By Rev. Roland D. Sawyer
Hampton Union, May 12 & 19, 1955
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]
The placing of the little District School House, a type in common use in New Hampshire Towns 1830 to 1860, by the Memorial Green Association upon its ground must bring to our attention older days in our town educational systems which led up to the school house in our picture, since the Civil War we are more familiar with the same. Hampton is one of the pioneer towns in New England and from its original territory nine daughter towns were carried out, viz Kingston, Hampton Falls, North Hampton, Kensington, Rye, East Kingston, Danville, Sandown, and Seabrook.
The history of schools in the mother town and all daughter towns was the same.
First the parish hired some man to teach school a few weeks in each year in his own house, or a convenient house. If possible this teacher taught in two places so that boys and girls could attend from the two sides of the town; and some times more than two.
As many boys were large it required a man to teach. Later in the same way the parish or a group of residents hired a woman to teach a dame-school for girls, especially the smaller ones.
Then came the building of a small building in several sections of the town. Each school had a few weeks and some towns hired one teacher to do all the teaching and moving from school to school.
These buildings were small and built on land secured for a small sum to be property of the town so long as used for school purposes; this was so when school population changed in size the school house could be moved.
When the orderly district school system came in, some of the little houses continued to be used, others were sold for Shops or other use.
So far as I know the little red school house at East Andover which was attended by some of my ancestors is the only one still standing as originally used in this state.
A few years ago there were two others and I wrote the State Board of Education to secure the three but they were not interested, and one of them was sold to a man for a shanty and the other torn down.
Hampton had several of them, so did the daughter towns, my town of Kensington once had five of them.
They were small, about 12 or 14 feet long by 12 or 12 wide. Three rows of seats ran the long way and the floor arose over a foot in the length, this allowed all scholars to be ever under the watchful eye of the teacher, who sat back of his desk at the end of the building, first by the fire-place, later by a stove.
Around 1825 or 1830 the custom of the slanted floor was abandoned and the little building like the one in our photo cut was given a level floor.
Where and for how long the schools would be kept was regulated each year by District School meetings, generally the school was a "Dame-Kept" school for the spring and fall terms, for smaller pupils, the larger boys and girls.
With a winter term kept by a "master" for schooling must stop at 21 and often the big boys in their cow-hide boots would be "20 years and 6 months" or in that region of age.
Some pretty big and rough boys attended the little school house of our cut at some winter terms. Girls did not attend so old, generally 14 or 15 was the limit, there was work for them at home in winter as well as summer and then there was not much enthusiasms for educating girls beyond reading and writing and geography and some arithmetic.
The average cost per pupil for the education of the children of Hampton today is forty times what it was 70 years ago and 150 times as much as it was before 1800.
May 26, 1647, the Massachusetts General Court, of Which laws Hampton was then required to obey, demanded every town of 50 families to maintain a public school.
April 1649, Hampton carried out the vote by hiring John Legat of Exeter to teach and instruct all children, both male and female, to read, write, and cast accounts. On May 21 the first public school in Hampton opened.
Taxes to raise the money were backward and Legat sued the selectmen at a later date for what had not been paid him.
1714 the town chose a school committee to have charge of the town schooling.
Early school masters around 1660 taught nine months on Hampton side of Taylor River and three months on Hampton Falls side.
The school moved about and each pupil got about three months in each town, each town meeting voting where it should be kept.
1756 it was voted that if a grammar school be needed the town provide such.
1759 it was voted to have a special school six months to teach reading and writing in addition to the general schools.
1772 the town was divided into four districts, the districts were at North Hill (now North Hampton); at Bride Hill (Exeter Road) and Drakeside Road; at the Meeting House Green; and where ye committee shall locate it.
State law in 1805 required a town to set up districts which Hampton did in 1807, setting up 4 district on four roads in the four parts of the town.
School houses were built from around 1675 to take place of teaching in barns, rooms of private homes, etc.
1823 the three brick school houses were built, that at Bride Hill standing till a later date.
1850 to 1855 some small school building for greater convenience of the families of the town, and I think it most likely that the Henderson School house moved to Memorial Green was one of such -- this would make it around 100 years old, but small houses were built for the next 20 years, so it might be later.
Mrs. Grace Marston Ware has kindly given me the names of several who attended this school in the Memorial Green building:
They were, Mrs. Ware and her brother Irving Marston, Orrin Lane, son of Ira and Sarah Lane, whose house we had in this column in the issue of Nov. 11, 1954; Gertie Lane, daughter of Oliver; Carrie Brown, daughter of William Brown; Lizzie, Hattie and Alice Spalding, children of Mr. Spalding the Methodist minister at the time; Herbert Marston, older brother of Adeline Marston; Mattie Brown who lived at the home of John C. Marston; Mart Bachelder, daughter of Arthur Bachelder; George H. Towle, son of Abraham Towle; a Norris boy, son of Abbott Norris.
The best remembered teacher at the school, by Mrs. Ware is Sarah Shepherd.
I am not sure of the number of the district but it was called in newspaper references as "The Main Road School" and it stood above the home of Miss Adeline Marston.
When the new committee gets its new building built and we contrast it with the Main Road School House now on Memorial Green, and we see the cost of education at 40 times what it was then, we wonder if after all it will turn out any brighter boys and girls to become useful and upright citizens, than did the modest district schools of older days. R.D.S.