“Where do you go to school?”
“Lewis Mills High School. Burlington and Harwinton. Region 10.”
While most regional schools in CT have names relevant to their area such as “Coginchaug” or “Woodbury”, LSM has the interesting distinction of being named after a local resident. Who was Lewis S. Mills, anyway, and why is a high school named after him?
Lewis Sprague Mills was born on September 5, 1874. The stately old farmhouse of his childhood still stands at 100 Barbourtown Road in the picturesque backroads of Canton.
Lewis suffered a debilitating leg injury at age three which resulted in him needing a heavy steel brace on his left leg for life, but that didn’t stop him from working as a farm hand on his father’s property in his early years.
Eventually, he became a teacher, his first job holding him responsible for 40 students, ages 3-18, in a one-room schoolhouse in Woodstock. Later he put himself through Columbia University in New York City where he received a bachelor’s degree in education in 1908 and a master’s degree in education in 1912.
Lewis Mills married a Canton resident, May Edith Wilder in 1908. They returned to the area and Lewis served as Rural Supervisor of Schools in Burlington from 1916-1928 and Rural Supervisor of Harwinton from 1927 until he retired in 1939.
During his tenure as Supervisor as well as after his retirement from the school system, Mr. Mills held a variety of other positions including Justice of the Peace, Lay Minister, and local volunteer political appointments.
Mr. Mills was a remarkable man who had many interests and abilities. For one, he was a published author. Three of his books are still available for purchase on Amazon and several more are available at the Connecticut State Library. He was also a well-known photographer who was famous for his images of rural Connecticut and historic scenes such as railroads and one-room schoolhouses.
Lewis Mills’ biggest legacy, however, was his influence in education. He loved children and he advocated for them.
Lewis Mills wanted students to have the opportunity to be examined by a school nurse, he asked the townspeople to approve free textbooks for students, he encouraged students to graduate or at least stay in school until at least age 16, and he introduced art and music into the school systems. He visited the schools regularly and was beloved by the students, most of whom he remembered by name.
He was described as a soft-spoken gentleman yet he commanded respect. He had a great sense of humor and a dry wit.
Prior to the early 60s, Burlington teens attended high school in Canton or Farmington while Harwinton teens went to Torrington. In 1960 a new high school was built for Burlington and Harwinton residents.
An intensive search began to choose a name for the new school including submission requests from students from grades seven to twelve. On November 23, 1960, Lewis S. Mills Regional High School was selected as the name of the new school.
Its namesake was delighted and honored to be in attendance at the dedication ceremony shortly after. By now aged and confined to a wheelchair, Mr. Mills spoke of gratitude to all the thousands of people, including students and parents, who he had worked with over the years to achieve his goals.
He was also very pleased with the creation of the Lewis S. Mills scholarship fund which provided an incentive for students to continue their education after high school.
After living a life of remarkable achievement and public service Lewis S. Mills passed away on March 7, 1965, leaving behind a permanent memorial of his considerable contributions.