DANVERS — Essex Tech has received $250,000 from the Essex Agricultural Society to help rebuild the Larkin Cottage for students to use in the future, and to honor students of the past.
Named in honor of 1st Lt. Catherine Larkin when it was originally constructed in 1950, the cottage housed the regional agricultural school’s homemaking program for years.
Once finished, the new cottage will serve as a culinary arts training center for students, function facility and community center that can seat up to 300 guests at Essex Tech, Superintendent Heidi Riccio said. A rain catchment center for irrigation on other parts of the school’s grounds will be located in the basement, and a student-designed walkway with memorial bricks will run from the cottage to Smith Hall.
Artifacts from the former Essex Aggie will be on display inside once the building is finished. A memorial veteran wall with the flags from each branch of the armed services will be built near the cottage, as well.
Larkin attended the Aggie’s homemaking program and went on to become a registered nurse. She worked at hospitals in Providence and Salem, her hometown, before joining the Army Nurse Corps during World War II to serve in MASH units in the Pacific.
In 1945, at the age of 29, she was killed in a plane crash in India while en route to help start up another unit.
“The men went off to war, and everybody was praying and the community was rallying around families that were missing these young people,” her niece Mary Ellen Larkin said.
“My aunt went to my grandparents and said that she too had essentially enlisted because she was a nurse and she wanted to, as she said, ‘take care of the boys.’”
The second oldest of five siblings, Catherine joined three of her brothers and a brother-in-law in serving during the war.
She wouldn’t get to know her niece, but Catherine’s legacy still lived on in her family. Mary Ellen Larkin grew up with stories about what a wonderful big sister Catherine was to her father, that she always looked out for him, and that no one was surprised when she volunteered to serve.
“My dad, even to his last breath, he still talked about his sister and would cry,” Mary Ellen Larkin said. “They were so broken-hearted to lose her and that’s why I have a daughter Catherine and my Aunt Margaret named her daughter Catherine, as well.”
The Larkins covered part of the cost for the cottage when it was originally built. A square was also dedicated in honor of Catherine near Larkin Lane in Salem after her death.
“At that time, for a female Army nurse to go across the world to serve her country, it must have been a very courageous decision to leave her family. I think it’s pretty amazing,” Riccio said. “I’m excited that we’re able to honor all of that under one roof, but then also honor the trades.”
Students from programs across Essex Tech have been working to rebuild the cottage alongside volunteer union trade workers since construction started in 2020, whether that be putting up rebar, creating the foundation or building new walls.
Carpentry students Ben Titus and Drew Carney, both juniors, were also paid through a $100,000 grant from the Cummings Foundation to work on the cottage during the summer. Recently, they helped construct the roof as part of their classes at Essex Tech.
“I like it because it gives me the hands-on experience that I want because I want to start my own company doing projects like this,” Carney said.
Students also have been learning about Catherine’s story and service thanks to the project.
“This is like giving back to the community that basically helped her along the way, and you’re making a part of history while you’re doing it,” Titus said.
The project won’t be done for another two or three years, but is well on its way thanks to donations like the $250,000 received from the Essex Agricultural Society, Riccio said.
The society had worked with Essex Aggie since the school was founded over 100 years ago. It has remained a strong partner with Essex Tech since the merger of the Aggie, North Shore Tech and Peabody’s vocational programs in 2014, said James O’Brien, the general manager of the Topsfield Fair, which the society runs.
“The agricultural component is very important,” O’Brien said. “All the farms that work with us here at the fair all need employees, so there is a really strong tie between the society and the school.
“We’re hoping to keep the cottage going, since they’re still trying to raise money,” he said. “They’ve been working extremely hard at the school to build that cottage.”