EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

August 22, 2013

'Henry K. Oliver was a real renaissance man'

LAWRENCE — Henry K. Oliver was an important political and educational leader in the early history of Lawrence — serving as superintendent of the city schools and later getting elected as Lawrence’s fifth mayor (1859).

Oliver was born in Beverly, Nov. 24, 1800 as Thomas Henry Oliver, but had his name changed in 1821 after an uncle who had died nearly two decades earlier. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover and later Harvard College. He transferred from Harvard to Dartmouth College, where he later graduated.

After working as an educator for a quarter of a century in Salem, he moved to Lawrence in 1848 where he took over the job as agent of the Atlantic Mills. But he soon got involved with education, serving on the School Committee.

He later served as state treasurer, a member of the state Legislature and was elected as the 21st mayor of Salem (1876).

“Henry K. Oliver was a role model,” Lawrence Teachers Union President Frank McLaughlin said in a recent interview.

“He was a significant personage of the 19th century. He was everything — a real renaissance man. A mill manager who later became mayor of Lawrence. On the side, he wrote church music and one of the tunes he composed — “Federal Street” — I think they still play it at the Park Street Church in Boston,” he said.

Oliver sang in the Park Street Church during his youth and went on to become an organist and composer of music.

McLaughlin displayed similar enthusiasm when talking about the renovated school which bears Oliver’s name.

“We’re really cutting the ribbon on one of the oldest facilities in Lawrence,” McLaughlin said.

“This is like the Fenway Park of Lawrence schools. It feels like Fenway Park. The School Department has done a good job rehabbing the building. It really has that flavor of a school I knew as a kid,” he said.

“It’s great that the history of the city of Lawrence is going to be an integral part of the curriculum at the Oliver School.”

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