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Construction of a 400 pupil high school on Hills estate began in October 1949 with up to $350,000 from the estates of Alfred K. Hills and Mary F. Creutzborg, the mother of Ida Virginia Hills set aside or that purpose. Alvirne was opened September 1950 as a combined Junior and Senior High School. Course of study included college preparatory, commercial, domestic science, shop, and agricultural courses.
The vision of Dr. Hills which began in the 1920’s became a reality in November 1950 when Alvirne High School was dedicated and the keys presented by the chairman of the Building Committee, Eugene Leslie, to Dr. John Quigley, chairman of the Hudson School Board. During an open house over 1,000 people toured the new school. As a part of these ceremonies a scroll of appreciation was presented to Jesse Norwell Hills by members of the School Board for her invaluable service in helping to make possible the wishes of Dr. Hills and Mrs Creutzborg.
On June 14, 1951 the auditorium of Alvirne was filled with friends and family of 25 seniors, the first graduating class of Alvirne High School. They entered to the processional, “Pomp and Circumstance” wearing the traditional maroon cap and gown. The diplomas were presented alphabetically by Henry Hastings, Superintendent of Schools. So the very first diploma issued from Alvirne High School was presented to George W. Abbott. These diplomas were a metal certificate mounted onto a wooden board as shown in the accompanying photo. On behalf of the senior class, John Simo presented a corsage to Jesse Norwell Hills.
During this first year many gifts were made to Alvirne. Among them the framed and lighted picture of Dr. Hills for the school lobby, presented by his widow, Jesse Norwell Hills. The School Board noted in their annual report that the per student cost to the taxpayer to send a student to Alvirne was $200 vs the tuition cost of $253 to Nashua. That year there were 764 students enrolled in Hudson schools; 308 of these attending Junior-Senior high school at Alvirne.
In the next few years continuous improvements were made to the programs and curriculum at Alvirne, particularly in the area of vocational agriculture (Voc-Ag). The Trustees set aside money to help with the farm. To assist the School Board with opportunities arising from operating of a farm, an Advisory Committee consisting of local farmers, Earnest Chalifoux, Robert Jasper, Albert Kashulines, and Henry Smith was put in place. One of their recommendations was to change from a beef herd to a dairy herd. The beef critters were sold and equipment changed to the needs of a dairy herd. A milking parlor and milk room were added. A fine herd of milkers was put in place and a silo added to the barn. By 1957 Alvirne was accepted as an area Vocational Agricultural School.
As the educational opportunities at Alvirne increased so did the enrollment. This increase was due to the population increase in Hudson as well as neighboring towns who did not have their own high school and opted to send their students to Alvirne on a tuition basis. At the school district meeting of 1958 voters agreed to proceed with an 8 room addition to Alvirne. The firm of Irving W. Hersey Associates was again hired as architects. This addition was added to the south end of the building with a new combination cafeteria/auditorium in the basement. Plans also included the construction of a stand alone Voc-Ag building between the north end of the existing building and the farm. The expenditure of $182,850 for the school addition and $33,150 for the Voc-Ag building were approved at the school meeting held in March 1959. Based upon enrollments this addition would be needed by September 1960 and was expected to meet student needs for the next 5 years. Sepalla & Aho Construction Company was contracted for this project. and the new addition available September 1960.
By the school year ending 1963 the student population of Hudson continued to grown as did the population in neighboring towns including Pelham, Windham, Londonderry, and Litchfield. Alvirne was accepting tuition students from each of these towns. It became apparent that additional high school space would again be needed by September 1965.
At the 1964 School District meeting the School Broad was authorized to negotiate a long term contract with Pelham for their tuition students. At the same meeting voters approved the design, construction, and equipment of a 16 room addition to Alvirne. Final approval of this $500,000 addition came at a special meeting in July 1964. The addition would be to the north end of then existing building.
In order to alleviate overcrowding at Alvirne a quarterly program was suggested by then Principal Chester Steckeviczl thus using the school facilities year round. This plan was put into place by the school year 1970-71, The community was saddened in June 1972 when just days before the graduation, Cheste Steckevicz passed away of a heart attack after serving as principal of Alvirne for 15 years. Robert Bettencourt, then principal at Memorial School filled the vacancy.
1973 was a banner year for Alvirne. A new greenhouse for the Vo-Ag was completed. Alvirne was evaluated under the quarter plan and granted full re-accreditation. There were 223 seniors graduating and we had a championship soccer team!
However, September 1974 the school year began in tragedy when, just 2 days after the beginning of the school year, Alvirne was 80% destroyed by fire. Upon arrival at the high school Deputy Fire Chief Robert Buxton saw that the gymnasium-auditorium and the center of the school were totally engulfed in flames. Help from other towns under mutual aid arrived within minutes. A mile of hose was used to connect to the nearest hydrant. In addition 6 pieces of apparatus were used to relay and pump water. The farm pond as well as the cistern located on the hill across the street was drained of well over 23,000 gallons of water. Alvirne was destroyed and 1200 students were displaced by the fire. After investigating Fire Chief Frank Nutting disclosed that the blaze had been set.
