Johnson Sugar House Connects Students to History and the Outdoors

Named after Eric Johnson, a Proctor graduate

By Jackson Downey
The Johnson Sugar House at Proctor Academy was named after graduate Eric Johnson, class of 1988, and his wife Heide, a current biology teacher. Photo:Proctor’s Flickr account

In between Peabody and Gulick House at Proctor Academy is a cabin with a vibrant green roof. This small building is the Johnson Sugar House, a part of Proctor’s history and one way we connect to Proctor’s 2,500 acres of land. The Sugar House is an expression of our community’s love for the outdoors.

Laura Ostrowsky is a forest science teacher and Proctor’s Woodlands Manager. Laura is enthusiastic about the outdoors and has a passion for teaching. Laura brings her love for the outdoors into the Sugar house.

Laura Ostrowsky, a forest science teacher and Woodlands Manager at Proctor Academy, stands over the evaporators used to boil sap at the Johnson Sugar House. Photo:Proctor’s Flickr account

The name of the Johnson Sugar house belongs to Eric Johnson, a Proctor graduate, class of 1988, and his wife Heide Johnson, a current biology teacher. Heide explained to me that before Eric was, sadly, diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), he was always a big part of the maple sugaring here at Proctor, first as a student and later as a graduate. He always looked at it as therapy. 

Eric’s family decided to help by rebuilding a beautiful maple sugaring house here in our backyard that supports students and anyone who enjoys the process of collecting sap and boiling and bottling syrup.

It’s clear that the Proctor community’s happiness improves when we are helping other people. If we are able to translate this to our daily life and the people outside of school, we could all lead happier lives. Any chance you get, see what you can do for others.

Laura informed me about the history of the Johnson Sugar shack. “There was a big student project to build it, and Greg Allen and Brooks Bicknell built it along with students.” The sugar house was part of Brooks’ architecture class, and the Woods Team afternoon activity got involved.

When I visited the Johnson Sugar shack during sugaring season, I noticed the massive, silver shiny evaporators, used to boil large loads of sap. The evaporators make it easier to boil big loads of syrup. 

All of the syrup made in the Johnson Sugar House is tapped from the trees right on campus and in the Proctor woods. Laura walked me through all of the steps it takes to make the perfect Proctor syrup. 

It all starts with Laura going out to the ski hill and drilling holes in trees to attach tubes to collect sap. The tree sap is brought to the Sugar House and gravity pulls it into the evaporator from the containers. 

The tree sap is the water moving through the tree. It is 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar.  Laura boils the sap down until it hits a precise temperature, and you are left with 66.9 percent sugar. At this point, you’re left with all the rich sugar in the sap that becomes maple syrup. This is then moved over to the finalizing box where it is cooled down and prepared.

Laura explained that there are some good seasons and some bad seasons. “Last season was one of the worst seasons Proctor has ever experienced, along with the whole state of New Hampshire.” Good and bad seasons depend on the weather at the end of winter transitioning into spring. This year Proctor and the Sugar House had high expectations for the season – Proctor produced over 45 gallons – and eight students helped with the process during Proctor’s four-day Project Period.