The Walnut Hill School.
[Read Before the Somerville Historical Society February 9, 1909.]
From a perusal of the names of persons selected year by year to look after the interests of the outlying schools of Charlestown
, it will be safe to conclude that a school district, extending well up to Arlington Centre from the Powder House
, was in existence by 1730, or as early as the more famous one, long known as the Milk Row School, whose history has appeared in Historic Leaves
From 1790, and for a number of years thereafter this school, which we have designated by its location the Alewife Brook School, was known as School No. 3
Previous to 1786 there was no public school building.
We are justified in making this statement from several references on the town records to private rooms that were hired for school purposes.
In the warrant, February 28, 1785, for the coming town meeting is the following: ‘To know the minds of the town, what they will do with regard to two petitions presented by the people at the upper end of the town requesting that one or more schoolhouses may be built there.’
March 7 it was voted to build two schoolhouses in that section (No. 4 being in the Gardner neighborhood), and May 1, 1786, the bills for the same, £ 40 each, were paid.
The next November William Whittemore
were empowered to lay a floor, make seats, and lay a hearth at the school which we are now considering, but which was designated in that one instance ‘the Russells' School.’
Very appropriate would it have been if this name, thus unofficially reported, had been retained.
Had such been the case, we might to-day be proud in having one school, at least, with a name perpetuating memories of an earlier time.
As it is, none of our school buildings has a name which antedates the incorporation of Somerville
May 10, 1802, we read that the schoolhouse near Alewife Bridge is to be repaired at an expense not exceeding $100. At that time, or later, we conclude that this building, less than twenty years old, had been considerably damaged by fire, for the trustees are given discretion to repair or build anew.
May 3, 1803 (1805?), the reported expense for rebuilding, in addition to $100 previously voted, was $400.
Some time after 1801, but before 1812—the school records for that period are lost—this school was known as No. 4.
The change was necessitated by the creation of a new district at the Neck.
For the year last mentioned No. 4 had an attendance of thirty-four scholars, a number which did not vary materially from that time to the very end of its existence, although in 1814 we read of a membership of fifty-eight, at which time we have the first recorded name of a teacher there, that of Jacob Pierce
, or ‘Master Pierce,’ as he was called.
The next winter we find him teaching this same school, when he received $123.75 for his services.
The two brothers, Philemon R., Jr., and Levi Russell
, were pupils of Master Pierce, a very good teacher, but tradition says that he used to fortify himself for his daily duties in the schoolroom by carrying a little ‘black strap’ in his boot-leg!
He was a fine penman, and made all his pupils ‘good writers.’
April 3, 1818, the trustees examined School No. 4
, when about forty scholars were present out of a total of fifty-two. J. Underwood
was the teacher.
This was without doubt James Underwood
, afterwards one of the trustees, who died in office March 4, 1840.
March 18, 1819, the school received its customary visit, when J. Haywood
, then in charge, is pronounced an excellent teacher, and his school gives a fine exhibition.
The male teachers next named were Simeon Booker
, for the winter of 1819-20, and Mr. Colburn
, for 1820-21.
Nothing has been learned of these gentlemen; the latter may have been Joshua O. Colburn
, who taught the Milk Row School a few seasons later.
At his examination, March 22, 1821, twenty-two girls and fifteen boys were present out of an enrollment of fifty-four. ‘The school was addressed by Rev.
, and closed with prayer.’
From time to time the records give us the names of the trustees in charge of this district.
For the years 1822-23 the school near ‘elewife bridge’ was superintended by Samuel (P.) Teel
The next year James Russell
was in charge.
An oil portrait of this gentleman may be seen at Arlington
in the home of a descendant.
For 1826-27 Nathaniel H. Henchman
was the local trustee.
This gentleman, who lived in what was later known as the Porter
residence, and later still as the Morrison-Durgin place, died while in office that year.
The first lady teacher in this district whose name has come down to us was Miss Sarah Perry
, who taught during the spring
, and autumn
The late Mrs. Lucretia Russell Carr
, granddaughter of the above-named James Russell
, vividly remembered Miss Perry
, who was her first teacher.
