History of Linnell Gymnasium

A center for athletics and much, much more. 

The major indoor athletic and convocation center at Thornton Academy, William Shepherd Linnell Gymnasium has served the school’s students and the greater community since its opening in 1963. In addition to acting as a practice and competition venue for Thornton Academy basketball teams for over fifty years, Linnell Gymnasium has also been utilized as a classroom space for wellness and dance classes, for school assemblies, and as an alternative facility for Thornton’s spring commencement exercises. Linnell Gymnasium also plays a major role in the life of the greater Saco community and has hosted a variety of community and social events such as the Kerryman’s Pub Road Race/Mary’s Walk, the Children’s Winter Carnival, and the annual college fair. The facility is named in honor of William Shepherd Linnell, a 1903 graduate of Thornton Academy. Mr. Linnell, who later graduated from Bowdoin College and George Washington University Law School, was a senior partner at Linnell, Perkins, Thompson, Hinckley, and Thaxter, a Portland law firm, where he began practicing law in 1911. A major supporter of education in the state of Maine, Linnell was a member of the Board of Trustees at Thornton Academy from 1933 until his death in 1968 and was president of that group beginning in 1947. In addition, he was a trustee of both Bangor Theological Seminary and Westbrook Junior College and was president of the board at the latter school. A dormitory at Westbrook Junior College, now part of the University of New England, is named for him.

In addition to these activities, Mr. Linnell was a major civic leader in the greater Portland area and throughout the state of Maine. He was president of the Portland Gas and Light Company (now Northern Utilities) from 1927-­1963 and wrote a history of that company in 1950.  In addition, he represented Maine at the 1936 Republican National Convention and was a Republican national committeeman. He also was president of the Portland Chamber of Commerce and was a Mason and a Shriner. In 1960 he received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Bowdoin College.

Given his service to Thornton Academy and the larger community, Mr. Linnell was a logical choice for naming the new gymnasium built on the Eastern end of the Thornton Academy campus in 1963. The growing student population in the late 1950’s had rendered the much smaller George Addison Emery Gymnasium as inadequate for the school’s athletic needs, and Thornton’s trustees, under the leadership of Mr. Linnell, approved the building of a new space. While the facility was being erected, Thornton Academy basketball teams utilized off-­‐campus facilities, including the Saco Armory and the Hanson Gymnasium in Buxton for contests. Known as “The Orphans”, these Thornton Academy teams finally came home for good in the fall of 1963 with the opening of the new Linnell facility.

The first athletic contest ever hosted at Linnell Gymnasium was a boys basketball round robin on November 30, 1963. Led by Ken Pike’s 10 points, Thornton defeated Sanford 36-­28 in that exhibition tilt. The first countable game hosted by Thornton at Linnell was a game against Old Orchard Beach six days later. Despite Don Caouette’s 21 point effort, the maroon and gold of Coach Jim McGaffin, a Thornton Academy Athletic Hall of Famer in his own right, fell to the Seagulls by a score of 63-­53.  Thornton claimed its first home court victory on December 17 with a narrow 64-­59 triumph over Kennebunk. Caouette again led the Saco quintet with a 28-­point night.

Featuring a parquet floor reminiscent of the Boston Garden, Linnell Gymnasium has been the scene of the some of the greatest moments in the school’s athletic history. For the past fifty seasons, some of the finest athletes to don the maroon and gold have played their home contests at this venerable site. All-­‐state hoopsters such as Bob Warner, Dick Martin, James Morse, Andrew Shaw, Cheryl Cote, Lisa DeFrancesco, Katie Curtis, and Mari Warner learned their skills on the Linnell Gymnasium surface, and the 2009 Class A boys basketball champions called the facility home.

Given the importance of Linnell Gymnasium to both the school and the communities it serves, it is fitting that the 2013 “Great Moments” Award was given by the Thornton Academy Athletic Hall of Fame Committee to commemorate the golden anniversary of the opening of this venerable venue and to recognize the outstanding legacy of its esteemed namesake, William Shepherd Linnell. Linnell Gymnasium plays a significant recreational, educational, and social role at Thornton Academy and has served the school well over that time span.