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It Started with Mr. Gunn:
The Education Experience in Washington

[Exhibition from Summer 2001]

    A vignette of the Gunn show
A vignette from the Frederick Gunn exhibit
What Frederick Gunn started, when he began teaching in Washington well over 150 years ago, turned out to be more than a school. Frederick Gunn also founded the local amateur dramatic association that became the "Dramalites," providing theater of high quality to the local community since the 1880s. He founded the Washington Literary Association, that eventually became the Gunn Memorial Library, Washington’s free public library, and he founded or encouraged numerous other cultural and literary activities in town, such as lecture societies and temperance organizations.

However, more than founding organizations, Mr. Gunn inspired generations of young men and women who went on to make significant contributions to their communities and the nation, including the giving of their lives to the Civil War. Washington owes much of its current appearance to Mr. Gunn: Ehrick Rossiter, one of his students, returned here to design over 20 public and private buildings and saved the property that is now Steep Rock Reservation for all of us. In addition, through his commitment to intellectual enquiry always accompanied by moral and ethical standards of the highest caliber, Mr. Gunn inspires all of us to give our best to our local communities. It shows here in Washington, which is unusual, not only in its physical beauty, but in the commitment and care that its citizens have shown for preserving what is best here without ever becoming encased in the glass of complacency.

This exhibit only scratches the surface of Mr. Gunn’s life and contributions to the Gunnery School and the town of Washington. The amount of material that has been saved: letters, reminiscences, student work; is truly remarkable, and could provide a student of the 19th century ample material for a lifetime of work. All of the larger issues that engaged citizens from the 1830s to the 1880s are encapsulated in this material: from issues of slavery, women’s rights and other ethical dilemmas, to the rise of technology and accompanying transformation of American life.

Mr. Gunn didn’t do it alone, of course. He sowed his seeds on highly fertile ground here in Washington, and this exhibit is a testament not only to his life, but to those of friends, family and the citizens of this remarkable town.


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