Her words were: ‘She boarded with my grandmother and I liked her.’
was then but three years old.
Other female teachers of this period were Hersina Knight, 1826, and Miss Ann Brown
, 1827, the latter of whom, on being transferred to a school in Old Charlestown, was succeeded July 3 by Elizabeth Gerrish
Later Miss Gerrish
taught the lower Winter Hill School.
For the summer of 1828 Miss Miranda Whittemore
was engaged, a daughter of Jonathan Whittemore
, of West Cambridge
His homestead is still standing on Massachusetts Avenue (nearer to Boston
than the John P. Squire
estate). Miss Whittemore
was the first teacher of Mrs. Susanna
, to whom the writer of these pages is greatly indebted for information.
She must have been a good teacher, as she was employed for several seasons.
Later she became the wife of a Mr. Butterfield
, a neighbor's son.1
We now come to the name of Philemon R. Russell, Jr.
, who seems to have been first employed as a teacher in his home district for the winter of 1825-26.
For a number of winters after that, although not consecutively, we find him thus engaged.
It was he who taught the last winter term, 1841-42, under Charlestown
control, and also the first and second winters after Somerville
was employed more than once to teach at West Cambridge
, in the district known as ‘the Rocks
Philemon Robbins Russell
was born January 2, 1795, and died June 6, 1863, at the age of sixty-eight.
He received his education in an academy at Lexington
Russell Street of this city was named for him, and it was in that neighborhood that he lived and died.
He married Miss Mary Wilkins
, of Unity, N. H.
, and was survived by two daughters, Mary M., the wife of Edwin R. Prescott
, and Susan E., the second wife of the late Amos Haynes
The annual report of the trustees for 1838-39 says of Mr. Russell
: ‘His efforts and skill are worthy of the highest commendation.
He insisted upon the thoroughness of all his pupils.
His uniform practice is, if a pupil makes a blunder in recitation, he is compelled afterwards to repeat that part of his answer correctly, as a word going around the class must be spelled correctly by each one who has failed, no matter how much time it takes.’
After 1829 our school, which is sometimes designated on the records as the West Cambridge Road School, was officially known as District No. 6
During the following winter, 1830-31, James Swan
was appointed to teach in the ‘Russell District.’
He completed the term, and the next year at the ‘Female Writing School, Charlestown
,’ closely followed Reuben Swan
, who had resigned February 2, 1832.
According to Wyman
gives this line of Swans, Reuben and James, the latter born in Dorchester
in 1809, were the sons of Reuben Swan, Sr.
, and Ruth Teel
, who were married in 1804. Seven of their sons, including the two mentioned, were school teachers.
According to my informants, this family at one time lived on North Street, West Somerville, on the old Cook place, which had originally belonged to the Teels (the mother's people).
The winter term for 1831-32 was taught by S. N. Cooke
. Mrs. Carr
told me that he was an Englishman, and a fine man. She was twelve years old that winter.
During the next year there were two teachers for the winter term.
Joseph S. Hastings
, of Shrewsbury
, who had taught a term in the Gardner District (sometimes called the Woburn Road School), seems not to have been successful.
January 28, 1833, he requested to be discharged from his duties, ‘with reasons,’ and the trustees granted his petition.
Philemon R. Russell, Jr.
, finished out the term.2
, who had taught acceptably for five successive summers, was succeeded in 1833 by Miss Kezia Russell
, daughter of William Adams
and Kezia Teel Russell
, and an elder sister of the late Mrs. Carr
and the late Mrs. Rebecca Russell Stearns
. Two years later Miss Kezia was again in charge.
Soon after this she married a Mr. Hatch
, a farmer of Saugus
For the winter of 1833-34 H. K. Curtis
, of Stoughton
, was the teacher for four months, at a salary of $30 per month.
He had forty-one pupils.
