Playground Find: Brownington, VT

Brownington, Vermont is located in the Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom” (Essex, Orleans, and Caledonia counties), about 15 miles south of the Canadian border. It’s a very rural, picturesque part of the state. I was surveying a few properties in Brownington, VT for a work project and wanted to snap a photo of the church in Brownington Center.

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Brownington Center Church, 1854.

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Brownington Center Church, 1854.

Distracted by the building, I almost missed this gem behind it! 

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Vintage playground equipment sitting behind the Brownington Center Church!

Of course, I got out of the car to get a closer look at the playground equipment. First up – a classic 1950s jungle gym (see photos below). The American Playground Device Company (now the American Playground Company) produced similar looking jungle gyms in the 1950s. An easy way to distinguish earlier jungle gyms from 1950s jungle gyms is the rounded elements of the 1950s jungle gyms as opposed to the non-rounded and overall square structures of earlier versions. This jungle gym has “ST. JOHNSBURY, VT” stamped on one of its pipes. St. Johnsbury, is a larger town about 36 miles away from Brownington. Perhaps this was a hand-me-down piece?

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Next up, the slide. Slides are a little harder to date, but based on the design, it appears to be another 1950s apparatus.

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This slide is sinking into the ground.

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Recreation Equipment Corp. Anderson, Indiana. 10-A. (Does anyone know what the 10-A represents?)

Next up: the mystery apparatus. I don’t even know what to call this one. It dates to the 1960s space age era of playground equipment, but nowhere can I find a name for it or a specific manufacturer. It’s part spaceship, part jungle gym, part submarine, part ladybug? Take your best guess. Do you recall playing on something like this?  DSC_1182DSC_1184

I’ve found a few similar images while searching online, but no luck with names. Do any of these ring a bell? Sources are in the photo captions. Click on each image or on the following links (clockwise, starting at top left): Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3, Photo 4. Any help in giving these a name or manufacturer would be much appreciated!

And what is an old playground without a merry-go-round? This is a later version, likely the 1970s, which you can tell by the shape of the handles and the pattern of the metal treads. It still spins – I checked! DSC_1193

Behind the merry-go-ground is an assuming fire truck. These types of play structures were common in the 1970s as well. DSC_1195DSC_1197

And that concludes the tour of the Brownington Center Church playground: pieces from the 1950s – the present (note the plastic playground pieces I did not feature). I hope kids are still enjoying these pieces.

National Merry-Go-Round Day!

July 25, 1871 marks the first patent for the carousel (also known as a merry-go-round). If there was ever a holiday meant for Preservation in Pink to celebrate, National Merry-Go-Round Day is the one. It’s probably been a while since you’ve seen a merry-go-round on a playground; most seem to have been eliminated for safety reasons. While I distinguish between merry-go-round and carousel, they are  interchangeable in terms, according to the national holiday calendar. Here’s the explanation:

Along with the roller coaster, the merry-go-round is one of the oldest amusement rides. Also known as the carousel, the merry-go-round rotates on a circular platform around a pole. The platform holds seats for riders.  A motor spins the platform around the large central pole. Between rows of seats, passengers ride wooden horses and other animals. Poles anchor the animals in place.  Once in a while, the colorful animals move up and down. The movement simulates galloping. Meanwhile, calliope music plays, adding a light-hearted atmosphere.

Besides carousels, any rotating platform may also be called a merry-go-round. By comparison, children power the playground merry-go-round. They push off using the bars or handles. The riders cling to the same bars as the platform spins. Since the riders determine the speed, the harder they push, the faster they go. Not surprisingly, one of the thrills of riding the merry-go-round included becoming dizzy.

  • The earliest known depiction of the merry-go-round is in 500 A.D. The Byzantine Empire’s ride depicts baskets carrying riders suspended from a central pole. 
  • In the 1840s, Franz Wiesenoffer created the first merry-go-round in the United States in Hessville, Ohio. 
  • July 25, 1871 – The first carousel patent. 

In honor of the holiday, here are a few merry-go-rounds and carousels that I’ve come across over the years, from newest to oldest. As you can see, there aren’t too many. Slides and swings are much more common.

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Some flamingo fun in 2010 – testing out a newer version of the merry-go-round. 

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1970s merry-go-around in the Outer Banks, NC. 

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1970s merry-go-around in the Outer Banks, NC. 

