By Dustin Luca
---- — The town has twice honored historic town resident Benjamin Punchard: one by renaming a building, and another memorializing the school he created.
The selectmen approved spending $1,157.44 to install a bronze plaque at the entrance of the Town Offices on Bartlet Street. The plaque honors Punchard, who left a large endowment to Andover in his will that later launched the town’s public school system.
Moments later, the board heard an unrelated presentation from the Council on Aging to rename the town’s senior center space to “The Center at Punchard, Celebrating Life Experiences.”
“The [Punchard Free School] trustees were appointed in 1850 by a gentleman named Benjamin Punchard,” said Earl Efinger, chairman of the Trustees. “He felt that education should be free for the students in the town of Andover.”
“He underwrote a will and bought this land you’re standing on now,” he added.
After the town moved its operations into the building in 1987, however, the Punchard name faded from the building. The name of the school is included on memorials inside the building’s entrance honoring Andover soldiers during the World Wars, but Punchard himself isn’t mentioned anywhere.
“I walked the building, walked the floors,” Efinger said. “There’s no mention of Mr. Punchard.”
The street that leads people from Main Street to Town Offices is Punchard Street.
The plaque, which will be installed in the main entrance stairway for the Town Offices opposite of a recently installed Sept. 11 memorial plaque, explains how Punchard’s endowment in 1850 later led to the creation of the Punchard Free School in 1856.
The school was renamed to Punchard High School in 1902, and the present Town Offices building was built to house the school in 1917. The school was moved and renamed Andover High School 40 years later, in 1957.
After Efinger’s presentation, the other members of the Trustees offered another proposal. Without Efinger’s prior knowledge, they pushed that three sets of initials along the bottom of the plaque representing the Trustees on the project be removed. In their place, the members wanted Efinger’s name instead, honoring his 35 years of service as a Trustee.
The selectmen’s motion included Efinger’s full name in place of the initials and was approved unanimously.
Moments later, Council on Aging Chairman Don Robb asked the selectmen to rename the Andover Senior Center to The Center at Punchard, Celebrating Life’s Experiences to honor the legacy of the Punchard Free School.
After the selectmen approved the name change, Robb looked at the Trustees present at the meeting and said, “your plaque, the timing is perfect.”