Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

Opinion

December 27, 2012

Tribute to a historic figure in town education

Upon his death in 1850, Andover resident Benjamin Punchard donated a then-rich sum of $50,000 to the town, which was used to create a free high school open to all residents. The effect on Andover was significant and must have further established education as an important building block to the townspeople. Today, many still move to Andover for its schools.

It’s fitting, overdue even, that the town has decided to honor Punchard in the building complex that last served as Punchard High School.

Selectmen approved spending $1,157.44 to install a bronze plaque at the entrance of Town Offices at 36 Bartlet St. The former high school building is opposite Punchard Street, which connects Bartlet to Main street. Selectmen also agreed to rename the town’s senior center, located on the back side of the 36 Bartlet complex to “The Center at Punchard, Celebrating Life Experiences.”

Punchard bought the land where these facilities stand, and the Punchard Free School opened in 1856. Students studied mathematics, natural science, philosophy, the Latin and Greek languages, rhetoric and logic. An 1868 fire destroyed the original building, but classes continued in town hall until a new building opened in 1872. Changing its name to Punchard High School in 1902 and erecting an addition in 1915, the structure served Andover for decades. But the town continued growing, and a new high school was built. In 1957 students moved to it, and it was called Andover High School. Over time, Punchard’s name was less often mentioned, to the point that many residents who have moved to town in the last several decades may have little to no idea who he is. It’s right that that should change.

As an aside, while we like including Punchard in the senior center’s name, we do hope that the move to a much longer name for the senior center is not the start of additional re-namings that use more words to create less clarity. In a public institution, the job titles and building names should help people find who or what they’re looking for. Renaming the senior center to “The Center at Punchard, Celebrating Life’s Experiences” is not like calling it something like the Energy Solutions Arena (home to the Utah Jazz, in case you couldn’t guess). But we didn’t see anything wrong with previous name.

That slight critique should not be taken as any slight on the idea of honoring Punchard.

Benjamin Punchard’s philanthropy is still felt today not just through the continued use of the Town Offices site, but through the scholarships supported by the trust in his name. Good work by both groups to bring some recognition to his generosity, and his place in town history.

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