Myrtle Street School, Indian Orchard, Springfield, Mass

The Myrtle Street School in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, seen from Worcester Street near the corner of Myrtle Street, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Prior to the Civil War, Springfield lacked a strong centralized school system. The city was divided into 12 school districts, each of which was responsible for taxing residents, hiring teachers, setting curriculum, and maintaining schools. However, this proved inefficient, in part because these school districts tended to focus more on lowering taxes than improving education, and by the late 1860s school committee member Josiah Hooker had led a large-scale reform of the city’s public schools.

The result of these reforms was a new high school building on State Street, plus six new grammar schools around the city. All were located in or near the downtown area except for the Indian Orchard school, which was located here at the corner of Worcester and Myrtle Streets. Located in the far northeastern corner of the city, Indian Orchard developed as a factory village in the mid-19th century. It saw a significant population growth during this time, particularly among French-Canadians and other immigrant groups who came to work in the mills, so a grammar school became necessary to serve the needs of the village.

At the time, students attended primary school for three years, followed by six years of grammar school and then four years of high school. The 1884 King’s Handbook of Springfield provides a description of the grammar school curriculum, writing that “In these schools, thorough instruction is given in all the common English branches, including book-keeping, and United-States and English history; and special teachers give instruction in penmanship, music, and drawing.” Following the reforms of the 1860s, the school year began on the first week of September and ended on the Friday before July 4, and students attended school from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., with a two-hour break from noon to 2:00.

The Indian Orchard school was designed by James M. Currier, a local architect whose works included three other schools in Springfield, along with an assortment of factories, business blocks, and houses. Perhaps his most notable commission, however, was a house in Ottawa, Canada, that he designed for his brother, Joseph M. Currier, who was a lumber dealer and Canadian politician. This house, located at 24 Sussex Drive, now serves as the official residence of the Prime Minister of Canada, although it has been heavily altered from Currier’s original design.

Like the Prime Minister’s residence, though, the Indian Orchard school has also been extensively modified over the years. The first photo shows its original appearance, with its mansard roof and Second Empire-style architecture, but by the turn of the 20th century this building had become too small for the growing population of the village. As a result, in 1904 a large wing was built on the west side of the original building, facing Myrtle Street. This is the part of the school building that is visible in the present-day photo, and features a Classical Revival-style design that was the work of architect Eugene C. Gardner. The addition hid the original school building from this angle, although it is still standing and still visible from the other side of the school.

This expansion added eight classrooms to the school, but within a decade there was again need for more space, and in 1914 Gardner was hired to design a matching, nearly symmetrical wing on the south side of the building. Located on the left side of the 1904 addition, just out of view from this angle, the new wing doubled the size of the building. It was completed in 1915, and included eight more classrooms, plus a lunchroom, gymnasium, and an auditorium that could seat nearly 700 people.

The school, which became known as the Myrtle Street School after the additions, remained in use until the early 1980s. Like several other historic Springfield school buildings, it has since been converted into condominiums, and is still standing with few significant exterior changes. Even the original 1868 section is still there, and it now stands as the oldest existing school building in the city, as well as the only one of the original six grammar schools that is still standing. Because of this, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Powers Institute, Bernardston, Mass

The Powers Institute on Church Street in Bernardston, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2017:

Massachusetts has long had a strong reputation for its educational system, with public schools dating back to the early days of the colonial era, but it was not until the second half of the 19th century that public high schools became common across the state. Prior to then, public high schools were typically only found in larger cities and towns, but many smaller towns were served by private schools, which were often founded by local benefactors. Here in Bernardston, the Powers Institute was established in 1857, two years after the death of Bernardston native Edward Eppes Powers. In his will, Powers gave the town 100 shares of the Franklin County Bank, which were valued at $10,000. Half of the income from this investment was to be used to support the town’s public elementary schools, while the other half was to be used to open a high school.

