The Edwards Center comes to life in a building once on the edge of the Bowdoin campus and long an important and beloved landmark in the Brunswick community. The original Longfellow Elementary School building, named for Bowdoin graduate Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Class of 1825), was built in 1924. It was expanded and renovated in the 1940s and again in the 1980s.
Longfellow School was built on land once owned by Joshua Chamberlain of the Bowdoin Class of 1852. Chamberlain was a college professor, a Civil War hero who attained the rank of Brevet Major General, Governor of Maine, and President and Trustee of Bowdoin College. In 1907 he drew up plans to develop the land that he owned along Longfellow Avenue. Chamberlain’s will provided that “no building other than for school purposes, or dwellings to cost not less than two thousand (2000) dollars” could be constructed on the premises. Ten years after his death in 1913, the trustee for Chamberlain’s estate sold 10 house lots on Longfellow Avenue to the Town of Brunswick for $1.00 so that a much-needed elementary school could be built there.
The original school was built of brick, with basement and upper floor classrooms in a footprint measuring 32 feet by 96 feet. A 1943 expansion created a new façade on Longfellow Avenue, 10 new classrooms, a gymnasium, a cafeteria and kitchen, and a garage. A two-story wing at the west end of the building in 1987 created additional classrooms, art space, and room for a computer laboratory. The school closed in June of 2011 and was acquired by Bowdoin College from the Town of Brunswick.
Bowdoin’s adaptive reuse of the building conserves and retains period features of the original 1920s structure by restoring the original height of the ceilings, preserving the red-brick façade, and reclaiming and refurbishing floors and windows. The Longfellow Playground, built on land leased to the town of Brunswick by the College, will remain open to the community. Bowdoin’s strong track record in creative repurposing of historical properties, coupled with its choice of the architectural firm Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc. to assist with the planning and developm ent of the site, ensures a thoughtful reimagining of a space that has itself been added to and reconfigured over time. The project will follow the College’s renovation and design guidelines that focus on sustainable design and strengthening Bowdoin’s commitment to environmental stewardship; including updated and more energy efficient mechanical and electrical systems, and sustainable landscaping.