School Days: Former Schoolhouses

Early School Days in Manchester

In 1642, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law that required heads of households to teach all their dependents — apprentices and servants as well as their own children — to read English or face a fine.
“Forasmuch as the good education of children is of singular [behoove] and benefit to any commonwealth … it is ordered that the selectmen of every town shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren and neighbors, to see, first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any part of their families as not to endeavor to teach, by themselves or others their children and apprentices so much learning as may enable them to read the English tongue and knowledge of the capital laws.”

A few years after the 1645 incorporation of the town of Manchester, the Massachusetts Commonwealth’s Education Law of 1647, known as the “Old Deluder Satan Law,” was passed.
“It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, … It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read … And it is further ordered, that when any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar school.

As there are no records of schools for the first fifty years of the town’s history, it is assumed that any education was taught in the home. (However, the first fifteen years of town records are lost, so it is unknown whether there were any earlier references to schools.) The first mention of “scooles” in Manchester was not until 1686 when a directive was issued to find a “Scoole Master.” Apparently the town was using private houses as the school as provision was made only for a schoolmaster.

The first mention in town records of a schoolhouse was at the town meeting of February 10, 1723, when it was voted “that a scool hous should be built” and “be set to the southward of ye meeting hous.” It was also voted that every child who goes to school should pay five shillings per week, and that the town should be assessed £10 annually for the next four years to support a “free school for all sexes” to teach reading, writing, English and cyphering (mathematics). “Free school” seems misleading, as tuition was expected, but town records show that the town covered the tuition of children from families who could not afford their tuition bill.

School Districting

In 1736, the town proposed four districts to be set up with four school dames to teach. The four districts were Kettle Cove, the Plains, the Meeting House (Middle) area and Newport. (This district system lasted until 1851.) It was resolved that the town would pay £25 for the school dames, and an additional £25 to pay for a schoolmaster to teach a free school in the schoolhouse during the fall and winter seasons. The residents were to provide a suitable housing for the school dames as well as classroom space, and the scholars’ families were to supply the schoolmaster wood for the winter season for attending the “free school.” This is probably the reason that for the first two years of the district system, the fall and winter terms convened in the main schoolhouse, as providing heating for one building was easier.
By 1742, Manchester’s population was over 100 families so to comply with the still valid 1647 education law, the town appropriated £80 for a grammar school which probably met in the schoolhouse.

In his 1897 schooldays reminisces, Deacon Albert Everett Low described some of the buildings used as schools, “The first school I attended was in a little building that stood on the site of the Trask house.” Records tell us that Reverend/Parson Thurston’s daughter ran a “charity” school above a shop on that location.

Deacon Low’s next school was on the 3rd floor of another building, and a later school was in the area of the future Row School, “…school was kept in any house not occupied… We had no stoves… The room was very cold, and I know there was a hole in the roof large enough to see the crows fly over. We would have to keep going down to the fireplace to get warm.”

The American Revolution interrupted education for a few years. On November 4, 1775, the town voted to “dismiss the town school from this day.” With war looming, preparations were made in case of an invasion; alarm posts were readied and trenches built.

When the war ended, the town resumed “normal” life. However, education in Manchester did not resume to acceptable levels quickly enough. In 1783, the General Court cited Manchester for neglect of its schools. So in 1785, a new schoolhouse was approved, and the town was assessed £50 for its construction. At that same 1785 meeting, it was decided to appropriate money for a grammar school after the new schoolhouse was finished. The Kettle Cove district also started raising money for a schoolhouse since the outer districts had been meeting in private homes.

Chapel School

In 1828, John Price came to Manchester from Tamworth, New Hampshire, at the age of 20 to serve as a teacher. He first taught at Newport School then the Middle District School in the Town House on School Street.

After a brief period teaching elsewhere, Price returned and opened a private school in 1836 in a building on Chapel Lane which is now part of the First Parish Church Congregational Chapel building. (This was not a new activity for that building as William Long had used this same space in 1835 for his renowned private nautical school for future mariners.) Not surprisingly, Price named his school the Chapel School His students came from all over the world and ranged in ages 6 to 20 years old. Initially the cost for board in his house at 21 School Street, which included washing and mending, was $2.60 to $3.00 per week for males and $2.00 to $2.50 for females, about $200 per year. All pupils were required to attend public worship, and a charge of 50 cents per term was charged for a seat in church. The school year consisted of a summer term of 10 weeks, a fall and winter term of 12 weeks each, and a spring term of 10 weeks.

