Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the Life of a Town (Chapter 3)

Published December 21, 2000 | Informational - Historic Articles | Automatically Archived on 6/3/2001

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Chapter Three

Sudbury Gets Serious About Schools

The early ’90s had brought other changes to Sudbury, many of them in the schools. The town had always had its share of residents who ran businesses in Boston, but now wealthy people from the city were buying up land and erecting elaborate homes. It was apparent that Sudbury’s system of district schoolhouses was rapidly becoming out of date.

In 1889, school expenses amounted to $2,713, including salaries for eight teachers, supplies, and maintenance of district school buildings scattered throughout the town. Veteran schoolmistresses Lucie K. Welch and Leonara K. Battles earned premium wages of $13 a week, while the rest of the staff earned $9. The tax rate that year was $10 per thousand.

Debate had been raging for some time over the advantages and disadvantages of a central school house. Proponents pointed to a savings in teacher salaries, better supervision and curriculum, and less heating and maintenance costs. Opponents countered that the district schools cut down on transportation costs and time while still providing an adequate education.

The controversy came to a head at the 1890 Town Meeting where the town voted to “procure a suitable site and build a new schoolhouse in the Center District.” The Selectmen quickly moved to purchase the estate of the late Elisha Haynes, a piece of property once owned and farmed by the Reverend Israel Loring who was the town’s first minister west of the Sudbury River. Seven thousand dollars was set aside for the cost of the land and a four-room building, with another $2,000 earmarked for furniture and heat.

Expenses for the new building came in $372.52 under budget at $8,627.48,including $485.80 for boilers (which later were found faulty and required replacement), $117.87 to J.H. Hammett of Boston for slate blackboards, and$292.20 for school desks and chairs for two rooms.

Less than a year later, the School Committee hailed the new four-room building as “Large enough for the entire school population of the town as now constituted.” That building still exists today as the four front rooms of the Flynn Town Office Building on Old Sudbury Road.

The School Committee soon discovered that building a central school was one thing, but getting parents to send their children there was quite another. On April 6, 1891, the town directed the Committee to “appoint a superintendent of schools and consolidate all district schools in the new schoolroom(s) in the center district by the beginning of next fall term.” That vote was rescinded at a Special Town Meeting on May 4, and THAT vote was in turn reversed on June 22.

Not to be outdone, voters at another Special Town Meeting on October 12, appropriated $2,500 for a new schoolhouse in the Landham school district. The building stood at the junction of Landham Road and the Boston Post Road and was moved in 1920 to Massasoit Avenue where it became part of the South School.

The sparring continued in the spring of 1892 when a Town Meeting vote once again authorized the School Committee to employ a superintendent of schools and bring about district cooperation if advisable. In the same session, the town voted to establish a High School program starting that fall. Five hundred dollars was appropriated to furnish a High School room at the new school building in Sudbury Center, and Mr. A.F. Haynes of Watertown donated a Howard clock.

Sudbury’s population was small enough that the Town wasn’t required to build and maintain a High School. Only 60 towns in Massachusetts maintained one in the 1890s. Students wishing a secondary education were sent to high schools in Waltham or Framingham.

Edward J. Cox was engaged as the new superintendent of schools with additional duties as principal of the high school. Thirty-four children, divided into classes of 13 and 21 pupils respectively, started classes in the fall of 1892. Classes ran from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday and an extra hour on Friday. Twenty-nine grammar school children opted for advanced grammar school at the Center building rather than remain in the district schools.

The High School issue had been a topic of discussion since 1888. Letters to the editor of the Lowell Weekly Journal of November 19, 1888 from Sarah Pratt warned that too much high school education would: “lead too often to a self-satisfaction that is a bar to future progress.”

Pratt suggested: “Lengthening of the grammar school course and spending the time that would be employed half learning languages such as Latin or French in acquiring by well-directed observation an interest in and knowledge of natural science and a taste, by carefully guided reading, for history, biography and geography which shall be sources of inspiration and happiness through life and that shall reject, with mental nausea the trashy second-rate fiction that makes [up] so large a part of our public library.”

Other opponents of a new high school for Sudbury worried that the town could not afford to pay enough in salary to keep a qualified teacher from moving onto greener pastures. They suggested instead that the town award two or three annual scholarships by competitive examination which should be enough to pay the tuition at a good high school in a neighboring town.

Critics who claimed that Sudbury would be unable to keep a qualified superintendent at a yearly salary of $800 proved to be correct. In 1897,Harrison G. Fay replaced Cox and was in turn replaced by Frank O. Jones who immediately demanded the school committee hire two assistant superintendents or establish a district superintendency.

