School Days: Remembering Manchester’s Former Schoolhouses


In 1647, the Massachusetts Commonwealth's Education Law was passed requiring, “that when any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar school ...”  The first mention of “scooles" (sic) in Manchester records was not until 1686 when a directive was issued to find a “Scoole Master."  The first mention 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."  

This schoolhouse still exists, and those who come to the Manchester Historical Museum’s current exhibit centered on the history of Manchester’s schools, will find out where exactly is today.  The exhibit is open to the public, now through the end of September during regular museum hours.

In 1736, the town proposed four self-governing districts to be set up each with a “school dame.”  The four districts were Kettle Cove, the Plains, the Central /Middle and Newport.  Each of these districts eventually had their own one-room schoolhouse (of which three are still standing).  This district system lasted until 1851 when the districts all merged into one town school system.

When the town voted to establish a public high school in 1848, it was set up on the first floor of the “Town House” on School Street where the Central / Middle District classes were already housed upstairs.  Three years later, recognizing the need for a separate building, the town voted to build a new schoolhouse on Cheever's Hill on Bennett Street.  This later site served as home to a number of high school structures until 1954 including the first Story High 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.  The first multi-room schoolhouse was the George A. Priest School building, finished in the fall of 1890 and opened to students at the beginning of the next year.  That was followed by the John Price School building which was completed in 1906. Manchester Memorial School was built next and dedicated on July 28, 1952.  The name, “Memorial,” was chosen to memorialize the Manchester men lost during WWII.  In January 1963, a new Manchester High School on Lincoln Street opened and replaced the Story High School (#2) that was then in the former John Price School building on Norwood Avenue.

All these buildings have since been replaced with newer structures, though some still stand.  The schools exhibit at the museum features images and artifacts from these former buildings.  Among the artifacts?  A vintage school desk that can be sat in, and a “skateboard” (no, not that kind) on which visitors can practice their sums.  There is also a slideshow of old class photos, and old yearbooks that can be perused.  The museum is also looking for help in identifying unlabeled Memorial School class photos from the 1970s. 

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