By 1855, Price’s co-ed boarding academy enrollment was 66 boys and 51 girls with assistant teachers to help with instruction. Needing more space, Price moved his school to the second floor of 12 School Street (which is now the site of the fire station).

In 1872, at the age of 64, Price closed his school but continued to teach some pupils in his house until 1882. In all, he taught over 1,700 students from all over the world at his small but highly regarded school. On August 12, 1891, a reunion of former students was held to honor Deacon John Price, as he was later known. He died in 1895 at the age of 88. However, he would be remembered for many decades with the multi-classroom building on Norwood Avenue named in his honor.

Middle District School House
aka Giles Cottage

On March 14, 1785, the town voted to build a schoolhouse (the future Giles Cottage) “21 feet wide and 26 feet Longe with a upright Chamber” to be “Built on the same place ware [where] the old school hous Now stands” (near the Meeting House). This was the first recorded schoolhouse for which the town contributed funds toward the construction; prior to this each district was responsible for raising the funds themselves for schoolhouses. This building was used until the early 1800’s when the students of the Middle District moved out of the building and into the “Town House” which was on the present site of the fire station.

In 1811, the former schoolhouse was sold to George Cross for $127 and moved to the corner of School and Brook Streets and became a private home. Its front was originally facing Brook Street. It was later picked up again and turned 90 degrees to face School Street. This must have been a sturdy little building to have survived being moved twice!

Matthew and Harriet Allan Giles bought the property in 1845 and raised 10 children there, hence the naming of the building as the “Giles Cottage.” The house remained in the Giles family for a number of generations. Eleanor Giles Cosman (who donated these images to MHM) inherited the property from her cousin, Mrs. Joseph Lipman.

Central Schools

In 1818, the town voted to assist the Middle School District (which would be a partial owner) in the construction of a building on School Street that would house some classrooms. The building was on rented property belonging to the First Parish Church and was called Parsonage Land. The school was referred to as the Central/ Middle District School. Officially, however, the building was called the “Town House” (later the Engine House) and also housed the town’s first library, Lyceum, Board of Selectmen’s room and, later, fire engines. It was the ultimate all-purpose building!

In 1848 when the town voted to establish its first high school, the Middle School District Committee was instructed to “put the Town [House] in suitable condition to accommodate the High School.” The high school remained on the first floor until 1851, when a new high school building was built on Cheever’s Hill on Bennett Street.

On April 17, 1851, the Middle District ended as a corporation and conveyed its partial ownership of the Town House to the town. That same year, the town voted to move the building from its rented property on School Street to another location; however, in 1854 it was decided to purchase the rented land under and adjacent to the Town House instead.

When the Town House needed additional classroom space, the town voted in 1868 to build a new Town Hall on the common, with classrooms on the first floor.

The Central/Middle District’s intermediate and grammar classes were housed in these new classrooms at the Town Hall while the primary classes remained at the Town House, which had also become home to the fire department’s pump engines on the first floor. Over time, the school classes switched buildings as needed.

The 1889 School Committee’s Annual Report listed problems with poor lighting, heating and ventilation in the aging Town/Engine House. In addition, “The means of egress from this building seem to be about the worst that could be devised. There is but one stairway, and it is steep and dangerous. In case of an alarm of fire, if the pupils should be dismissed, those who didn’t break their necks upon the stairs would stand a good chance of being run over by the engines coming out on both sides of the door.”

These were some of the reasons prompting the town to build a new multi-classroom school building in 1890. When the new George A. Priest School opened on Norwood Avenue, all the Central School classes were relocated there. In 1891, the Town/Engine House was sold to Samuel Knight, and the building was moved to the rear of his Central Street house to make room for a new fire station. In a paper for the then Historical Society, Enoch Follett remembered when “they moved Central School across the ice on the channel and left it on the west side of Elm Street for years.” It was eventually demolished.

