Conway — Schools

Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.

      Shortly after the incorporation of the town, in September, 1767, public attention was directed toward the subject of education by a vote which selected a committee for the purpose of hiring a "school-dame" to keep school five months. School was taught for some years in private dwellings,—a favorite place being the house of Jonathan Whitney,—until 1773, when the first school-house—25 by 22—was erected near the meeting-hawse in Pumpkin Hollow. A century elm was in 1867 planted upon the exact spot supposed to have been occupied by this primitive institution.
      The sum of £7 was appropriated in 1767 for schooling, and in 1772 the amount was £12. In 1773 it was agreed that school should be kept six months that year,—two months at the centre, and four months at various places in the town. In 1774 the sum of £30 was raised for schooling, which was to be one-third of the time at the school-house; one-third at Samuel Hooker's, and one-third at Deacon Allis'. In 1776, after a lapse of a year, during which no school was opened in the town, it was voted to have a public school, to divide the town into five equal parts or squadrons, and to raise £30. There was but one public school-house—the one at the center—until 1783, after which temples of learning began to multiply to meet the demands of a rapidly-increasing population.
      Reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic were the subjects set before the scholars of those days, although about 1791 a town vote decided that Latin and Greek should be taught. The absurdity of this remarkable effort to leap at a single bound from the rudiments of English into the classics presented itself, however, without much delay, and the vote was hastily rescinded.
      Who was the first school-teacher is not known, but one of the early ones, known as Master Cole, is preserved in tradition as a singular pedagogue. It is told of him that when he came over from England he brought not only his military manners,—for he was a soldier there,—but his uniform and his sword, and these he used to wear each morning to school; where arriving, he would awe his scholars into trembling submission by his fierce dignity and military discipline, and hold them throughout the day in constant fear lest in a moment of more than ordinary fierceness he might descend upon them with his sword and stretch them headless upon the school-room floor.
      A noted select school was the one opened by Deacon John Clary in 1831. He kept it twelve years, and gave it such high rank that many pupils from towns other than Conway attended it. His dwelling was two miles and a half from the school, to and from which he went each day, and during the twelve years he traveled about nine thousand miles.

The Conway Academy

      The Conway Academy was incorporated in 1853, and in that year a handsome school building was erected, by subscription, upon the lofty eminence overlooking Conway village on the south. The institution flourished apace, and extended its labors over a wide field of usefulness, but the destruction by fire, in 1863, of' the school building temporarily suspended its ministrations, and although the structure was quickly restored in its present form, the palmy days of the academy had passed away, and in 1865 it was transferred to the town, and became a high school free to all children in Conway, and as such it still remains.
      Including the high school, Conway had, in 1879, 13 schools, with an average daily attendance of 188, and appropriated for educational purposes $2000.

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