 

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A homemade merry-go-round found in Waterville, VT. Photo taken 2013. The playground no longer remains. 

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1940s  merry-go-round found in Craftsbury, VT. Photo taken 2014. 

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1940s era playground equipment in Craftsbury, VT (2014). 

Seen any good merry-go-rounds lately? They were always my favorite. Enjoy!

Playground Find: Hancock, VT

Hancock, VT is a small town (population 323) located on Vermont Route 100 in Addison County, on the eastern edge of the Green Mountain National Forest. The two-room Hancock Village School was constructed in 1855 and operated as a school until 2009, when school consolidation measures caused the school to close. Since then the building has served as the town library and the town clerk’s office. The school is a contributing resource to the Hancock Village Historic District, which is listed in the Vermont State Register of Historic Places (VHSSS #0108-1-20). A playground remains on the former school grounds.

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Hancock Village School, December 1976 – Vermont State Register of Historic Places.

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Former Hancock Village School (now library and town offices), June 2019. The windows have been replaced.

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Swings with mountains and blue sky in the background.

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View of the jungle gym and the swings.

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The school in the background.

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A newer, plastic side is in on the left. 

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The apparatus is reminiscent of the “Muscle Man” equipment from the 1970s. 

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From the jungle gym: “Quality Industries, Hillsdale, Mich. 200028”

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No markings visible on the swings, but likely they date to the same time or earlier as the jungle gym.

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Swings.

The jungle gym bears the stamp, “Quality Industries, Hillsdale, Mich., 200028.” Quality Industries began in 1974, and the named changed to Recreation Creations, Inc. (RCI) in 1996. The name changed to Recreation Creations, Inc. in 1996. Without more available information, it is difficult to date this date playground equipment. However, it is reminiscent of similar 1970s playground apparatus, such as the Game Time Muscle Man. The edges appear more rounded than the example linked, possibly indicating the Hancock playground is a later design. If you have a better idea of the manufacture date, let me know. The swings did not have any markings on them.

It’s a shame that the building and the grounds no longer serve as a school, but at least the playground remains; what a picturesque spot for a playground.

Tourist Cabins: West Shore Cabins, North Hero, VT

Summer is winding down, but fall in Vermont is a perfect time of year to visit. The humidity has decreased, the leaves are changing, and you can readily find apple cider doughnuts to go with your craft beer. Take a drive on U.S. Route 2 and you’ll pass through the Champlain Islands (or “the Islands”). The Champlain Islands offer a completely different feel than central Vermont. The land is flatter, mountains are in the distance, the lake is visible for much your drive, and fall arrives a bit later than in the mountain towns. It would be a lovely time of year to stay in a tourist cabin on Lake Champlain. I’m happy to report that there are more tourist cabins operating in Vermont!

The West Shore Cabins are operating tourist cabins located adjacent to Lake Champlain on U.S. Route 2 in North Hero, part of the area known as the Champlain Islands. What began as the West Shore Inn in 1927, became the West Shore Cabins in 1945. At that time it was run by the Donaldson family who saw how a motor court would be a good economic venture as automobile traffic increased in the mid-20th century.  Some cabins were relocated to this site and others were constructed on site. Today the family operated business offers five cabins for daily or weekly rentals from May – mid October.

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West Shore Inn postcard. Image via West Shore Cabins.

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The vintage sign between the lake and U.S. Route 2.

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West Shore Cabins sit on U.S. Route 2 with a clear west view to Lake Champlain and its sunsets.

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The cabins retain much of their historic integrity including siding, porches, windows, and fenestration.

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Novelty siding, exposed rafter tails, screened porch and a barbecue out front; Cabin 5 is adorable.

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Cabins 4 and 5.

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Cabin 1.

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The cabins are set back from the road, with no obstructions to the lake views.

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Ca. 1880 (with later alterations) residence associated with the owners of West Shore Cabins.

Happy end of summer! Let me know if you find more tourist cabins and/or stay in one!

Rare Playground Find: Miracle/Jamison 1975 Mark IV Imagine City

Playgrounds from the 1970s are almost extinct, at least the interesting (read: fun) equipment. Finding one in the wild is a treat and a scavenger hunt. By pure luck, while driving south on I-95 in Virginia, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a playground. I saw a metal spaceship-looking apparatus, which I assumed was a playground – or a carnival ride. Unable to switch lanes and get off at the exit, I made a mental note of the mile marker so I could search later.

