust off this remembrance of those days to share with the many who still remember the big old wooden three-story building on the hill overlooking Mary E. Taylor School, where we also shared some good memories.


The Camden High School building was built in 1904 and Reuel Robinson in his "History of Camden and Rockport" tells us it cost of about $20,000 and, “in architectural beauty, heating and ventilating plant, school rooms, recitation rooms, chemical laboratory, and all modern school conveniences is surpassed by but few in the state.” It had a slate roof, which is great for keeping out the wind and rain, but must have been a tremendous load on the four walls trying to hold it up all those years. They were slowly giving in to the strain.


In the 1940s when I went there the entire building was well used by some 200 students in the four high school classes. My class of 1949 graduated 48. At first, in the early 1900s some of the elementary grades were on the first floor, but as time went on it became necessary to build a separate school for those grades, and in 1925 they built the brick building now known as Mary E. Taylor School, leaving the wooden building on the hill solely for the high school.


Most will remember that there were two sets of stairs going down to restrooms in the basement, one for the girls and one for the boys. The stairs for the boys also gave access to the machine shop and the woodworking shop. In my day those shops were manned by teachers Herbert (Jack) Achorn and Stanley (Scudge) Frye, respectively.


On the first floor in the back was a room where Miss Anna Keating taught English and Spanish and Miss Bertha Clason taught Latin and U.S. History. Many will also remember Clason from The Village Shop where she worked summers with Jesse Hosmer. Milford Payson’s room was in the other northwest back corner, where he taught French and English. In later years, he also could often be found holed up in a little corner office in the back of The Village Shop.


Coming down the corridor on the northwest side was the science lab where Principal Carleton Wood tried to impress some interest in science into heads that were more interested in girls and sports. His office was upstairs above the front door.


I’m a bit fuzzy on the location of different teachers’ rooms, but with Jack William’s handy dandy history book as an aid I can identify most of the teachers I had in high school. Math varied from Lester Shibles in 1945 to Ted Richards when he returned from the service in 1946, and finally to Leroy Young when Richards accepted a position as principal at Rockport High.


Barbara Dyer tells of wanting to take the solid geometry course when she was in school, and being told that course wasn’t for girls. She should take home economics or typing or some such that would be more suitable for a girl, because she would never need to know solid geometry. Well, she persevered and reluctantly Ted Richards let her take it, but never quite understood that she just liked math. Another girl who was a whiz at math was Patricia McGrath (Cokinis) who would sit in the back enjoying the show while us boys struggled with math.


In those days it was hard to believe that a girl might make a good engineer or math major. Not so anymore. Some years later I crossed paths with a woman that had master’s degrees in both engineering and English, and could hold her own in any part of the engineering world, especially microwave electronics.


Well, back to teachers, many will remember G. Lorimer Walker who taught biology. Kids seldom went to sleep in his class, because if you did he might wake you up with a well-aimed chalkboard eraser or a piece if chalk. He was generally well-liked though. Elcey Sawyer taught typing and office practices. I took typing for nine weeks and dropped it, which was probably a big mistake on my part, since I wound up going into writing as a profession and I still hunt and peck a computer keyboard with two fingers. But of course my forte was band with Roger Calderwood, and I spent all of my spare periods on the third floor where he always had some group practicing for the next band concert. Band started for some of us in the seventh-grade. Calderwood, like many of the men, was away in the service during the war, and Chester Hammond was hired for band and orchestra.


Hammond was a violinist at heart, and some picked up violin or cello as his daughters did, but several of us chose trumpet. I remember Bobby Clancy, Jack Henderson and Lawrence Sparta. Perhaps there were others, like George Dean, who moved away before high school.


Madeline Nevers’ home economics room was also on the third floor in those days. I say in those days, because even then there was a crack in the floor up there that seemingly got wider every year until sometime in the early 1950s it was condemned for classroom use. I guess that heavy slate roof and all that diligent foot stomping by eager young musicians was beginning to tell on the building after nearly 50 years.

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