This Italianate-style school building was built in 1857 for the Powers Institute, on land that had been donated to the town by other benefactors. It served as a quasi-public high school throughout the 19th century, providing free education for Bernardston residents while charging tuition for out-of-town students. In 1860, Cushman Hall was built on the other side of Church Street, and was given to the town as a boarding house for tuition students. By the 1870s, the cost of tuition was $8 per term (around $180 today), and board was $4 per week, although students also had the option to self-board in furnished rooms that were provided for 35 cents per week.

During its peak in the 1860s, the school had several hundred students per year. However, the enrollment steadily dropped over the next few decades, eventually reaching just 61 students in 1891. By around the turn of the century, it had become more of a standard public school, and the state began subsidizing the tuition of out-of-town students, provided that they lived in a town that was too small to support its own high school. In this new role, the Powers Institute would continue to serve as the town’s public middle and high school for many years, but it finally closed in 1958, when Bernardston students began attending the Pioneer Valley Regional School in nearby Northfield.

After the Powers Institute closed, the old school building became the home of the Bernardston Historical Society, which runs a museum here. It is hard to tell from the first photo because of all the trees in the foreground, but the exterior of the building has not seen any significant changes over the years, and it stands as a rare example of a mid-19th century Italianate school building in the Connecticut River Valley. Because of this, the school building, along with Cushman Hall and the neighboring Cushman Library, is now part of the Powers Institute Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Revell Hall, Northfield, Mass

Revell Hall, near the corner of Main and Moody Streets in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2017:

The Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies was founded in 1879 by Dwight Lyman Moody, a prominent Christian evangelist of the late 19th century. Moody was born just up the hill from here, in a house that still stands on Moody Street, and he grew up here in Northfield. As a teenager, Moody moved to Boston in the 1850s, where he worked in his uncle’s shoe store and subsequently converted to the Christian faith. From there, he went on to have a long career as an evangelist, holding revivals across the country and overseas, and becoming a 19th century predecessor to later evangelists like Billy Graham.

Moody returned to Northfield in 1875, purchasing a house on Main Street just to the north of here. Within a few years, he had begun planning for the Northfield Seminary, and in 1878 he and H. N. F. Marshall, a building supply dealer from Boston, purchased this property on the west side of Main Street. The following year, this brick, High Victorian Gothic-style building was constructed on the site. It was named Revell Hall, in honor of Moody’s brother-in-law, the publisher Fleming H. Revell, and it was the first purpose-built school building on the campus. However, since it would not be ready in time for the school’s opening in the fall of 1879, Moody’s house was temporarily used for both classroom and dormitory space, housing the school’s first 25 girls.

Upon completion, Revell Hall was used as classroom building, chapel, and dormitory, but it was soon joined by other building on the campus. H. N. F. Marshall, in his capacity as the school’s treasurer, oversaw the construction of these new buildings, and in 1885 he purchased Revell Hall from the school. He converted it into his house, and that same year he built a carriage house in the rear of the property, which can be seen on the right side of both photos. Over the next few years, he continued to be involved in the school’s growth, contributing his knowledge in construction, as well as his personal wealth, in order to help the Northfield Seminary expand. He would remain here until 1889, when he retired and sold the property back to the school.

The first photo was probably taken only a year or two after Marshall left. By this point, both Revell Hall and the carriage house had been converted into dormitories, and the latter was named Holton Hall in honor of Moody’s late cousin, Fanny Holton, who had been one of the first teachers at the school. Within 20 years, Revell Hall was expanded several times, with additions in 1904 and 1909. Both buildings continued to be used as dormitories until 1962, when Revell Hall was converted into administrative offices and Holton Hall became faculty apartments.

Aside from the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, which was later named the Northfield School for Girls, Moody also founded the Mount Hermon School for Boys, in the nearby town of Gill, Massachusetts. The two schools were closely connected, but remained separate institutions until 1972, when they finally merged to form the present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School. The combined schools continued to operate both campuses for many years, but in 2005 the Northfield campus was closed, and the school was consolidated at Mount Hermon.

The Northfield property was subsequently sold to Hobby Lobby, which gave it to the National Christian Foundation in 2012. This organization transferred the bulk of the campus to Thomas Aquinas College in 2017, but gave ten of the buildings – including both Revell Hall and Holton Hall – to the Moody Center, which hopes to carry on the legacy of D. L. Moody here on the former campus. Today, despite the early 20th century additions to Revell Hall, neither of these two buildings look much different from when the first photo was taken over 125 years ago, and they stand as well-preserved examples of 19th century school buildings.

