Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Central Maine high schools

Old Cony High School – Flat Iron building.

by Mary Grow

According to Millard Howard’s history of Palermo, an 1817 Massachusetts law that apparently carried over into Maine in 1820 required each town with 50 families to provide a primary school and each town with 200 families to have a grammar school whose teacher was able to teach Latin and Greek.

Alice Hammond’s history of Sidney has a slightly different version, perhaps referring to a different law: she wrote that when the population reached 100 families, “the authorities should set up a grammar school to instruct youth for the university.”

Over the years, central Kennebec Valley towns have complied with the law by supporting a local public high school, contracting to send students to a larger town’s public high school or contracting with a private high school.

This essay and its successor will not attempt to follow all the convolutions in every town and city, nor will they extend much later than 1900. The twentieth century saw a continuation of all three methods, with state law establishing various consolidated programs (Maine School Administrative Districts, Regional School Unions, Alternative Organizational Structures) and with the foundation of new private schools, secular and religious.

This series has already partly discussed the public high schools in the cities of Augusta and Waterville, in connection with their former homes in historic buildings that are now Cony Flatiron Residence and Gilman Place (see the issues of The Town Line for Sept. 2 and Aug. 26, respectively). This week’s article will summarize some earlier high-school buildings in the two cities, as described in local histories.

Public high schools in Augusta

According to Kingsbury, Augusta’s first high school opened in 1803. It seems to have been a private corporation – he wrote that “a group of citizens” put up a brick grammar school building where Bridge Street then ended at State Street (Bridge Street has since then continued west another six-plus blocks). Shareholders could send one student for each share owned.

School started in the spring of 1804, with “a Mr. Cheney” teaching courses that included the “dead languages.” (Wikipedia says there are at least 673 dead languages, defined as those “that no longer have a native speaking community.” Kingsbury probably meant Ancient Greek and Latin.)

The building burned in 1807, Kingsbury said. Until 1835, Augusta students wanting more than a primary education could attend Hallowell Academy.

On Feb. 19, 1835, Kingsbury wrote, the Maine legislature approved incorporation of the Augusta Classical School Association. This group, headed by seven directors, raised money by selling shares.

The Association bought the lot where the earlier school building stood and built an east-facing, two-story, 65-by-50-foot brick building “with pediment front, supported by four Doric columns of wood.” The first classes started April 18, 1836.

William H. Allen was the preceptor, assisted by his sister, identified as “Miss Allen,” Joseph Baker and Hannah Lambard, whose brother Thomas was one of the directors. Allen was succeeded by two “English ladies” named Taylor, presumably sisters, and then by “Mr. Woodbury.”

Classical School tuition was $6 per term and, Kingsbury wrote, was supposed to support the school. It did for only a few years before the “worthy promoters suffered its doors to be finally closed.”

Meanwhile, an 1833 state law allowed Augusta school districts to combine, and early in 1842 two of them did, forming the Village School District. The new district had 974 students, and the directors decided they needed six primary schools, two grammar schools and one high school.

This district included the site of the earlier high schools, and the Village School District first rented and in 1848 bought, for $3,000, the Classical School building. It was succeeded in 1869 by a building that, Kirk Mohney found in his 1988 research for the National Register of Historic Places listing for the Cony Flatiron, was designed by Francis Fassett (1823-1908). Readers have met Fassett before as the architect of many buildings throughout Maine, including in downtown Augusta (see The Town Line, Feb. 4).

In 1881, Kingsbury wrote, the Village District high school was superseded by Cony Free High School.

Public high schools in Waterville

Waterville High School from 1912 – 1963.

According to Elwood T. Wyman’s chapter in the Rev. Edwin Carey Whittemore’s 1902 bicentennial history of Waterville, primary schools opened before 1802, when Waterville separated from Winslow, and continued afterwards, with the usual fluidity of school district boundaries. Originally designated by names – Ticonic, Ten-lot, Almond Soule’s, Asa Soule’s, for example – the districts were quickly numbered for official reports.

Beginning in 1846, Carey wrote, “more advanced pupils” attended Waterville Academy (later Coburn Classical Institute), founded in 1823. It is puzzling that a page later he wrote of Latin and French being “authorized” as high-school courses in 1855; and of teachers “of high and grammar grades” being asked in 1859 to report weekly to parents on their children’s “conduct and scholarship,” as though Waterville officials were in charge.

In and after 1864, Carey continued, “pupils of high school rank” were sent to Waterville Academy, and Waterville paid the Academy $4.50 a term for tuition. The agreement continued until Waterville Free High School opened in 1876.

Carey listed nine “masters” (principals) of Waterville Free High School, all Colby graduates. The ninth had just resigned, and in 1902 was to be succeeded by Richard W. Sprague, Colby 1901, Carey wrote.

