A living lesson in Fairfield history: Old Academy rededicated
Eunice Dennie Burr, widow of early American patriot Thaddeus Burr, bought nine shares of Fairfield Academy for $5 each when it was founded in 1804. She made her investment on the condition that young women be allowed to attend classes there.
On Saturday, the local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter that bears her name celebrated the rededication of that school in the year that marks the 210th anniversary of the academy and the 375th anniversary of the town of Fairfield.
Dozens of people gathered in front of the old Fairfield Academy, which serves as the headquarters of the Eunice Dennie Burr DAR chapter in Fairfield, to celebrate the school from which countless influential locals graduated and to see the recent improvements made by the local DAR chapter.
"This is the DAR's gift to the town to celebrate the 375th anniversary," said Cathy Tymniak, the chapter regent.
The renovation and preservation project took almost two years and included painting walls in colonial colors, updating the kitchen and outfitting it with new equipment, reframing photographs, and refurbishing the second-floor classroom. DAR members purchased authentic period costumes and replicas of the clothing from the 1800s. They also bought mannequins, on which to display that clothing, to represent students and a teacher.
Displays of historic school photographs and records were updated, and a library corner of new and old books was set up in tribute to Fairfield's first library, which was located in the academy.
"It is very symbolic that they have modeled a classroom with one of the original iPads on every school desk," said First Selectman Michael Tetreau, referring to the individual blackboard slates.
Tetreau told the children in the audience to take note of the report card of academy student Master George Merwin on display in the classroom and reminded them to do well in school because a report card can become part of a permanent record and one day they could see their report card in a historic display.
Before the official ribbon-cutting, the DAR chapter gave Tetreau a school slate to mark the grand re-opening of Fairfield Academy and the town's anniversary. Tymniak said the slate was "a reminder that we are all keepers of history and that it begins with education, preservation and patriotism."
The renovations were dedicated in honor of Rod MacKenzie, who was the librarian at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, and a genealogist. His mother was also a regent of the local and state DAR chapters. "Rod dedicated his life to history and always had a fondness for Eunice Dennie Burr chapter," Tymniak said.
"He did a lot with the DAR on genealogy research and he loved this building," said Laura MacKenzie of Point Ciana, Fla., Rod MacKenzie's sister who came north for Saturday's re-dedication and reception.
Former Fairfield Town Historian Bill Lee, now of Trumbull, also attended the event. Tymniak credited Lee and former Regent Betty Kenyon with turning the academy's classroom into a place where students could visit and learn about the history of the old academy.
"This building gets used so much during the year. We have over 3,000 school children who come through each year," Tymniak said.
Lee pointed out that a particular desk in the academy classroom was at one time located at the nearby Sun Tavern, and it was there in October 1984 that President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law designating islands off Norwalk, Milford Point and Guilford as wildlife refuges.