Within a few days and for the next year what resulted was a huge effort on the part of the School Board and many, many volunteers within town. To continue the class requirements the then empty St. Francis Exavier school building in Nashua was leased for the year and students for Grades 4 and 5 were bused to Nashua where they were taught by their regular teachers. Dual sessions were held at Memorial for grades 7 – 12. This all occurred within a two week period. Volunteers worked to salvage books, desks, etc. Other items were borrowed from neighboring school districts.
At a special school district meeting in November 1974 the school district voted to rebuild Alvirne at a cost of $4.3 million or $28.16 per square foot. Cost was covered by the insurance money, money from Alvirne Trustees, and a 2 million bond issue. By September 9, 1975 one year and one day after the fire, Alvirne was again in session in a new building located at the old historic site.
The vision for Alvirne High School began with Dr. Alfred K. Hills and was set in motion by his last will and testament written in December 1918, less than two years before his death in May 1920. However, there were two pivotal events in 1948 which, in the final analysis, permitted the Town of Hudson to establish Alvirne High School on the former Hills Estate on Derry Road.
The first of these was the legendary Alvirne Summer School which took place at the Alvirne Summer Home and the surrounding field and forest; the purpose being to show that a high school which satisfied the conditions of Dr. Hills’ will was feasable in Hudson. This school was established by town and school officials upon the suggestion of Attorney Robert B. Hamblett, representing the estate of Dr. Hills.
The second, and less public event, was the role played by Mrs. Alfred Hills (Jesse) in the final negotiations and litigation of the estates of Dr. Hills and his mother-in-law Mary Creutzborg.
First some background. Alfred K. Hills was a Hudson native, born October 1840 on the farm of his Hills ancestors. By the age of 22 Alfred had graduated from Harvard College and by age 25 had married Martha Simmond in Boston. In the years to follow he studied medicine and established his 40 year medical profession in New York City. In 1885 his wife Martha passed away after 20 years of marriage.
In 1887 Alfred married Ida Virginia Creutzborg of Philadelphia and they purchased the old homestead and acreage on Derry Road. In 1890 they built their “Alvirne” summer home in a field across the road from the farmhouse. Alfred and Virginia had two daughters; Gladys born 1891 and Mary born 1895. Both children died in infancy. In May 1908 Ida Virginia passed away suddenly.
The generousity of the Hills/Creutzborg family to our town is well known. Alfred and Ida Virginia donated a bell and belfrey for the Chapel of the Holy Angels on Lowell Road. Soon after Ida Virginia’s death in 1908 he built the Alvirne Memorial Chapel in her memory. Alfred and his mother-in-law Mary Creutzborg provided the funding for the Hills Memorial Library and for Library Park.
In 1910 Alfred Hills and Jessie Norwell of Nashua were married. When Dr. Hills passed in May 1920 he was interred within the Alvirne Chapel along side his wife Virginia and their daughters.
In his will Dr. Hills left lifetime income to a number of beneficiaries with the remainder of his estate to the Town of Hudson for the purpose of establishing an “industrial school” containing the name Alvirne. In May 1928 Mary Creutzborg passed at the age of 102. By her will she also provided funding for the Alvirne school envisioned by her son-in-law Alfred. In the 19 years which followed no funds from either estate were made available to Hudson. During this time the beneficiaries were being paid, the Hills farm continued operation by a farm manager, our country was in a depression, the intent of an “industrial school” was unclear and the wills were being contested in the courts by family members.
In August 1947 the court did rule that the trust money could be used by Hudson. The problems were the appeal of this decision and a continuing battle with some of the heirs to retain a percentage of the money. This brings us up to the spring/summer of 1948.
Local school officials, attorneys for the Town of Hudson and the Hills Estate organized a school to be known as Alvirne High School on June 7, 1948 at 4:00 pm at the Hills summer home. There was a public gathering including parents, school and town officials and some 22 girls and 10 boys who registered classes. Mrs. Harold (Maude) French, a local 4-H leader, was designated to teach sewing to the girls. By the end of the session these girls learned basic sewing techniques and had made 12 playsuits, 15 dresses, 20 shorts and pedal-pushers, 9 blouses, and had remodeled several garments. Kenneth Gibbs who had recently retired as county 4-H agent was designated to teach a session for the boys; including foresty, soil testing, basic dairy and barn maintenance as well poultry raising. Mr. Gibbs served as the first principal of Alvirne. In the end this summer program lasted 6 weeks with diplomas issued at a closing graduation. The first photo was taken June 1948 in the Library of the Alvirne Summer Home during one of Jesse Hills’ visits to the school.
