Sharing school memories in Brownsville
What started as a small reunion for friends who attend Brownsville Continuation School has grown to the point where they can fill the Brownsville Community Centre.
“I had the first reunion in my back yard,” said Florence Baldwin.
“That was quite a few years ago, because we were living in Tillsonburg and my son wasn’t even born then.”
A major Centennial Reunion was held in 1967 with an estimated 600 former students, teachers and friends attending, and Baldwin was on that committee too.
Their Continuation reunions expanded in 2011 when they rented the Brownsville Hall. In 2012 they opened it up to anyone who attended Brownsville Public School, renaming it the Brownsville School Reunion.
“This is our third year here,” said Baldwin. “The first year we had it just for the girls, but we had some complaints because the men wanted to come too.”
About 70 people attended last year, and this year’s reunion on Wednesday, June 19th had nearly 100 participants.
Brownsville’s first school was built north of the village, said Baldwin.
“The old, old school,” said Bernice Marsland.
“The very first one, not the one we went to,” noted Eileen Brown, who attended in the 1940s with her sister Helen.
“That one was right here,” nodded Baldwin.
“In fact, right in here, this was the school yard,” said Ted Derer.
“One of the things that set it apart, this school here, on the third floor there was a great big tube running down to the ground…” said Derer.
“A fire escape,” said Marion (Pratt) Moggaelt. “I was in that classroom the year it was installed. And I was one of the first ones to go down.”
“Ooooooh many, many times,” smiled Marsland.
“We all had to go down it,” said Moggaelt.
“The fire drills,” Derer nodded.
“It was installed in the 30s,” said Moggaelt.
“Two stories up,” said Marsland. “You had to go through this little door and your teacher stood there and counted. And then it was like, ‘go!’ and you’d whiz down to the bottom down a tube along side of the school, and there’s somebody at the bottom to catch you. That was fire drill.
“On day somebody went too fast one day and broke her leg. The boys didn’t catch her at the bottom, so that was pretty sad. It was a just gravel patch with two kids to catch you. When you came down the chute it leveled out a little – that was supposed to slow you down a little, and you’d slow yourself down with your hands, too. But this girl didn’t, and she went whoosh out the bottom. Hit the ground real hard and broke her leg.”
“It was a nice building,” said Derer, looking at a collection of old photographs.
“It was beautiful,” Moggaelt agreed. “I kept thinking, ‘why did it have to be torn down?’ I left home and didn’t hear much about it.”
“They said it was a hazard,” said Gwen (Pratt) Barendregt.
“You had the first floor, then you went up – middle school – then up more stairs for the two end schools,” said Moggaelt. “The science room and the washrooms were added later, at the back.”
“How many kids would have attended it when it was in its prime?” Derer asked. “A hundred?”
They estimated about 30 children in each room, which would push the school’s population over 100.
“You know, our dad told us a lot of stories about things that we didn’t write down, and now we wish we had,” Moggaelt summed up. “Because my dad remembered Brownsville – he could tell you who lived when and what they did. He was born in 1900.”
Derer, pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Courtland, had attended Brownsville School for Grades 6-8 in 1952-1954.
“This is my second reunion,” he said.
“I enjoy the fellowship, reminiscing about old times, how little we have changed in that last 50-plus years… not really,” he added with a laugh. “It’s great just meeting the old friends. We usually talk about our friends who we went to school with, and ‘whatever happened to so-and-so’, and then we’d reminisce about some of the silly things we used to do. We always enjoyed soccer and baseball. What I liked about the school was that it had a huge yard.”
With the Continuation School closing circa 1953, Derer went to Annandale in Tillsonburg for high school.
“I started here in 1947,” said Wayne Clarke. “And I ran right through until the end of Grade 8, and that was the year they discontinued the Continuation. So I had to go to Annandale High School from here. That was in 1954. Actually the school had only been open a couple years – I think it opened in ‘51 or ‘52.
“A lot of things have happened since then, a lot of water’s went under the bridge. But it’s really nice to come and see the people who attended school here. It brings back old memories.”
Brownsville Public School operated until about 1966, said Clarke, who figured he knew about 90 per cent of the people at the 2013 reunion, some older than him, but not many younger.
“It’s a small community – everybody knows everybody. It’s kind of too bad they discontinued these country schools because the big schools can’t take the place of these. There was more feeling of ‘community.’ Once you got into the Tillsonburg school, Annandale, which was a continuance of the old Tillsonburg High School over by Lake Lisgar, most of them were from south of Tillsonburg. They were tobacco-farming communities, and this was mainly dairy and hogs and stuff. They were all rural, but…
“We managed after we got to high school, but it wasn’t the same.
“I really didn’t like the first year of high school because I didn’t know anybody,” Clarke admitted. “But then the second year, quite a few more from Brownsville started there and I had more friends. There was always ‘groups’, although my best friend through high school was Lee Locker, and he was from Straffordville.”
Brownsville School Reunion Day – 1967
By Norma Gilbert Shackelton
How good it seemed to be back to the old oiled floors, the expanse of stairs, and creak of the steps, the long line of blackboards, the long line of carved-up wooden desks, and then into those rooms – our home for 10 months of the year!
How good it seemed to hear the bell ring, the familiar voices of our former teachers, the giggles and chuckles of laughter upon meeting those old school pals!
How good it seemed to meander from classroom to classroom, to the teachers’ room, the office, the science room, the lavatories – I must confess I found myself using the last one to the east which was always the best flusher.
I am sure as we star-gazed from those many windows, each one of us paused just a brief moment to recall some incident of humor or tranquility.
Such were all our feelings as we met together for Reunion Day 1967 of the Brownsville Continuation School.
History of the Continuation School
During the year of 1914, a Public School consisting of three rooms was built.
In 1922, Mr. E.L. Treitz was engaged as the first teacher of the Continuation School with two forms only.
In 1924, two new classrooms and a science room wing were added to the second floor with Miss Gertrude Eichenberg serving as the principal of the Public School and devoting half of her time as assistant to the Continuation School.
In 1925, Eichenberg became a full-time assistant along with Mr. W.T.L. Laing as principal, and two additional forms, Form III and Form IV, were taught thus making the Continuation School a two-teacher school offering a complete academic program from Grade 9 to Grade 12.
It soon became evident that the quality of the student body compared favorably with other secondary schools of the province.
In 1926 a Memorial Arch and stone fences were erected in front of the school enhancing the appearance of the school grounds. The school grounds consisted of only 1.25 acres when the school was built. Another 3.5 acres of land were later purchased from Mr. J.W. Hopkins, the money being raised by public subscription. The total acreage now serves as a community park.
Many former students have pleasant memories of thrilling competitions held each year with the Belmont, Brownsville, Springfield and Dorchester Track and Field meets. Also inter-school baseball, basketball and hockey games, inter-scholastic debating and public speaking contests.
The Continuation School continued to serve each generation well until 1953 when due to wider educational opportunities it was decided to close the school and transport the students by bus to the newly-formed (Annandale) District High School in Tillsonburg.