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Out & About: Bradford Academy tops new class of exhibits at historical society

  • Meroa Benjamin, president of the Bradford Historical Society, holds a metal plate that was used to print money at the Bradford Bank in the 1800s. The plate is part of an exhibit at the historical society museum titled "Banking in Bradford." (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli)

  • Courtesy photograph—Courtesy photograph This marching band uniform is one of many Bradford Academy items that is part of a new exhibit at the Bradford Historical Society celebrating the 200th anniversary of Vermont's charter of Bradford Academy. (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli)

  • Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/11/2020 9:27:22 PM
Modified: 7/11/2020 9:27:20 PM

Decades after it closed, Bradford Academy continues to hold a special place in the lives (and hearts) of many residents in Bradford, Vt., and beyond. The massive building on Main Street is home to the town offices, the food pantry, the police station and the historical society museum on the top floor.

A new historical society exhibit honors Bradford Academy and the 200th anniversary of the Vermont Legislature chartering the school in 1820, though the history is a little more complex than the average bicentennial.

The academy wasn’t the first school in town — there was another before it — and the building wasn’t built until 1893. The school itself dissolved in 1971, just past the 150-year mark, when Oxbow High School opened.

“You really can’t say Bradford Academy was here 200 years, but we’re saying it anyway,” said Meroa Benjamin, president of the Bradford Historical Society, during a tour of the exhibit.

The museum already owned a lot of the items used in the exhibit, but they were moved into and reorganized in a separate room. There’s a marching band uniform and posters announcing sporting events with Bradford Academy and area schools, including Hanover. There’s a silver trophy that the 1905 debate team won, the first in Bradford Academy’s history. There’s even a dreaded one-piece gym uniform that alumni remember not so fondly, as well as numerous photographs of students.

“A lot of the material in here now is ’40s, ’50s, ’60s memories,” Benjamin said. “So many people had a good experience here.”

An extra bonus to the exhibit is a flag representing the school, which now flies on a flagpole outside the building.

“As far as we know, Bradford Academy never had a flag of their own. They just flew an American flag,” Benjamin said. The flag project was done in collaboration with the school’s alumni association, which had to cancel its annual reunion due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are also two other new exhibits: “Banking in Bradford” and “What’s Cooking, Washing and Sewing?”

“Bradford printed their own money,” Benjamin said of the town’s bank in the 1800s. The historical society has examples of those bank notes as well as a plate used to print the money.

As the bank changed ownership, it also changed names, but it is commonly referred to in town as the Bradford Bank. In the 1980s, the bank was involved in a fraud scandal and people who had invested with them lost money.

One of Benjamin’s favorite parts of the exhibit is a photograph of Charles Haskins, who worked at the bank from 1921-58 and died at age 100.

“He was sharp as a tack,” Benjamin said of her former neighbor and friend. “That was near and dear to me that I found.”

“What’s Cooking, Washing and Sewing?” was put together by curator Larry Coffin. It includes items such as butter molds, a metal nutcracker and many mason jars. There are also cross-stitched bookmarks that were made in 1815 and a dress that was made out of flour bags.

“You used to use everything,” Benjamin said.

The museum is open to the public from 10 a.m.-noon on Fridays, and visitors are required to wear masks. Private appointments are also available. Benjamin has also increased the museum’s Facebook presence, sharing photographs so people far and wide can take part in Bradford’s history.

“I feel those are visitors to the museum, just as much as the people who visit,” Benjamin said. “That’s our virtual museum.”

Editor’s note: For more information, call 802-222-4423 or 802-222-9621 or email lccoffin@charter.net, or visit facebook.com/BradfordBHS.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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