Fay was re-appointed superintendent in June of 1897 and recommended adding two new grades to the grammar school and lengthening the school year. The School Committee, mindful that many of the children were needed to help with farm work in the summer, set it at 37 weeks.

The Superintendent controversy came to a head at the 1898 Town Meeting where, facing an enrollment of 219 students in seven different schools and a payroll of nine teachers, the taxpayers approved a joint superintendency agreement with the towns of Wayland and Dover. The School Committee filled the position with Rufus E. Corlew at a salary of $1,500 a year and, in what many considered a controversial decision, hired Miss Grace Parker as the first female principal of the high school.

Slowly, but surely, the committee was breaking down local opposition to a centralized school system. The Pratt District School was moved to Sudbury center and attached to the rear of the Center School, allowing the addition of an eighth grade for the first time. The 1901 town meeting made it official, voting to transport intermediate grammar and high school students to the Center School.

In the meantime school expenses were creeping up. By 1899, $6,588.31 had been appropriated. That dropped to $5,800 in 1900 despite the addition of “an advanced laboratory containing two magnificent tables seldom seen in towns the size of Sudbury, one for physical sciences and one for chemistry.” These tables were still there in the 1950s) By the 1901 Town Meeting, school expenses had ballooned to $7,207, $850.12 of which was defrayed by a one-time grant from the Massachusetts School Fund.

Even as the quality of the schools improved, the administration found itself facing another problem. During his last year as school committee chairman, Frank Barton complained that the curriculum was educating the children away from the farms and away from Sudbury. “Everything they have learned here leads them away to the larger cities and towns. Why not teach them some of the branches of horticulture? Why not green housing or the study of forestry? One can go a long way to find a town that has as much white pine as Sudbury.”

A lot of that pine got burned in woodstoves all over Sudbury during the winter of 1901-02, which was so cold that the library was open only on Saturdays. To make matters worse, it was discovered that the heating contractors for the Center School building had failed to install the sheet iron and asbestos liner on one of the boilers, necessitating the use of woodstoves throughout the building. It eventually cost the town $2,249.30 to get the problem corrected.

Meanwhile, J.T. Corlew, Rufus Corlew’s son, had assumed control of Superintendency Union No. 30, and was taking every step he could to save the town money. He extended the length of the school year to 40 weeks in order to qualify for a state bounty of $300 and proposed raising the roof of the ellon the Center School to accommodate a room for fifth graders. The Sudbury High School class of 04 would become the first to take 13 years of schoolwork before earning a diploma.

Corlew retired in favor of S.C. Hutchinson in 1907, but the clamor for more practical education continued. Hutchinson recommended that: “Sudbury children should be educated for Sudbury. The boys to be intelligent farmers and the girls intelligent homemakers.” He also asked for higher teacher salaries. He was replaced by Charles F. Pryor a year later.

The trend toward more practical education in Sudbury schools was an ongoing theme up until the beginning of WWI. An article in the 1908 town meeting to close the high school and replace it with a manual training school was defeated, but Town Meeting did establish a committee to investigate the education of the children in the high school grades and make recommendations at the next Town Meeting.

In 1911 there were 15 teachers in the Sudbury system, earning a collective $5,357.44. Out of the total enrollment of 202 children, 34 matriculated in the high school. There were five graduates of the class of 1911 including Harvey Fairbank, who would go on to a life of faithful service to his town.

Superintendent Frank H. Benedict finally took action on the curriculum in 1912. Greek was dropped altogether and Latin and other subjects were placed on trial against courses in practical arts, business and woodworking. Solid geometry was offered to boys only and the commercial law course was put forward to the 11th and 12th grades. An economics course was also offered.”

There is a desire for more practical subjects in high school as only six to ten percent of the children will go on to college,” he said in his 1912 report to the town.

Despite the fact that Sudbury High School enjoyed great respect among Ivy League college registrars, keeping a staff together continued to be a problem. Benedict reported in 1913 that half his staff was new and, five years later, reported to the School Committee that the town would have to increase salaries on the average of $200 per teacher in order to be competitive.

Benedict, in his ninth year as superintendent, reminded the committee that, starting in 1919, the state required that full-time teachers be compensated at the rate of no less than $550 for the school year–about $100 more than Sudbury teachers were earning. He also pointed out that normal school graduates were starting at between $600 and $700 and that teachers of any ability were in short supply. At the end of 1919 only Mrs. Pickett and four other teachers were being compensated at more than the minimum and the School Committee asked for a budget of $15,100, $8,500 of which was for teacher salaries.

