Greenfield — Schools And School-Houses

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

      Our fathers took advanced ground with regard to public schools, and adopted the early policy of the Massachusetts colony to have all the children educated at the public expense.
      As early as 1744, Deerfield made an appropriation for school at Green River, and in 1749 the sum of 30s. (old tenor) a week was granted to the school-dame at Green River for her services. Do the wages seem great? They are qualified by the phrase old tenor, which implies that they were paid in the depreciated paper currency which had been issued to defray the expenses of the disastrous expedition against Quebec in 1690, under Sir William Phipps, and which had depreciated to about one-tenth of its nominal value.
      In 1756 it was voted to hire a schoolmaster from the 1st of January to the last of March. In 1757 it was voted to hire a school-dame from the 1st of April to the last of August.
      In 1758, that the selectmen provide a school-dame and a house to keep school in. In 1759 it was voted to have a schoolmaster three months. In 1763 a vote was passed to have a school the year round. In 1767 it was voted, or so recorded, that "those people that han't had their proportion of schooling these three years past shall have it this year if their be money in the treasury;" and it was voted that there be seven districts for schooling,—to wit, one in the Street, three in the meadows, one by Noah Allen's, one in the northeast corner, and one at Ens. Childs', at the falls.
      But one master, and he to move to each district according to the proportion; and to have a school-dame the other six months, and she to keep school in the several districts according to their proportion. Voted to raise £20 for schooling. In 1774 it was voted to divide the district into squadrens for the best advantage for the public schools.
      I have not been able to fix definitely the population of the town previous to 1790. Mr. Willard, in his history of Green-field, puts the population in 1763 at 368. I do not know on what authority. At the first census, taken by the government in 1790, Greenfield returned a population of 1498,—a large growth for twenty-seven years. The return of scholars may throw some light on the matter.
      I have before me a return made to Solomon Smead, treasurer of the selectmen in 1790, of the school children in town, as follows: South School (Street), 60; Meeting-House (Four Corners), 45; Mill Brook (Nash's), 43; Ariel Hinsdale (North Meadow), 40; Country Farms, 23; Log Plain, 69; Fall Brook (Factory), 12; Northeast (Gill), 173; total, 465,—the money for each scholar, 4s. 4d., making £100.
      It is difficult from these figures to get at a fair estimate of the population, for the number of children in a family was much larger than now,—at least twice as large. It is clear that in 1790 the population was well scattered over the town. Log Plain returned more scholars than the Street. It would be a pleasure if one could look in upon those schools of the last century. It would be sure to cure one of a foolish disposition to complain that the former days were so much better than these. I am told, by one whose memory goes back to the last century, that in those schools there was no arrangement of pupils into classes. One by one the older scholars would rise in their seats and say, "Please, sir, may I read?" and if the teacher could attend to him, he read such a piece as he had selected from any book he chose. Another would say, "Please, sir, show me how to do this sum;" another, "Please, sir, set me a copy." When the teacher could find time he called the little ones to him one by one and initiated them into the profound mysteries of A, B, C. No blackboard, no apparatus, very few text-books, but no lack of ferule and rod.
      The school-house of those days was a rude, unpainted building, very often of logs, containing a single room, at one end a huge fireplace, on which the great sticks of green wood dug out of the snow burned freely and fiercely when once fairly kindled, which was often not accomplished till the school-day was wellnigh over. In the mean time the urchins and big boys and girls sat shivering on benches made of slabs, with sticks stuck in for legs. A
      t the close of the last century the school-house in the Street stood on Franklin Street, where the shop of Ezra Wiley now stands. This house was burned in 1825.
      From the first, Greenfield has taken great interest in her public schools, and has been liberal in appropriations for their support. Under the district system great difficulty was found in dividing the school money among the various districts. Different plans prevailed from year to year.
      In 1844 this method was adopted: "Two-twelfths of the money are placed in the hands of the selectmen and school committee, to be distributed according to the wants of the district. Ten-twelfths are divided,—one-half according to the number of scholars, one-half according to taxes paid. Lowest sum in any district, $67.78." When the district system was abolished, in 1869, all the money was placed in the hands of the school committee.

High School.

      In 1853 a high school was established, and was kept one-half the year in the village, and one-half in the north parish. The first teacher was Luther B. Lincoln, A.M. (Harvard University, 1822). The high-school house was built on Chapman Street in 1857, and in 1872 a new and more commodious one was erected on Pleasant Street.
      In 1876 the State of Massachusetts attempted to show at the "Centennial Exhibition" what it was doing for public education and the results attained, not only in cities, but in a country town which was too remote from any city to be influenced by it, and Greenfield was selected to make an exhibit, and did so by sending sixteen volumes of work done by pupils of all grades in all her schools, with photographs of all the school-houses. For this exhibit a bronze medal was awarded to the town.

Private Schools.

      The Fellenberg Academy was incorporated in 1832, as a manual-labor school. It was very popular for a while under the charge of James H. Coffin, an excellent teacher, but in a few years it proved unsuccessful, and was given up.
      The brick building erected for this school on Main Street served for the public schools for many years. A private school for young ladies was opened in 1828, in the Coleman house, now occupied by J. H. Hollister, Esq. It was kept for a while by Rev. Henry Jones, and afterward by Rev. L. L. Langstroth. It was given up in 1845.
      A school for young ladies was kept by the Misses Stone in their house, on Federal Street, for several years.
      In 1868 the estate of D. N. Carpenter was purchased by some gentlemen, who were incorporated under the title of "PROSPECT HILL SCHOOL FOR YOUNG LADIES." The first principal was Miss Lois R. Wright, who, in 1872, was succeeded by her sister, Miss Sabra Wright.
      Miss Ruth Russell opened a private school for young ladies in her house in 1853, which continued successfully till failing health compelled her to give it up in 1866.

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