Working towards preserving and celebrating a town’s cultural heritage often resembles the challenges of doing a jigsaw puzzle -- some pieces seem obvious while others require much scrutiny and a willingness to be patient.
In the spring of 1998 many volunteers worked hard in the Meetinghouse to create the eight display areas in time for a grand public opening. Knowledgeable volunteers joined with knowledgeable community members to try to set up each display in a way that accurately reflects Gilford’s history. Some of the discussions that were involved were video-taped to become part of Thompson-Ames Historical Society’s archival records.
Setting up the School Days display in the Union Meetinghouse was very similar to assembling a jigsaw puzzle -- except that all the needed pieces were not already in the historical society! Our archives included many photos of Gilford’s one-room schoolhouses and the 1939 consolidated school, so we knew what we needed: vintage school desks, a chalk board, an eraser, vintage school books, etc. -- but none of these had been part of the collections that had been crowded into the Meetinghouse during the fifty-five years that Thompson-Ames Historical Society had been in existence.
Word got out to the community at large and word came back to Thompson-Ames Historical Society that several people in the community had the needed vintage items that could become part of the T-AHS collections.
The treasures did not just get left on the Meetinghouse doorstep. They were brought in by owners eager to see what was unfolding -- Gilfordites willing to sit down and talk not only about the school items but also about what school had been like in the one-room schoolhouses, how it had felt to move from the one-room schoolhouse to the consolidated school, what school had been like in the new consolidated school, etc.
From the one-room schoolhouses came three desks, and from the consolidated school, a desk and a chalk board. Vintage textbooks and reference books came, as did more old school photos, many with the names to identify the students, and even report cards and copies of school programs that annually had drawn attendance from the close-knit community. With each item came memories to share, told by Gilfordites eager to remember and told to volunteers eager to learn.
The School Days theme area evolved, even with a forty-eight star flag to display just as was appropriate in 1939 when Gilford’s one-room schoolhouses gave way to the opening of the consolidated school.
One item hanging on the end of the School Days display cabinet provokes questions from almost everyone who visits the area. The item is an orange colored mesh bag such as onions, oranges, or fruit used to come in. Why is it there? There’s a story that goes with it, a story that was told when the School Days theme area was being set up —— and, today, I’ll share part of the story with you.
When the USA got drawn into World War II (1941-1945), being involved in the war effected the life of everyone -- no matter what their age --including students, who were asked to do their part to help. One of the things that students were asked to do was to help in the production of "Mae West" life-preserver vests.
To do their part, each autumn the students were asked to go out to pick the milkweed pods that had dried and were ready to burst open to free their seeds which were attached to silky—down "parachutes". The students would pick the pods just before they opened and put them into mesh bags that potatoes or onions or the such had come in. Then the students would "hang these full bags on a fence in front of the consolidated school and someone would drive by once a week or so to pick up the bags and send them to where the life-preserver vests would be made for the people in the armed services.
That is why the orange mesh bag hangs on the end of the School Days display case.
But for the past six years whenever we would tell this story we couldn’t say exactly where the fence was because we didn’t know.
Then a few weeks ago the mystery was solved! We were in the Gilford Community Church’s Fellowship Hall attending the annual get-together with the Laconia Historical and Museum Society and enjoying a potluck supper.
It was Ernie Bolduc, a student at the consolidated school during World War II, who enlightened us. The fence is the same chain-link fence that still stands today to separate the elementary school grounds, #76 Belknap Mountain Road, from the property next door, #68 Belknap Mountain Road.--
At long last another piece fits into the School Days jigsaw puzzle! One further word before ending this story. -- If you visit the Rowe
House gardens and notice several milkweed plants growing there, that’s not an oversight. We know that most people would consider them weeds, but we treasure them for each autumn they add to the contents of the orange mesh bag hanging in the School Days theme area.
If you wish to volunteer to help conduct oral interviews to add to the preservation of Gilford’s cultural heritage, please contact Thompson-Ames Historical Society by telephoning 527-9009, or sending an e-mail to thomauesgworldpath.net, or writing to P.O. Box 7404, or stopping in at the Grange building whenever the "OPEN" flag is displayed at the door to the Hallway of Historic Signs.
Membership in Thompson-Ames Historical Society is open to all persons interested in helping to preserve and celebrate Gilford’s cultural heritage.