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The Walnut Hill School.

By Frank M. Hawes.
[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 and [42] Philemon Russell 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 in 1842.

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. [43]

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. (Edward) Turner, 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, summer, and autumn of 1825. 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.’ Mrs. Carr 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 [44] Russell Cook, 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 established. Mr. Russell 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, who [45] 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

Miss Whittemore, 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 R., Sr.3 Other male teachers, besides Philemon R. Russell, for the winter school, after Mr. Curtis [46] and before the separation from Charlestown, were: Henry J. Jewett,4 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, 1837-38. 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. Mrs. Cook remembers her well. Wyman's ‘Charlestown’ 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, [47] 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 for 1841. Miss Gardner was the daughter of Miles Gardner, who resided just over the Alewife Brook on the Arlington side. 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.7Miss Whittemore,’ 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, Allen, Adams, Russell, and Hill. Miss Whittemore 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) Caverno, and daughter of Arthur and Olive H. (Foss) Caverno. Her people were of Canaan, N. H., or vicinity. While teaching here she boarded at the Gardners', next door to the schoolhouse. [48]

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,9 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 and summer 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.

1 Arlington Vital Records: Samuel Butterfield and Miranda Whittemore were married January 31, 1839.

2 Shrewsbury Records: Joseph Southgate Hastings, son of Jonas and Lucy, born June 8, 1796; Joseph S. Hastings and Joanna Newton, of Westboro, married at West Cambridge June 14, 1833.

3 Hiram Keith Curtis, of Stoughton, graduated from Harvard College in the class of 1833. He was made A. M., and died in 1888 at East Stoughton, now Avon. After graduation he adopted the profession of civil engineer. He entered the office of Loammi Baldwin at Charlestown, and remained there a number of years. About ten years after graduating, while shooting, he met with an accident by which he lost an eye and one hand. This incapacitated him for his work. After that he retired to his old home.

4 Henry James Jewett, born in Portland in April, 1813, brother of Hon. Jedediah Jewett, mayor of Portland, and collector of the port; graduated from Bowdoin in 1833 with honor. He entered on the study of law at the Harvard Law School. He located at Austin, Tex., where he was county attorney and judge of probate. He served on the staff of Governor Houston. In 1870, while on a visit to New York, he died. He was married and left children.

5 Damon Genealogy, page 55, etc.: Rev. David Damon (grave at Arlington), born in Wayland September 12, 1787; graduated from Harvard in 1811; studied theology in the Cambridge Divinity School; ordained at Lunenburg in 1815; installed at West Cambridge in 1835; died June 25, 1843, in his fifty-sixth year; made D. D. by Harvard the day before his death; married October 16, 1815, Rebecca Derby, of Lynnfield; she died in Boston in October, 1852 (born in 1787). Son, Norwood, born in Lunenburg October 7, 1816; never married; resided in Boston.

6 The Russells told the writer that George Swan lived at Arlington, and used to drive past every day on the way to school. On records I find George Swan and Eliza Ramsdell, intention, August 24, 1834.

7 Arlington Vital Records: Mary Gardner and Oliver Pierce, intention, December 25, 1842; Miles T. Gardner, of Dedham, and Martha E. Cotting, May 24, 1838. Dedham Records: Oliver Pierce, of Dedham, and Miss Mary Gardner, of West Cambridge, intention, December 25, 1842.

8 Perhaps she was this one (Arlington Records): Clarissa Davis Whittemore, daughter of Amos, Jr., born March 6, 1812, Paige's Cambridge; Amos, son of Amos Whittemore, married Rebecca Russell, of Charlestown, April 22, 1814. Clarissa D., their fourth child, baptized May 17, 1812; fifth child was Amos, a merchant and inventor; sixth child was James Russell Whittemore, born in 1818. Mrs. Cook says that Clara D. died of a cancer and unmarried.

9 Rindge (N. H.) Town History: John Perry (James and Lydia), baptized in West Cambridge in 1755; married (second wife) Abigail Bigelow, daughter of Jason and Abigail (Witt) Bigelow, of Marlboro. Of their children, Sarah, born June 12, 1793, died unmarried March 19, 1842. The youngest of the family was Jason Bigelow Perry, born September 27, 1801. Colonel J. B. Perry lived on the homestead in Rindge. He showed commendable interest in the welfare of the town, the schools, and all laudable public enterprises. He was an influential and useful citizen, and was much employed in public affairs. He received a commission in the Twelfth Regiment of Militia, and retired with the rank of colonel. He served in the Legislature of 1852 and 1853; was selectman sixteen years; chairman of War Committee during the Rebellion; for thirty years treasurer of the Congregational Society. He married November 11, 1828, Sally Wilson, daughter of Major Supply and Sally (Scripture) Wilson, of New Ipswich. They had nine children. He was living in 1875.

[To be Continued.]

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