Since I could knew it could be seen from the interstate, I traveled up and down I-95 on Google Earth until I spotted what looked like the spaceship playground (how I described it in my head). With the help of Google Street View, I found it! I was pretty certain I knew the manufacturer of the playground at this point (because I am a nerd and spend lots of time studying historic playgrounds). Fortunately, I had the return trip to look forward to so we could stop and check out this playground.

The playground is set between the interstate and a questionable motel that appears half operating, half closed. The restaurant on the property is closed and any reviews you read of the hotel are terrible. To get to the playground, you have to drive around to the back of the hotel.

This is what I expected to find (bottom right):

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Parks & Recreation August 1974. Source: Nels Olsen, Flickr (username: nels_P_Olsen).

And this is what I found:

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Playground view from the parking lot (June 2018).

It matches! I’m not ashamed to say that my excitement rivaled that of my childhood self. And if it weren’t 100 degrees outside, I would have slid down the slides and tested out the swings. Those old playgrounds can burn in the hot summer sun, as most of you probably know. Alas, I had to settle for climbing to the top and taking photographs.

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Miracle/Jamison ca. 1975 playground, Mark IV Imagine City model.

Take a look at the advertisement images below. You can see that the playground is indeed the Miracle/Jamison model, and there are slight differences in the configurations displayed. This playground has the central tower (center), 2-deck satellite tower (left), the tornado slide (right), a large wave slide (left) and a small wave slide (center), among the elements.

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Source, Bill Jensen: https://www.slideshare.net/billyjensen1/too-high-too-fast-too-fun. Bill has an entire slideshow about playground evolution. Check it out. However, this is Miracle, not Game Time, Inc.

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Source: Parks & Recreation Journal, April 1975, page 3.  Miracle & Jamison ad. See full page below.

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Found on Nels_p_Olsen flickr: https://flic.kr/p/7xQhkH

I’ve never seen such an elaborate, metal playground. How does this playground exist in 2018? Most have been removed in the 1990s for safety reasons and CPSC regulations, and because of lawsuits (including this 1985 lawsuit that required all tornado slides be removed). I assume that because this is on private property (hotel property) it has seen less use than a public playground and it is not in the most accessible location, and it seems structurally sound, so no one is forcing the owners to remove it. I hope it stays around for a while. Now, how about a tour of the playground, and some historical context?

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The playground is not maintained, as you can tell by the high grass.

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Wave slide in the center.

If the playground says “spaceship” to you, then you’re thinking in the right mindset. Playground equipment of the 1960s-70s had a space theme to it. Think of it in American historical context: the era of NASA, the Space Age, the moon landing, adventure, the unknown. Consider Googie architecture (mid-century design influenced by the Space Age) and the famous LAX airport theme building, resembling a flying saucer landing on its legs. Doesn’t this playground remind you of the terminal?

Playground equipment followed suit for architecture and societal interests. The names of equipment included radar screens, satellites, rockets, lunar lander, space cruiser, geodesic dome, and others. When you think about playground design it that way, it’s easy to spot playgrounds from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s another example as to how our built environment tells our history.

Now, back to the playground tour:

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View from above.

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View to the lowest platform.

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Looking down: You can also climb up the central satellite tower to get to the highest platform.

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The tornado slide. I’ll admit, this slide looks painful in the hot sun (maybe even dangerous).

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The 2-deck satellite tower. You can climb ladders (through the circles to platforms) to move up this tower and access the slide or move to other sections of the playground.

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View from the platform.

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Stair details.

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It looks like a slide used to be here.

 

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Not only did this playground have a Mark IV Imagine City, but it also had swings and other apparatus.

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Flying Pony Swings. I looked for a stamp on these pieces to identify the company, but no luck.

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Spring rider.

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Concrete creature hiding in the grass, commonly seen in the 1960s.

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This playground even has a basketball court with a low-hoop, clearly for the little kids.

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Some sort of shuffleboard/mini golf course next to the playground.

Have you seen a playground like this recently? Do you remember playing on one of these playgrounds?  Enjoy, and keep your eyes out for playgrounds, big or small. In the meantime, if you’re in need of an internet rabbit hole, check out these advertisements from Miracle Equipment company.

