Burlington residents can easily deduce the sources of the straightforwardnames of two of the city’s nine public schools: Burlington High School andChamplain Elementary. But who was Lyman C. Hunt? How about Lawrence Barnes?H.O. Wheeler? And did Edmunds even have a first name?
Don’t look to those schools’ websites for answers. They havenothing to say about the historical figures who gave them their names. Thatseems odd, given today’s obsession with localism. Besides, doesn’t a schoolhave a responsibility to acquaint its students with some basic facts of history— starting with, say, information about the person for whom it is named?
Props, then, to J.J. Flynn and C.P. Smith elementary schools,both in the New North End, for providing easily accessible biographicalsummaries of their namesakes.
Cursory internet searching, meanwhile, yields plenty of info onU.S. Senator George Edmunds (1828-1919). The Burlington-based lawyer can beseen as a precursor to Sen. Patrick Leahy, in that he acquired political poweron a national scale as a result of his Senate seniority and legislativeprowess. Edmunds is best known for drafting a law (the Edmunds Act) suppressingpolygamy in Utah, as well as for his role in shaping the Sherman Antitrust Act,which sought to bust monopolies during the age of robber barons.
A typically progressive Vermont Republican, Edmunds alsoadvocated voting rights for black people. But his reputation is besmirched by ablatant conflict of interest that would today earn Edmunds public scorn andpossibly a rebuke by his Capitol Hill colleagues. He pocketed fat fees fromrailroad companies while simultaneously voting on railroad issues in theSenate.
In contrast to Edmunds, there aren’t any Wikipedia entries forBarnes, Wheeler or Hunt. A fairly intense search of other web sources produceslittle on these men, who were undoubtedly great in their day but have since recededinto obscurity.
John J. Flynn (1854-1940), by contrast, may be the most familiarof the local luminaries whose handles are affixed to several Queen Cityinstitutions. Along with the school on North Avenue, his memory is preservedthrough the performing arts center on Main Street. There’s also Flynn Avenue inthe city’s South End.
It’s common practice to name prominent sites for wealthy localbusinessmen. Such is the case of Flynn, developer of the Chittenden Countystreetcar network, a gas plant in Barre and summer homes on Lake Champlain. Healso founded a Burlington bank.
Flynn’s fellow citizens’ respect for this paragon of capitalismwas likely enhanced by his self-propelled ascent from humble origins. The sonof an Irish immigrant laborer, he dropped out of school in Dorset and foundwork on a dairy farm in Burlington. Soon he was managing the farm, which led toinvolvement in a variety of commercial ventures, including the Queen CityRealty Co., which developed the Starr Farm beach community.
Charles P. Smith (1891-1967) was another Burlington tycoon. Hegot his start as an auto dealer, establishing the Ford Agency in 1924. Smithalso launched a petroleum business and an appliance company. A University ofVermont alumnus, he became a civic celebrity, winning election to the state senateand serving as president of the Burlington YMCA and chairman of the VermontBoard of Education. In 1958 Smith broke ground on the school that bears hisname and still displays his picture in its lobby.
Lawrence Barnes (1815-1886) was just as much an entrepreneurialgo-getter as were Flynn and Smith. The Vermont Encyclopediasays Barnes was “noted for his indomitable cheerfulness and good luck.” The businessmanbehind the North Street school that today is called the Sustainability Academymade a fortune as a lumber dealer. Barnes is, in fact, considered the figuremost responsible for elevating Burlington to third place in the ranks of U.S.inland lumber ports. Only Chicago and Albany shipped more wood in the 1870s.
Aptly, schools are often endowed with the names of notableeducators. Enter Wheeler and Hunt.
An acronym that probably sent pupils into hysterics may havemotivated the Archibald Street School to change its name some time early in the20th century to H.O. Wheeler. The name changed again five years ago with theintroduction of the Integrated Arts Academy.
Henry Orson Wheeler (1841-1917) was the son of a South Heroschool principal; he joined the Union Army during the Civil War and afterwardstudied at UVM and became a lawyer. During his 32-year tenure as superintendentof the Burlington school system, eight schools were built in the city, accordingto a 1995 precis by UVM’s historic preservation program seeking Wheeler’sinclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
As for Lyman C. Hunt, a plaque in Hunt MiddleSchool indicates he was superintendent of the Burlington School Districtfrom 1922 to 1957. Neither school officials nor local historic records offermore information about the man. Too bad that Burlington educators seem to haveforgotten his decades-long contributions to learning.