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Historic Newton Academy destroyed by fire

SHOREHAM-In the wake of a fast moving, late-night thunderstorm April 7, the historic 19th century Newton Academy, home to a nursery school and the Shorewell Clinic, was struck by lightning shortly before 1 a.m.

Firefighters reported that flames were through the roof of the three-story building, and by 4 a.m., it was clear that the once historic structure was a complete loss.

Shoreham, Orwell, Cornwall, Whiting and Bridport fire departments, aided by Vergennes Fire Department's ladder truck, were able to protect a nearby dwelling, the elementary school, and two school buses. Shoreham First Response and Middlebury Ambulance also responded and remained on stand-by.

"Big, huge flames. You could see it for quite a ways," fire eyewitness Karen Shackett of Shoreham told reporters. "People were crying-visibly upset about the loss. There's a lot of memories for people here."

Newton Academy was built in 1810 and was the oldest secondary school in Vermont. It served as a private school until 1872 when the town took it over and remained as Shoreham High School.

It reopened briefly when more elementary school classroom space was needed, but then reclosed in 1972.

Newton Academy had long been the focal point of the village common and had served the community well as a private school, public school and complete educational facility with grades from 1 through 12, closing the doors on Shoreham High School in 1969.

In the late 1970s, part of the downstairs was renovated in an attempt to accommodate local medical care. Shorewell Clinic operated there under Dr. Allan Curtiss. A committee was renovating a community meeting room downstairs for use by the Shoreham Preschool, senior citizens, and other groups in town.

The academy building included new roof at the time of the fire; a plan was already underway to stabilize and restore it as a Shoreham landmark.

Two hundred years of Vermont history-almost to the day-vanished in last week's fire. The nursery school and medical clinic will be relocated.

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