Cove School

This image shows the second Cove School built in 1889 that was located on the triangle of the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and Summer Street. This was not the first site nor building for a Cove School. An earlier Cove School was built in the 1820’s closer to the town center on Summer Street but was moved in 1848 to become the Row School at the corner of Summer and Forest Streets. Prior to that, Cove students met in private homes until the first schoolhouse was built.

After the Priest School was built in 1890 on Norwood Avenue, all the one-room schoolhouses were closed, and their students moved into the new multi-classroom building EXCEPT for the brand-new Cove School pupils. Despite yearly requests by the School Committee to do so, the families who sent their children to Cove School refused to send their children all the way into town, so Cove School remained open through the early 1900’s as a one-room multi-grade school for about a dozen students. It is still listed as the Cove School on the 1921 Sanborn map.

After the school was permanently closed, the unused building was sold in 1932 and moved closer to town where it was converted into a series of restaurants including The Cove School Restaurant & Ice Cream House, The Dutch Bowl (Dutchland Restaurant) and Sundae Cottage. Today it is part of a private residence at 348 Summer Street. That restaurant structure is now a private home.

Row School

On August 6, 1848, the former Cove Schoolhouse was moved to the corner of Summer and Forest Streets to become Row School. This lot was previously referred to as the “Clay Pit” lot which had been set off in 1718 by the town as a source of clay used for bricks, chinking roofs and chimneys.

Prior to this time, the school for the North Yarmouth neighborhood was probably located within a private home. In 1738, the town mandated that each school district was responsible for providing their own schoolhouse and teachers. To cover the cost, families paid tuition to their districts.

The Row School was overseen by a private district committee until 1851, when ownership was handed over to the town. Row School continued to be used until 1890 when the new Priest School absorbed the students from most of the one-room schoolhouses within the town.

An announcement in the July 9, 1892, issue of the Cricket listed the Row School as a site for storing fire hoses. The former schoolhouse remained in the town’s possession for a while and was used for storage. In 1927, the town decided to put the building up for auction.

On July 2, 1927, the Row School was sold to the Sons of Union Veterans for $35 and was soon moved to 4 Brook Street to be transformed into the headquarters for the S. of U.V and Women’s Relief Corps. In 1942, the building hosted a 50th anniversary remembrance of the Sons of Union Veterans’ organization as reported on the front page of the April 3, 1942, Manchester Cricket. In 1971, the former Row School was torn down to make way for a new residence.

Newport School

The Newport School stood on the corner of Harbor and Bridge Streets, now the Old Corner Inn site. In 1822 Major Henry Story donated a lot on Harbor Street to the town to be used as the site of a school house, which was soon built. The Newport School can be seen at right at the corner of Harbor Street and Bridge Street.

When Oliver Roberts bought the property in 1898, he moved the schoolhouse. The inn is now on its former site. According to the locals, the former Newport schoolhouse is still close by as part of the garage-barn behind the inn.

Plain School

The Plain School was on Rosedale Avenue very close to where the Crowell Chapel now stands. It was built sometime before 1851. It continued to serve as a school until the 1890 opening of the Priest School. However, the originally 4-room Priest School was soon too crowded, so Plain School was reopened from 1892 to 1895. After it was finally no longer being used as a school, the town voted on March 15, 1898, to convert the building into a chapel for public use.

In 1902, the Rosedale Cemetery Committee acquired additional land along School Street (including the site of the former school) noting that buildings on that land “will be moved.” On Oct. 25, 1902, 3 buildings were sold off at auction. The old chapel (former Plain School) was sold to Chester L. Craft (for $1800). According to our records, on Nov. 2, 1902, the building was moved to 15 Pleasant Street where it was put on top of a new first floor and converted into a house.

George A. Priest School 

In the 1889 School Committee Report, the “inadequacies” of the Middle District’s schools and the single-room schoolhouses on the outskirts were presented. The town decided it was time to build a multi-room schoolhouse to centralize the primary and intermediate schools.