These sessions and activities of the summer school were watched by several individuals including lawyers representing various parties. The lawyers for the heirs were hoping to show that the conditions of the will had not been met. Following the graduation several individuals, including Mrs. French, Jesse Norwell Hills, Principal Gibbs, and members of the school board, were served court summons to give depositions to prove that the legal requirements of the will were met and that the school was established. Testimonies were made before 6 lawyers; 4 representing the heirs and 2 defending Alvirne. Mrs. French was questioned for a period of 2 hours.
Even when word came that the conditions of the will were met the appeal process and litigations continued. As late as January 1949 there were prospects of further costly litigation and appeals. In an effort the ‘buy peace’ with the family and proceed with the design and building of a high school a settlement was negotiated for $25,000. The school board, Mrs. Hills as trustee of the estates, and their councils agreed.
Following this decision Architect Irving Hersey and Trustees of the Alvirne School worked on plans and drawings for Alvirne High School. Ground breaking was scheduled for the spring 1949. Our second photo shows the architect’s drawing of Alvirne High School from the cover of the first school yearbook entitled “SATYR” in June 1951.
This week we look at Alvirne, the summer home built in 1890 by Dr. Alfred and Virginia Hills on a knoll in the field across from the Alvirne farm house. Their primary residence was in New York City but rail travel to Nashua’s Union Station and a coach drive from Nashua to Hudson facilitated travel to Hudson. We can only imagine the entertainment and festivities enjoyed on these grounds by the Hills as they mingled with guests from New York as well as locals from Hudson and Nashua. Our first photo shows the home in 1890. You will notice that the meeting room and the field stone chimney were not part of the original building. These were added in 1891. You will also note that the driveway did not encircle the house.
This summer home, now called the Hills House, was enjoyed by Alfred, Virginia, and also by Virginia’s mother, Mary Creutzborg. Although they had two daughters neither of them lived beyond infancy. Virginia passed in 1908, a true loss to Dr Hills and their friends here in Hudson. Dr Hills completed his plans for the Alvirne Chapel; Virginia and their infant daughters were laid to rest within this chapel.
A short time later, in 1910, Alfred married Jessie Norwell, a Nashua native. Alvirne continued to be the summer home of Dr Hills, Mary Creutzborg, and Jessie. After Dr. Hills passed in 1920, Jessie, her sister Helen Norwell, and Mary Creutzborg continued the use of this summer home. Dr Hills left a provision in his will so that Jessie, his third wife, and Mary, his second mother-in-law, could co-habitate in the summer home as long as the arrangement satisfied both parties. Mary passed in, 1928, at the age of 102, spending many years living with Jessie, either in Nashua or Hudson. Jessie passed in 1963; but not until she saw her husband’s vision of a school named Alvirne established in Hudson.
After her passing, furnishings within the house were sold or distributed to friends and family. In the end, the building was vacant, windows and doors boarded up, closed to the outside world except for vandals. By his will, following the death of Jessie, the summer home became the property of the School District and Alvirne Trustees. Attempts were made to find a useful purpose for this building; but to no avail. The destiny of this fine Victorian home came down to an article placed in the School District warrant for voting on March 9, 1965:
To see if the district will vote to authorize the School Board to raze the vacant dwelling on the Derry Road known as the Hills House.
A school board member rose to move adoption of the article. This opened discussion and Zoula Rowell, a member of the Hudson Fortnightly Club, rose to speak in opposition. The article was tabled…ultimately forever. This action provided the incentive for the incorporation of the Hudson Historical Society with a goal of preserving the Hills House and using it as a museum of Hudson History.
For about 10 years prior to this time, the Historical Committee of the Fortnightly Club was actively collecting and cataloging items pertaining to Hudson History.
The Hills house was found to be structurally sound; but in need of repairs, cleaning, and the decorating of individual rooms. Over the next few years a community effort occurred; individuals, organizations, and families helped with this project; some taking responsibility of an entire room. A caretaker apartment was established and a caretaker secured. As rooms became available the historical items collected by the historical committee were moved to the Hills House. Some of the Hills family furnishings were returned; many other items were donated by Hudson families. The catalogue system used by the historical committee was continued by the society. The success of this restoration was climaxed in 1983 when the Hills House was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Ironically, the generosity of Dr Hills provided for the building and maintenance the Hills Memorial Library, Library Park, Alvirne High, and Alvirne Chapel. He took no similar precautions for his lovely summer home. That responsibility is now being met by the Historical Society with support of the School District and various organizations in town. Our second photo shown the house just a few years ago, Both photos are from the Historical Society collection. The year 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of the Hudson Historical Society.
Aerial view of Alvirne School circa 1949-1950. Initially Alvirne housed grades 7 through 12. As population increased Hudson Memorial School was built on Central Street and Alvirne used for grades 9 through 12. The first class to graduate from Alvirne was in 1951. The roadway from the right of the school and running parallel Derry Road leads to the farm pond, barn, and farmhouse. (Published in HLN August 29, 2014.)