(Graduating from Colby and immediately becoming Waterville High principal was a recurring pattern, according to Arthur Roberts’ paragraphs on teachers in Whittemore’s history. Lincoln Owen, Colby 1889, was, on Carey’s list, the school’s fourth head, from 1889 to 1893. Next came Dennis Bowman, of Sidney, Colby 1893, who served until 1898. The principal who was departing in 1902, John Edward Nelson, of China, Colby 1898, took over in September 1898, according to Roberts. Carey, who included no dates, listed three other men between Bowman and Nelson.)

So where was Waterville Free High School between 1876 and its move to Gilman Street in 1912?

In 1853, after long debate, Waterville school officials had two brick primary schools constructed. The one on the 1902 site of North Grammar School (dedicated Feb. 28, 1888) was moved to a College Avenue location and in 1902 was a tenement.

The other 1853 school, presumably the south one, was in 1902 “the main part of the present high school building.”

This 1853 building that was by 1902 incorporated into the high school appears to have been close to the site of the 1920 Albert S. Hall School. The Hall School, at 27 Pleasant Street, housed students in kindergarten through grade six in 1970, according to someone who taught there; it now serves students in fourth and fifth grades, according to its website.

An on-line chronology says in 1922 (10 years after the high school moved to Gilman Street, two years after the Hall School was finished), “Old High School on Pleasant Street was demolished to make room for the new Junior High school construction.”

A brief on-line history of the Hall School says it “has served as Waterville High School” and Waterville Junior High School before becoming an elementary school. But sources cited in the earlier story about Gilman Street School say the high school was there from 1912 until 1963.

(The original Pleasant Street School was renamed in honor of Albert Sedgley Hall, who started his 35-year career in education in Waterville as a sixth-grade teacher and ended it after 11 years as the city’s Superintendent of Schools.)

Backing up to 1902, Carey further noted that in the last 15 years of the 18th century, Waterville officials had overseen construction of four new (primary) schools and remodeling of two older ones; and there was a need for another new primary school “and for a new high school building.”

The new high school was probably the Gilman Street School; readers will remember that construction began in 1912. An on-line chronology adds that in 1914, the “New Senior High School” was damaged by fire.

William H. Allen
and two of his fellow teachers

William Henry Allen (March 27, 1808 – Aug. 29, 1882) had a varied career in education and educational administration.

He was born in Readfield, son of Jonathan and Thankful (Longley) Allen. He went from Kents Hill Seminary to Bowdoin, graduating in 1833, and, the Prabook on-line site says, “received a degree of Doctor of Laws from Union College as well as from Emory and Henry College.”

(Union College, founded in 1795, is a private liberal arts college in Schenectady, New York. Emory and Henry College is in Emory, Virginia; campus construction began in 1836, and the first students were admitted in 1838. It was founded by the Holston Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and is now affiliated with the United Methodist Church.)

From 1833 to 1836 Allen was a Latin and Greek teacher at Oneida Methodist Conference Seminary, Cazenovia, New York. In 1836 he came to Augusta to head the Classical School; he left after six months for Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There he taught chemistry and natural history for 10 years, then philosophy and English literature, and at some point spent most of a year as acting president.

Chosen as president of Girard College, identified on line as a 12-grade college preparatory school in Philadelphia, in 1849, he took over in 1850. He resigned in 1862, but after three years “lecturing and writing” and two years as president of Pennsylvania Agricultural College, now part of Penn State University, in University Park, he returned to Girard for 15 more years described as “most gratifying to him and most valuable to those for whom he labored.”

The Prabook article says nothing about Allen’s sister or other siblings, but it lists his four wives: Martha Ann Richardson (d. 1839); Ellen Honora Curtin (sister of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin); Mary Frances Quincy (daughter of Samuel Quincy, of Boston); and Anna (Dunton) Gamwill (married Allen in 1858 and survived him).

Joseph Baker was born June 23, 1812, in Bloomfield (now Skowhegan). His father, Amos, was a Revolutionary War veteran who farmed in the summer and taught in the winter.

Joseph attended China Academy and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1836. Like his father, he taught in the winter. The on-line Biographical Encyclopedia of Maine of the Nineteenth Century, says when he boarded in rural school districts, he would breakfast at 3 or 4 a.m. with the farm family and spend the hours until school began “reading nearly the whole of the British Poets.”

After graduation, Baker studied under local lawyers during two years as assistant teacher at the Augusta high school. Admitted to the bar in 1839, he promptly set up a practice in Augusta that continued, with partners, all his life. His later career included terms as Augusta City Solicitor and Kennebec County Attorney and service in the Maine House and Senate. He died Nov. 29, Thanksgiving Day, 1883.

Sarah and Hannah [Lambard] Walcott were daughters of Dolly Lambard, who acquired Martha Ballard’s diary after the now-famous Hallowell midwife died in May 1812. After Dolly Lambard died in 1861, her daughters kept the diary until 1884, when they gave it to Ballard’s great-great-granddaughter, Mary Hobart, a doctor.

Main sources

Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992).
Howard, Millard, An Introduction to the Early History of Palermo, Maine (second edition, December 2015).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed. Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).

Websites, miscellaneous.


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