Benedict would serve the town as superintendent for 33 years and in that time would see teacher salaries rise to nearly $2,000 annually. One wonders what he would think of the compensation paid to educators today.

In 1927, Benedict hired a young, World War I veteran to the position of Principal of the High School. Alan F. Flynn went on to become one of the most beloved educators in the history of the town. The Flynn Town Office Building was named in his honor shortly after his death in 1976.

“There never was a discipline problem in Al Flynn’s administration,” Selectman Harvey Fairbank was to say. “No strong-arm tactics either. The students had great respect for him and always knew he meant what he said.”

Besides schools, alcohol trafficking occupied the minds of Sudbury citizens of the ’90s. In 1892, the Lowell Weekly Journal reported that “Selectman George A. Haynes and constables Bent and Barton made a raid on the premises of Rosa Blanchard of North Sudbury who has been suspected of familiarity with bad spirits. It was evident upon entering the house, that the occupant had been warned, and, although plenty of kegs, jugs, bottles etc. were found, all were empty.

“After a thorough search of the house, the party made a tour of the farm and came upon a woodchuck’s burrow that looked ‘a little suspicious,’ ” they reported. “When closely examined the burrow was found to contain a five-gallon keg of whisky enclosed in a bag. This was taken away and the party adjourned. Further developments are expected.”

Four years later, the 1896 Town Meeting appropriated $200 for the “detection, prosecution and conviction of liquor sellers,” and encouraged town officers and officials to use all the power in their command to convict them.

Moonshining wasn’t the only crime to keep Deputy Chief of Police Seneca W. Hall busy. George Hunt’s store in South Sudbury was burglarized, with the thief leaving his old suit of clothes in return for a new one. A large quantity of canned goods was also taken.

The Wayside Inn changed hands twice during the ’90s. Atherton W. Rogers, ex-Mayor Herbert Howe of Marlborough and ex-Alderman Homer Rogers of Boston bought it from Lucy A. Newton in 1893. Mrs. Newton had inherited it from thee state of Lyman Howe. The Lowell Weekly Journal speculated that Ex-Mayor Howe’s interest in the 90-acre property stemmed from his connection with a proposed new state central electric plan that would include an electric railroad from Waltham to Marlborough. Plans called for that railway to pass directly in front of the Inn.

In 1897, Malden Wool Merchant Edward R. Lemon read about the Inn in the New England Magazine, drove out to inspect it, bought it on the spot, and, on April 1, 1897, opened it to the public once more.

Lemon moved a woodshed to the east end of the building and converted it into an art gallery and museum for his collection of antique furniture. He enlarged the third floor of the main building and added dormer windows in the front, prompting one local correspondent to the Journal to bemoan the passing of the “good old days.”

“…Few and far between are the relics of even old Sudbury becoming so far as concerns relics that retain much of their originality. In the past year, or two years, change has been busy in this historic township. The last picture of the “Wayside Inn” gives that ancient hostelry an air unlike what surrounded it when the scroll read: ‘By the Name of Howe’.”

“No ghosts would enter the newly-made porch or peer from the modern made windows. The old Walker Garrison House has become an ash heap, a destiny that befell many another farm dwelling in the days of the town’s early history.

“The terminal part of the old Hop Brook Road to Marlborough has become, since summer, a ‘state highway.’ The road over Sand Hill has become a boulevard and, one by one, the district schoolhouses are disappearing with all their local influence and associations.

“But enough has been said to suffice the object of showing the importance of preserving what things of old remain in their primitive condition.”

There was another significant purchase in Sudbury that year. The Reverend Edwin Hosmer arrived in town with his wife and four children and bought the James Willis house and store on the corner of Concord and Old Sudbury Roads for $1. One of his daughters was Florence Armes Hosmer who would live in that house until she died at the age of 98 in 1978.

Henry Ford had yet to visit Sudbury in the early 1900s, but the motorcars he built were rapidly becoming a nuisance. The April 18, 1904 Town Meeting instructed the Selectmen to do something about the speeding autos on the streets of the town and appropriated $100 in expense money.

Special Police Officer P.J. McManus billed the town for 20 days’ service, use of horse and car and expenses, less court fees of $31.63 including $1.25 for repair of his stopwatch. F.F. Gerry, an attorney, was engaged to try 23speeding cases and was paid $100. By the end of the year, $682.42 had been spent in the enforcement of motor vehicle laws.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the life of a Town, a 256-page sequel to A.S. Hudson’s History of Sudbury. Autographed copies are available from Porcupine Enterprises, 106 Woodside Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. Hardbound presentation copies are $26.25 including tax plus $3.20 postage. Trade paperbacks are $12.60 including tax plus $3.20 postage.