In 1890, the Roberts’ lot on the corner of Washington Street and Norwood Avenue was purchased to build the George A. Priest School. (Mr. Priest had been a long-time School Committee member and advocate for Manchester’s education system.) The town paid $4,500 for the lot, and the total cost for the building was $17,916.18. The original building was 72 feet long and 52 feet wide, two stories high (plus an attic), and contained four classrooms.

The building was finished in the fall of 1890 and opened to students at the beginning of the next year. On January 10, 1891, the Manchester Cricket filled over a page detailing the dedication ceremony of the newly completed building. Many notable Manchester residents gave speeches during the ceremony.

The pupils in this new school came from the former Plain, Row, Middle District Intermediate and Primary schools. Newport School had already been closed at this point, and those students had been going to the Middle District Schools. The Cove School, however, stayed open for a number of years more, as parents didn’t want to send their young children far away into town. By 1932, Cove School was closed and that building sold. However, the Priest School soon became overcrowded. Consequently the Plain School was reopened to house some of the primary students for a few years until the town added two more classrooms to the Priest School in 1895. 

The basement of the school contained girls’ and boys’ playrooms and bathrooms. The attic was used for special classes. Water for the bathrooms was supplied by a tank in the attic, which was run by a force pump. The classrooms were heated from a register that circulated hot air into and around the rooms. Electric bells in each room rang to signify the end of the school day. All these features were “state of the art” for that time and much better than the former pot-bellied stoves and outhouses used at the former one-room schoolhouses.

Two more classrooms were added in 1899 so the first through eighth grades were now housed in the building. Included in these additions was a new front porch entry. Prior to the new front entry, students entered from the back through separate entrances for the girls and boys!

When the John Price School was opened in 1905, the younger classes moved there while the older grades remained at the Priest School. Priest School remained in use until the building of Memorial School and was eventually torn down in 1954.

John Price School

Later Story High School #2

In 1904, the School Committee recommended the construction of an eight-room school building, but that recommendation was later changed to a smaller 4 room building. The land at the corner of Norwood Avenue and Brook Street was purchased for $8,300 from the former Morley, Flatley and Co. contractors and quarry business seen here from Washington Street. The building was completed in 1906 and cost $34,000. It was named for Deacon John Price, a schoolmaster who taught in Manchester for 60 years and served on the School Committee for many years. The Price School held about 125 pupils from kindergarten up to third grade. There was also a pre-school at times.

In 1952, the town voted during an annual meeting to refurbish Price School to become the new location of Story High School when its former building on Bennett Street was closed. It remained Manchester’s high school through October 1961, when the new junior and senior high building on Lincoln Street opened. During the months leading up to the move into the new building, two sessions were held at Story High: grades 9-12 in the morning and grades 7-8 in the afternoon. 

In the 1962 Town Report, a proposal was presented to move town offices into the former Story High building. If this recommendation wasn’t accepted, then it was proposed to demolish the building and retain the property for playground use. In the 1963 Town Report, another proposal for the property was that it become the location of a future fire and police building; that idea was rejected as well. The property did eventually become a town park, as proposed earlier. Having found no further use for the building, it was finally razed in 1966.

Manchester High School

Later Junior/Senior High School

In January 1963, the new Manchester High School on Lincoln Street celebrated its opening dedication. This building replaced the Story High School (#2) that was then in the former John Price School building on Norwood Avenue. In 1972, a proposal for a two-storied addition, that was eventually built, was presented to the town’s residents to add needed space and make the campus a combined Junior and Senior High School. This enlarged campus was used until 2009 when the new Manchester-Essex Regional Middle and High School building replaced the aging structure.

Manchester Memorial School

To replace the aging and smaller Priest School, Manchester Memorial School was built on farmland near the site of a barn which can be seen in the background of the playground on Brook Street. The new building consisted of two classroom wings as well as an auditorium, cafeteria, gym, home economics room, “shop room” and a separate kindergarten room. The completed building was dedicated on July 28, 1952. The name, “Memorial,” was chosen to memorialize the Manchester men lost during WWII.

After almost 70 years the Memorial School faculty said good-bye to their old classrooms in June 2020 before the classroom wings were demolished to make way for the new Manchester Memorial School that was already under construction and opened in that fall.