He was liked as a teacher, and boarded in the family of Philemon
Other male teachers, besides Philemon R. Russell
, for the winter school, after Mr. Curtis
and before the separation from Charlestown
, were: Henry J. Jewett
1834-35; Norwood P. Damon
, son of Parson Damon
, of West Cambridge
, and later employed as a teacher in the Prospect Hill School5
; Samuel (or Richard) Swan
, not related to the other Swan
family; Levi Russell
, 1836-37, and again 1840-41,6
who was also employed at Prospect Hill
, and whose career as a teacher we shall endeavor to notice in some future paper; and George P. Worcester
By chance we have preserved for us the names of nine pupils who went to Levi Russell
during the winter of 1840-41.
We also have very creditable specimens of their penmanship dating from that time.
Their names and ages were: Aaron P. Dickson
, eleven years; Elisha Frost
, seventeen years; John A. Magoun
, thirteen years; Emeline Teel
, thirteen years; Horatio Teel
, fourteen years; Louisa Teel
, thirteen years; Thomas E. Teel
, sixteen years; Louisa H. Winnik
, twelve years; Mary Warren
For the summer of 1834 Miss Martha McKoun
, of Charlestown
, was the teacher.
remembers her well.
’ says that John McKoun
, printer, by wife Abigail had a daughter, Martha K., born June 22, 1816.
The year 1836 is interesting, as it introduces to us the name of that faithful and very efficient teacher, Miss Sarah M. Burnham
who began her labors in Charlestown
at the Russell District (or was it at Gardner Row?). Later she was transferred to Winter Hill
for a term, and then to Milk Row, but it was in Cambridge
that she made one of the grandest of records.
(See Historic Leaves, Vol.
VII., No. 2.)
Other teachers for the summer, up to the formation of Somerville
, were Miss Mary B. Gardner
in 1837. Miss Clara D. Whittemore
for 1838, 1839, and 1840, and Miss Elizabeth A. Caverno
was the daughter of Miles Gardner
, who resided just over the Alewife Brook
on the Arlington
She married a Mr. Pierce
, and was last known to be living at an advanced age in Dedham
, where she had a daughter who was a teacher in the public schools there.7
,’ the trustees' report says, ‘brought the school from a state of confusion to one of discipline,’ and inspired so much confidence that she was hired by the newly-elected committee of Somerville
to resume her position at this school in 1842.
At her examination, Friday, October 28, 1842, there were present of the committee Messrs. Hawkins
, and Hill
came of a West Cambridge family.8 Miss Caverno
, according to the printed genealogy of her family, was born November 29, 1829, and died November 19, 1855.
She was the granddaughter of Jeremiah and Margaret (Brewster
, and daughter of Arthur
and Olive H. (Foss
Her people were of Canaan, N. H.
, or vicinity.
While teaching here she boarded at the Gardners', next door to the schoolhouse.
Other names of teachers at this school, not found upon the records, but vouched for by my informants, were: Ruth
, daughter of Luke Wyman
; Jason Bigelow Perry
of Rindge, N. H.
, and brother of Miss Perry
already mentioned; a Mr. Munroe
; and Miss Georgiana Adams
, of Medford
During the summer of 1838 repairs were made on the school building, under the direction of the local trustees, Alfred Allen
and James Underwood
, at an expense of $248.74. From December, 1839, when the first grammar school on Somerville
soil was established at Prospect Hill
, until the division of the town, the school we have been considering was known as the ‘ungraded district school in the Russell District.’
On the formation of Somerville
in 1842, and the separation of school districts, this old school building passed into the possession of Arlington
As no provision could be made at once for a schoolhouse in Somerville
, the spring
term, as I am informed, was kept in the old quarters, and from our first school report we learn that Miss Clara D. Whittemore
received $72 for six months services in the Russell District.
It may be interesting to know that this venerable and useful structure is still in existence.
Some time in the 1840's, about 1845 or 6, my informant (F. E. Fowle
) thinks, it was moved farther up into Arlington
, and during the past sixty years has done duty as a tenement house.
It stands on Franklin Street, fifth house on the right from the main street, and is numbered 35.