Playground Find: Ladysmith, VA

You never know when you’re going to find an old playground. By “old” I mean “vintage”, as in pre 1980s. On a recent family trip, we needed to find a place to stop for a picnic dinner and to let the baby stretch her legs for a while. Anyone who has traveled with kids knows that you don’t always gets to pick your exit – you make do with what you find. We turned off I-95 at Exit 110 for Ladysmith, VA, looking for a park. Not too far from the exit, on Route 639, we found a school.

The school is the former C.T. Smith School, built in the 1960s, which, not surprisingly, replaced a school from the early 20th century. C.T. Smith closed in 2009 due to school consolidation. Since then, the school has become a community space. The grounds still contain playing fields, basketball courts, and a small playground. The only pieces of playground equipment were a jungle gym and a slide, but they peaked my interest.

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My elementary school had this exact playground piece, only larger. This one appeared to be for the younger elementary school kids. You might call it a jungle gym. It has monkey bars, climbing bars, and more. My friends and I found hours of entertainment on it during recess. Its official name is the “Giant Outdoor Muscle Man” produced ca. 1971 by GameTime, Inc.

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From the book, “Once Upon A Playground” by Brenda Biondo.

The second playground apparatus was a classic metal slide, also made by Game Time, Inc., presumably from the same era.

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Also a GameTime Inc apparatus.

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Stamped on the underside of the slide steps.

When looking at aerial photos on http://www.historicaerials.com, the playground was not visible (to my eyes) until the 1990s. However, this playground equipment does not date from the 1990s; the 1970s is accurate. It is possible that a) the resolution of the aerial photography wasn’t clear enough to show the equipment and they blended into the ground or b) this playground was moved from another school in the 1990s.

What do you think? And, have you played on a “Giant Outdoor Muscle Man”? Have you seen any GameTime, Inc. equipment lately?

South of the Border and a Playground

Traveling down (or up) I-95, you cannot miss the South of the Border billboards. At one point there were 250 billboards from New Jersey to Florida! These signs tell you that you’ll find souvenir shops, food, lodging, amusements, and fireworks at this roadside rest stop. Kitschy Americana or useful rest area? You be the judge. Before you decide – do you know the history of South of the Border?

In 1949, Alan Schafer, who owned a distributing company, opened the South of the Border Beer Depot in Hamer, South Carolina. This small cinder block building sat just over the Robeson County, North Carolina border, which was then a dry county. Within a few years, Schafer added a motel and dropped “Beer Depot” from the name. Schafer decided to outfit South of the Border with a Mexican theme and over the next decade it grew to 300 acres and included a motel, gas station, campground, restaurant, post office, drugstore, and other shops. (Read more about the South of the Border in this article.)

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What about those billboards? While a number of billboards have faded, some have been updated in the past few years (to include South of the Border’s Instagram account, for example, @sobpedro). It seemed to me that a lot of the obviously questionable (some racist) billboards had been removed. Had they? According to this 1997 article, the Mexican Embassy complained, in 1993, about the “Mexican speak” billboards and other advertising materials. Eventually Alan Schafer agreed to take down the billboards, though it took a few years. For that reason, you will no longer see them on I-95. Some people have documented them. See D.W. Morrison’s website for the billboards. Good news, the billboards that remain are still quite entertaining! I laughed at quite a few.

If you’re a regular Preservation in Pink reader, you know that I cannot resist a corny joke or roadside America (and thus, I cannot resist South of the Border). And I love to share roadside America with the ones I love. On our family’s recent trek from Florida to Vermont, we stopped at South of the Border. After all, we had to introduce the baby flamingo to some crazy flamingo ways. We posed with a flamingo statue and a large concrete Pedro statue. She was unimpressed. Since she’s an infant, I assume she’ll grow to love it like her mama. (Fingers crossed.)

As we drove around, we found South of the Border surprisingly busy, yet still maintaining its eerily-sort-of-rundown vibe. The amusement park is shuttered. We couldn’t decide if one of the motels was open. The restrooms were clean. The worst part is that South of the Border sits on either side of US Highway 301, and lacks adequate pedestrian crossings or sidewalks, so it’s a nightmare attempting to cross. Hold your children and look both ways!

And now my favorite part. On our drive-about, much to my surprise, we found an old playground behind one of the motels. I’ve been to South of the Border a few times, and have never spotted this before. I had to get out and snap a photographs, of course.

