Now Playing: ‘Maple Avenue Remembered’

Chester. As controversy around the fate of the Maple Ave. building continues, one young filmmaker has decided to commemorate it with a new film.

| 13 Mar 2024 | 11:06

Chester resident Caleb Garver is keeping history alive with his documentary film “Maple Avenue Remembered,” which, in interviews with former teachers, students and staff members, details the rise and fall of Chester’s historic Maple Avenue School.

Built in 1935 as a Works Progress Administration project under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the school served generations of Chester students until 2004, when Chester Academy was built, and Maple Avenue was rented out to BOCES.

When BOCES moved out in 2019, the building was shuttered, or mothballed, as the Chester Union Free School District contemplated what to do with the local landmark.

This is when Garver, now a 20-year-old junior at the University of Buffalo, stepped in. The film, approximately 20 minutes in length, is a passion project of sorts.

“I had been working on this since I was 16 because when I was in high school it became clear to me that many of the teachers at Chester Academy who had previously been at Maple Avenue felt a special attachment to it,” said Garver, who is currently studying abroad for a semester at Monash University in Australia. “Also, living near Maple Avenue, my bus would drive by this empty, sad looking building surrounded by fencing and my curiosity about the school began to grow.”

So, with the help of teacher Melvin Wesenberg, friend Branden Scire and others, Garver began interviewing some of his teachers and they, in turn, connected him to other people and before he knew it, he was at a Maple Avenue alumni event.

“The support from the Maple Avenue community for my project was overwhelming and so I started working on it,” he said. “COVID put it on pause for a bit but that didn’t deter me.”

As a supporter of Garver’s idea to document the school’s history, Chester Academy Principal John Flanagan took Garver on a tour of the building.

“There was writing on blackboards that said, ‘Farewell Chester’ that the BOCES people had left behind years earlier and American flags still hanging up in the classrooms, which was cool but also kind of sad,” Garver said. “Parts of the building were really run down and bare. I must say, they did a good job removing all the desks and chairs as nearly every classroom was empty. The lockers were still lining the hallways, but it was so quiet. It was a bit eerie.”

There is a scene in the documentary, which can be found online or simply by vising the Caleb Garver YouTube page, where Garver films Maple Avenue alumni and teachers as they take a walk through the abandoned school. Emotions were evident, as a building that had once been so alive and full of memories for so many was now little more than a shell of its former self.

“From 1935 until it was replaced in 2004 by the Chester Academy, it seems to have been a focal point for the Chester community,” said local historian Clifton Patrick. “A lot of alumni seem to have very fond memories of their time there.”

“A part of me really wished I didn’t go to that walkthrough because seeing those changes broke my heart,” said Antonina Curaba, a 1999 Maple Avenue graduate who now teaches math at Chester Academy. “There’s an emptiness and the coldness to the building ... that building was never cold. The cafeteria looked cool, and it was still small and quaint and there was still artwork in the cafeteria, but otherwise the walls were so bare. The library being gone, broke my heart. I modeled my classroom after that library.”

An IT and cyber security major in school, Garver says he has always been interested in a wide array of topics and is glad he made the film.

“I have never done anything like this, so I learned a lot about organization, interviewing, technology and of course the history of the Maple Avenue School,” he said. “I used a Canon 70D camera and a drone, which enabled me to get some really cool overhead shots.”

In addition to Curaba, other Maple Avenue alums featured in Garver’s piece include former superintendent and principal Edward Stoddard, English teachers Judy Cardinale and Marlena Lange, librarian John “Have a Nice One” Klinger, science teacher Keith Bandura and several others.

Again, the view the documentary visit the Caleb Garver YouTube channel: