Local history in the works for Brewer students

Dr. Daniel Lee, superintendent of Brewer schools, talks to a luncheon crowd about the upcoming local curriculum in Brewer. Students will soon be learning about Brewer’s history, economy, and geography.
David M. Fitzpatrick
Dr. Daniel Lee, superintendent of Brewer schools, talks to a luncheon crowd about the upcoming local curriculum in Brewer. Students will soon be learning about Brewer’s history, economy, and geography. Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 01, 2012, at 10:44 a.m.

Coming soon to Brewer students: education about Brewer’s history.

In fact, that education had already begun when the Brewer Community School opened last fall. During the design process, many elements of Brewer’s history were incorporated into the building.

“[It’s] what I think is one of the more clever ways that a school has been designed in order to incorporate local history,” said Dr. Daniel Lee, superintendent of schools for the Brewer School Department at a recent luncheon.

The goal was twofold: to immerse students in Brewer’s history, and to give the younger kids a little help finding their way around the big building. To accomplish this, five main wings of the school echo five historical themes, based around the importance of the Penobscot River, from shipbuilding to ice harvesting to Cianbro’s modern-day facility for constructing and shipping industrial modules.

The River Wing’s floor is done in tiles of blue and green that give a definite aquatic feel. The ceiling tiles are wavy, an inexpensive but clever addition. Even the colors of the lockers are tied to the theme.

The Brick Wing honors Brewer’s brickmaking history. During the 1800s, Brewer’s bricks were world-renowned, thanks to a particular kind of clay found in the city — better than across the river. To echo this, the floor and ceiling are colored in brick patterns.

The Maritime Wing honors the city’s shipbuilding history, when shipyards dominated the river. Its ceiling appears almost like the interior of a boat hull: bent a bit and with lots of ribbing.

The Paper Wing echoes the papermaking industry in Brewer, which was pivotal to the city’s economy for decades. The colors are reminiscent of Maine’s forest industry, while images of paper rolls are installed in the floor tile.

And the Ice Wing, recognizing the ice-harvesting days on the Penobscot, is done in cool colors such as blues and grays. The hallway-floor tiles alternate water-blue and ice-white and give the impression of ice blocks cut from a river.

Throughout the building, classrooms are adorned with old photos depicting these industries and other aspects of Brewer’s history. In the main tower at the school’s front, an abstract sculpture of fabric and aluminum is soon to be installed; it will turn slowly, representing the river. The tower on the Parkway South side of the building features stained glass and murals featuring literary quotes related to the area. And there’s a wood mural, which woodcarver Eddie Harrow spent 10 months creating, that depicts brickmaking and shipbuilding in Brewer.

The new school also brought its own history along, relocating the old master clock from the former high school (later the middle school). Dating to 1905, the clock ran on a piece of paper with punched holes, sort of like a player piano, that made the bells ring at certain times.

All of this is the beginning of a plan to integrate Brewer’s culture into the school curriculum. This summer and fall, as part of the city’s bicentennial celebration, teachers are developing interdisciplinary units to incorporate the history, economics, and geography of Brewer.

The school system will be taking advantage of the walking trail, currently under development, that will run along the river from Cianbro to Indian Trail Park in North Brewer. The plan is to develop it as an interpretive trail and get students walking it to learn about the city — and get a sense of reality about what they’re studying.

“Our intent is to create one unit that all students going to Brewer schools will have at least one half a year of local history,” Lee said.

Along the walk, students will learn about and see the former sites of riverside mills, icehouses, brick-yards, shipyards, fishing, the old ferry system, and more — hopefully with photos on the trail to show walkers what various sites looked like in the old days.

There has long been a state mandate to teach Maine history, but not one for local history. Lee said he feels local history is important and cited Bangor’s success doing the same. But he said teachers have a bit of homework of their own to develop these interdisciplinary units.

“I think this particular plan will have to use a lot of online work, and we’re able to do that since we have so many computers in the new school,” Lee said.

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