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Schools -- Parker School Fund-Libraries, and College


four years

While Shirley remained a part of Groton territory no school was established within its bounds. The limited pecuniary ability of the settlers precluded the ancient town the privilege of attending to the literary wants of the inhabitants that were located in her remote sections, (or "angles," as the outside districts were called,) and these were necessarily left without any public means of instruction. Even after Shirley became a corporate district, it was

before any town movement was made to establish the means of public instruction. Hence, a large part of an entire generation—the last of which "have been gathered to their fathers” within a few years—never enjoyed the privilege of passing a day within a public school-room. And yet, as there were but few of that generation who could not read, write, and cast up common accounts, it is certain that home instruction was not neglected. Indeed, it is known that several individuals, of respectable standing as townsmen and town officials, acquired even the rudiments of learning in their mothertongue after they had arrived at the age of eighteen years, and with little other than self-help! In one instance an aged man told the writer of this history that he did not know even the first letter of the alphabet until after he was married; when, through the assistance of his wife, he secured such a knowledge of the literary requirements of the day, as enabled him to hold a respectable place in society.

In May, 1757, the town voted "to have a school for three months, and to have it commence in August or September.” This school was convened in an apartment of the dwelling-house of Mr. Jonas Longley. The same house was afterward owned and occupied by Andrew Jackson Reed, and stood on the farm now owned by Augustus Holden. This house-together with a large barn, then recently erected, and filled with hay and grainwas destroyed by fire Aug. 16, 1851.*

Schools were held in other places, from time to time, down to the opening of the war of the Revolution, when —owing to the straitened condition of the town finances, they were suspended until the close of the struggle for independence. The happy termination of this struggle imparted new hope to the people, and secured increased educational effort. The schools were then resumed, increased and enlarged, as occasion required, giving every child an opportunity to participate of the benefits of public instruction.

The first school-house was built in the centre of the town, for the use of all the children in town, and stood on the land and near the present residence of Rev. Seth Chandler. It was a very humble edifice, about twenty feet square, singly covered with rough boards, without inside ceiling, but was furnished with a cellar, to which access was gained through a trap-door in the centre of the

In one corner of the apartment stood a huge fireplace, built of rough stones, and surmounted by a chimney of the same material. The room was furnished with a few seats made of rough planks, and with writing benches constructed of boards over which a plane never passed. To facilitate the means of supporting a school for a few weeks each year, it was customary to rent the building to some pedagogue or school-marm as a tenement, in part payment for his or her services in " teaching the young idea how to shoot.”


*See Appendix E.

Dame Nutting-as she was reverently called at the time, by people of every age-occupied this responsible station for many seasons. Such was the obesity of this female official, that she might have stood beside Falstaff himself without losing aught by the comparison. To supply therefore the defect of an unwieldy movement, she kept herself supplied with a stick—some six feet in length —with which she reduced her urchin crew to a state of due subordination while seated in her chair-throne, from which she seldom moved. Hand bells had not then been invented, and as a substitute the dame would step outside the door and ply her stick to the weather-beaten ceiling, as a warning to her noisy crew that her recess had come to a close. And woe to the recusant wight who did not heed the signal, -as the recent notions in regard to corporal punishment formed no part of the school-code in those days.

The work of school-teaching was assumed by Dame Nutting at a late period of her life. In her younger days she broke the monotony of household duties by a very different employment. She made occasional excursions to Boston, and procured young negroes—either by gift or purchase,-for whom she secured homes, at a price, in Shirley and vicinity. She traveled on horseback, and conveyed her infant charge in panniers. Andrew Mitchell, who was a soldier in the war of the Revolution -and from whom descended several families—was one of the proteges of this afterward famous school-dame.

It was soon found that the one school-house would but poorly accommodate all the children in town, even when distance was not considered ; and, hence, three separate districts were established, having the names of the Centre, the North and the South. The Centre claimed the only school-building, that which has been described, -while the other two held their school-sessions in private houses. The North was convened in the house near the present north school-house, known as the Reuben Hartwell place, and the South in different places, as convenience

allowed. Near the close of the century the three districts furnished themselves with school-buildings as good as the times would permit. That at the north occupied the site of the present structure. It received one or two revisals in the course of its time, and, in 1844, gave place to the one now in use ;-was removed and devoted to the

purpose of a blacksmith shop—the same now owned by Charles Holden. The centre school-house stood upon the common, near the present location of the First-Parish meetinghouse. In the South district, the first school-house stood upon the side of the road opposite the dwelling of John Park, Esq. It has since been converted into a dwellinghouse.

In process of time the town was re-divided, and formed six districts. They were severally called the Middle, South-Middle, South, North, East and Southeast. Each of these districts erected its school-building, and without an exception they stood on, or near, the sites of the present structures. The Shakers had a school by themselves, and it constituted the Seventh district.*

Down to the year 1843 the buildings for the use of schools were erected at the expense of the several districts. As many of the districts were small they could afford nothing but cheap edifices, most of which were ill-constructed and uncomfortable. At the last-named date the town voted to assume the buildings, at a fair appraisement, and they have all been exchanged for new and, in most cases, expensive structures. At the time the school buildings became town property, each had its number attached to it, by a law of the Commonwealth,—and they have since continued to be thus designated. ·

In 1846 District No. Ŝ was very unnecessarily divided, thus forming what has since been known as the Eighth district.

With the exception of three of the school-buildingsthose in No. 4, No. 6 and No. 8--all have been erected

*See Appendix F.

since 1855. They were all constructed on a new and improved plan, are of brick, and furnished with patent desks, and in every way well adapted to their intended purposes. No. 3 is sufficiently large to accommodate two departments of a graded school; it is thus used, and the building is so constructed that there is no necessary connection or commingling of the pupils that belong to the different departments. Within the last twenty years more than twenty thousand dollars have been expended on school-buildings, the amount raised for the support of schools nearly trebled, while the increase of population has been comparatively small.

The public finances, for several years, have been sufficient to sustain each school for twenty-four weeks during the year; and for the future the time will be lengthened to thirty weeks, divided into three terms of ten weeks each. Public schools have been lengthened by private subscription, from time to time, and a select school of three months has usually been holden in the basement of the town-hall, in the autumn of the year.

This room is large and well ventilated, and otherwise well adapted to the purpose."

Much larger benefits might be realized from the finances of the school if all the schools in town should be reduced to the principle of gradation. This might be easily done by transporting, at the public expense, the few scholars who live in the remote parts of the town. Three institutions, of each three grades, would complete the school organization on this plan, and give longer terms and better schools, at less cost, than at present exist. The child of four years requires a different method of instruction and discipline from the pupil of fifteen years, and in mixed schools, under the most favorable circumstances, difficulties may arise which not seldom defeat the ends of instruction, to both descriptions of learners.

There are elderly people in all our towns who can see and rejoice over the contrast between present school-facilities and those experienced in their early days—when

*See Appendix G.

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