Amon Burgee

By John W. Ashbury | Photography by Historical Society of Frederick County | Posted on 11.07.13 – History, Reflections

Almost to a man, Amon Burgee had the respect and admiration of all who knew him, especially by students at what became known as Boys High School.. From the farmers who were his early colleagues to those who elected him to positions in the agricultural community and politics in his later years, Burgee could be described as a man universally liked.

He didn’t start out to be an educator, but his love of learning led him to be a guide for hundreds of young men who aspired to greater heights through education.

Amon Burgee was born on his father’s farm adjacent to Price’s Distillery in Monrovia on April 16, 1865, the day after President Abraham Lincoln died. His early schooling was at the Pleasant Grove School; despite the school’s two and- a-half mile distance from his home, he never missed a day for eight years. Books keenly interested him and his prowess as a student led him to Glenellen Academy. He completed the course of study there in one year and entered Western Maryland College. After four years he was denied a diploma because he hadn’t taken Greek. So, he went back for a fifth year and completed four years of that language in just one year, receiving his degree in 1887.

A year later, Dr. Thomas H. Lewis, then head of the Carroll County schools, enticed Burgee into becoming the principal of the Union Bridge schools. On his first day there he “thrashed” the oldest boy and neveragain had a discipline problem. So successful was he there that Western Maryland conferred an honorary master’s degree on him in 1890. That same year Burgee married May Elizabeth Engleman of Union Bridge. They later became the parents of five children.

In 1891, Burgee became the principal of the Female High School in Hagerstown, where he stayed for three years. On Sept. 3, 1894, he took the reins of the male high school in Frederick, later known as Boys High School. Initially it was housed in Koontz Hall on Market Street.

It was there that he excelled beyond his own imagination and dedication to the young men of Frederick. That first year there were only nine students and Burgee was the sole teacher and principal. There were only three grades, but Burgee soon added a fourth year. The school received accreditation from many colleges and universities, thus exempting his students from college entrance examinations.

As a rule, Fridays at the school were devoted to a literary society that required all students to become adept in public discussion. Down through the years the graduates pointed to this activity as having provided them with a strong basis for success in whatever endeavor they chose for their life’s pursuit.

A new Boys High School was opened in 1912 at the head of Elm Street. That building later served as the first Frederick High School, combining both Boys and Girls High Schools into one facility. It later became known as Elm Street School for junior high students. Burgee retired as principal in 1917, but his service to the community was far from over. He had never lost his interest in agriculture and served in various offices including in the Farm Bureau and the Frederick County Farmers Cooperative Association. In 1930 he was elected county commissioner and served a was also active in his church, Trinity Methodist, singing in the choir and teaching the Men’s Bible Class for 55 years.

When Boys High School alumni began having reunions, Burgee was always the guest of honor. His last public appearance was at just such an event, held at the Vindabona Hotel at Braddock Heights. He died Aug. 6, 1945, at his East Patrick Street home in Frederick. He was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery after services at the C.E. Cline Funeral Home. His wife, five children and nine grandchildren, numerous nieces and nephews—plus hundreds of grateful students—survived his passing.