A Brief History of Education in the Town of Hampton

Contributed by Bruce E. Russell
Headmaster, Hampton Academy & High School

The Hampton Union & Rockingham County Gazette

March 17, 1938

In this the 300th anniversary of the birth of Hampton it is well to call attention to the fact that the town occupies a position of preeminence in the field of education. According to early historians the first public school law to be recorded is that of Massachusetts in 1647 requiring every town of fifty families to support an elementary school to teach reading, writing and arithmetic and every town of a hundred families to have a grammar school in which boys could prepare for college. The records show that many towns failed to obey the law, but not so in Hampton. To find a competent teacher and to provide means for his support could not be an easy matter, for less than ten years before the whole territory was an unbroken wilderness, with no roads and no inhabitants other than Indians. Yet in a little over a year the selectmen had agreed with John Leget "On the 2 of the 2 month, 1649 - To teach and instruct all the children of or belonging to our Towne, both mayle (sic) and female (which are capable of learning) to write and read and cast accountes (sic) (if it be desired), as diligently and as carefully as he is able to teach and instruct them." The agreement further provides that the pay shall be twenty pounds payed (sic) in corn and cattle at the price current. The school was actually started on: "The 21 day of the 3 month 1649" or May 31, 1649 as we now recon time.

Thus we see that one of the first schools in the present state of New Hampshire was here in Hampton and within a very short time of the earliest in the country. It is also worthy of note that Hampton provided for both boys and girls in a day when women were supposed to be modestly busy in the kitchen or modestly idle in the parlor. From the first, Hampton's schools were co-educational.

There are on record numerous votes passed by the town, relating to schools and the hiring of teachers during the next 150 years. The names of several have been learned and some facts in regard to them. They were frequently men of some importance and occupied an honored position in the community. Evidently, money was hard to raise for several of them brought suit to collect their wages. The usual way of employing a teacher was for the town to authorize and direct the selectmen, or a special committee chosen for the purpose, to attend to the business, leaving them to act in general according to their own judgment, but sometimes giving particular instructions. Not all of the teachers were college graduates but a large part of them were liberally educated. "Graduate of Harvard College" is frequently mentioned.

The town school was located in the vicinity of the meeting house although it was sometimes removed to the Falls side and the northerly part of the town (now North Hampton). In 1756 the selectmen were to have the liberty of starting a Grammer (sic) school. In 1757 it was voted "to allow some money to support the schools at Bride hill and Drake side" (the western part of the town). Then follow in the records several votes dividing the town into districts according to the fashion of the day. The number varied from time to time but toward the end of the era there were six. Although districts persisted down until they sometimes changed in area these were abolished by law in 1885.

The first information concerning school houses appears in 1692 when it was voted to build within the fort a fourteen by sixteen foot house, for the use of the minister and when not occupied by him to be used as a school house. It is probable that at first the church was used as a school, too.

In 1712 the first school was built on the site of the present Center School. It was destroyed by fire and another was built in 1737 of the same dimensions, twenty-four by twenty feet at a cost of 25 pounds. In 1873 this was replaced after nearly fifty years of service by a larger wooden one of two stories at a cost of $4,500. When the present building was constructed it was moved over beside the town hall where it now serves the double purpose of fire house and legion hall. In 1921 the Center School was built at a cost of about $90,000 when equipped. Thus we see that over a period of 226 years five buildings, each one larger and more costly, have occupied the present site of the Center School.

At the east end there is a small wooden building and later (in 1825) a brick one. These were replaced in 1873 by a two story wooden building at a cost of $5,350. This structure still [in 1938] remains in its original site.

District No. 3's school was located on Mill Road just beyond Ann's Lane. When districts were discontinued it was moved to Dearborn Ave. where it is now [1938] used as the home by Mr. Eastman and family.

The north end school was located on Lafayette Road just above the Marston homestead. It was moved across the road and is now [1938] in use as a shed.

The Bride Hill school was on Exeter Road just this side of the car barn. The last structure, a brick building, has been torn down.

The Drakeside school was in the corner of the Hampton Falls and Drakeside roads. It was burned down just a few years ago.

All through these early years, schools have been maintained, but thus far, no person or persons appear to have been appointed to supervise them. In 1801, the town voted, "A committee to examine our schools to the year ensuing." The selectmen were directed to raise what money the law required for the support of the schools, and to take advice of the school committee on how the money might be laid out to the best advantage.

In a few instances during the nineteenth century, the town failed to have a school committee but generally a committee was chosen at the town meeting or appointed by the selectmen. A few years it consisted of five persons, more frequently three, but for many years of only one. The reports of these committees appear in the town reports and in many cases reveal a clear view of the school problems. They are interesting reading and relate many homely situations much different from our day, and yet you are impressed more with the similarity than the contrast.

One of the most outstanding of these superintendents is Dr. William T. Merrill whose energy and enthusiasm led to the union of Academy and high-school having a specified course of study in 1885. Thus the completion of a unified system of twelve grades with promotion to the high school carried the school into a new era.

The year 1885 then marks the opening of a new arrangement. The union of Academy and high-school rounding out the public school system and twelve full years of work, school districts were abolished by law causing the establishment of one grammer (sic) school for the town with such primary schools as were deemed necessary. Promotion then from the first grade of the primary school to the last grade of the high school with graduation as an incentive became possible. The new plan was at once a success and has been continued with some modification ever since.

Another important event was the decision to combine all the schools in one modern building. There had been many inconveniences such as the pupils of the 7th and 8th grades marching up to the Academy from the grammer school to take classes in French, domestic arts, and manual training. It was decided to locate the new building on the site that had been used for schools for so many years. Commissioner Pringle spoke at the dedication, March 29, 1922 saying that Hampton was one of the pioneers in education in the state. With the opening of the school in September the ninth grade was move down from the Academy to relieve crowded conditions thereby creating the Hampton Junior High School. Thus we have the system that now [1938] is: six individual grades, three years of Junior High School and three years in the Senior High School.