Most, if not all, of the playground equipment is Game Time, Inc. equipment and remains in good condition. This equipment dates from the 1970s. Here is a tour of the playground.

These are called Saddle Mates.

 

More saddle mates on a merry-go-round

“Game Time / Litchfield Mich / Saddle Mate / Pat Pend” – Always check for the manufacturer’s stamp!

Saddle Mates on the “Buck-a-bout” from Game Time, Inc., ca. 1971

Single Saddle Mate, Donkey edition

The Stagecoach, a popular playground apparatus.

The Clown Swing, Game Time, Inc., ca. 1971. The Clown Swing would have had two swings. Other versions included the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion.

View of the Rocket ship slides and the Clown Swing. These rocket ship slides were often made by Game Time, Inc., though other companies manufactured them as well. If you’re wondering, I did slide down the slide.

View of the playground, as seen from the parking lot behind the motel. The road behind is I-95.

Looking to the motel

Good stuff, right? Hopefully some kids still play on the playground. A bit of Google searching led me to find images of an abandoned hotel & playground near South of the Border. Comments lead me to believe it no longer exists, but it used to be a part of the Family Inn. It looks straight of a 1970s Miracle Recreation Equipment Company catalog to me. Check it out. And remember, if you come across an old (historic?) playground, snap a few photos and send them my way. I love old playgrounds!

#ihavethisthingwithfloors, Lightner Museum Edition

The mosaic tile floor in the lobby of the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, FL, is one of the prettiest floors I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s one of the prettiest rooms. It would be a perfect place for a preservation party! Take a look. 


Coming up: more on the Lightner Museum & Alcazar Hotel. 

With Your Coffee

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Dreaming of warmer days and spring trips like those to Quebec City. Seen here: Hotel du Parlement. 

Happy weekend, everyone! Happy April! It’s snowing in Burlington, and, no, that is not an April Fool’s joke. How I wish it were. However, the snow is prettier than the barren trees and patches of brown dirt that are usually here this time of year. I suppose snow is okay for another day. A few reading links for the weekend:

  • This 12 stall barn was remodeled into a home. How did they do it? Basically, gutting it. While pretty, the new residence does not retain any historic integrity. What do you think? I was hoping they’d keep some of the stalls for something! (A pantry? A closet? A powder room?) And the doors. Sigh.
  • Are you an alum of the UVM Historic Preservation Program? If you haven’t heard about the 40th Anniversary Celebration on October 13-15, 2017, be sure to check out uvmhpalum.wordpress.com for the latest updates. It’s the perfect excuse to come back to Burlington for a visit! Spread the word.
  • This time of year in Vermont makes me miss North Carolina. Spring is well settled in by now in the south. Vermont has another 3-4 weeks before the leaves start to sprout on the tree branches. I’d say spring comes to Burlington in early May.

I really need a new podcast. Any suggestions?

Abandoned Virginia: Central High School, Painter

Central High School is located on Lankford Highway (US Route 13) just outside Painter, Acccomack County, VA.  This 1932/1935 school was constructed in the Art Deco style, common for schools in the 1930s. Central High School joined students from Painter and Keller. In 1984, the school became the district middle school. The school grounds contain recreation fields, outbuildings, and additional classrooms. In 2005, the school closed. Read the National Register nomination here.

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Central High School, Painter, VA.

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1935 addition.

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Side entrance.

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Art Deco details above the side entrance.

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View through the side door.

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View through the windows.

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Cornerstone.

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On the athletic fields: “Central Bulldogs.”

In 2008, Tucker Robbins, a furniture designer from New York City, purchased the entire property for $150,000 with a vision to rehabilitate the school into a new home for his NYC based furniture manufacturing business, as well as an environmental-educational facility. Read about Tucker Robbins’ plan on his website. Unfortunately, his vision was not realized; and in 2015, he offered up the school for sale for $525,000. (Source: DelMarVANOW and Eastern Shore Post.) Fortunately, while he owned the building, Robbins did hire a consultant to nominate the school to the National Register of Historic Places (listed 2010).

Currently the property is listed for $350,000. Bonus: the asbestos abatement is completed inside the school building. Check the real estate for interior photographs. See this youtube video for an inside tour. Anyone want to buy a school? I hope this building has a bright future.