Skinner Gymnasium, Northfield, Mass

The Skinner Gymnasium, on the former Northfield campus of the Northfield Mount Hermon School, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2017:

The present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School dates back to 1879, when it was established as the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies. Its founder was the noted evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody, who opened the school near his birthplace in the northern part of Northfield, just a little south of the New Hampshire border. Two years later, Moody established the Mount Hermon School for Boys on a separate campus in nearby Gill, Massachusetts, and the two schools would remain separate institutions for nearly a century.

By the early 1890s, the Northfield school was in need of a gymnasium, in order to promote health and physical fitness among the girls. The result was this building, which was completed in 1895 and named the Skinner Gymnasium in honor of its benefactor, Holyoke textile manufacturer William Skinner. The building had a variety of amenities, including a bowling alley, a swimming tank, and the gymnasium itself, which included an elevated running track. At the time, basketball was just beginning to gain popularity after having been invented a few years earlier, and by the turn of the century the girls were playing here in the gym on intramural teams.

The first photo was taken within about a decade of the building’s completion, and shows its Queen Anne-style architecture, which was common for public and institutional buildings of the era. It also shows some elements of the popular Romanesque Revival style, including the asymmetrical design, the rounded arch over the door, and the use of towers and turrets. However, over time the building would be expanded and altered with several 20th century additions, although this portion was not significantly changed. The first of these additions came in 1930, when a pool was added to the rear of the building. Then, after the completion of a new gymnasium in 1971, this building was converted into a student center, and in 1987 a large library wing was added to the left side, just out of view in the 2017 scene.

The Northfield School formally merged with Mount Hermon in 1972, but continued to use both campuses for many years. This building was used as the student center and, after 1987, the library for the Northfield campus up until 2005, when the school consolidated its operations at the Mount Hermon campus. The Northfield property was subsequently sold to Hobby Lobby, which, in turn, donated it to the National Christian Foundation. Then, in 2017, it was given to Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college that is based in California. The school is currently in the process of converting the property into a branch campus, and hopes to open by the fall of 2019.

Brattleboro High School, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Brattleboro High School, at the corner of Main Street, Linden Street, and Putney Road in Brattleboro, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This school was built in 1884, replacing an earlier wooden high school building that had been used since 1832. Its design is a somewhat more subdued version of the High Victorian Gothic style that was popular in the 1860s and 1870s, and features a brick exterior with contrasting marble trim, pointed dormer windows on the roof, and three turrets on the front of the building. It was built at a cost of $48,000, and served the needs of a growing town that, by the 1890 census, had a population of over 6,800, more than triple the size of the town from when the old high school building had opened in 1832.

When this new school opened, the principal was Benjamin F. Bingham, an educator who served in this capacity from 1863 until his death in 1889, at the age of 65. The 1921 book Annals of Brattleboro, 1681-1895 includes a description of Bingham and his tenure at the school, describing how:

Every year there came up under Mr. Bingham’s hand a new class of boys and girls, many of them timid and shrinking and watching with half-scared eyes his quick, alert movements and his ominous eyebrow. On some of these he inflicted severe discipline; some he admonished with all a father’s tenderness; the obstinacy and conceit of others he pierced with a ridicule that was worse than blows; but everyone was loyal to the High School where truth and honor were taught by precept, discipline and example in the original methods employed by Benjamin F. Bingham to develop the mental character of his pupils.

This building was used as Brattleboro High School until the mid-20th century, and during this time the school had several notable graduates. George Aiken, who may have been a student when the first photo was taken, graduated in 1909, and went on to become governor from 1937 to 1941, and a U.S. Senator from 1941 to 1975. Another graduate was Aiken’s political ally, Ernest W. Gibson, Jr., class of 1919, who served as a U.S. Senator from 1940 to 1941, governor from 1947 to 1950, and a federal judge from 1949 until his death in 1969. Aside from politics, other noted graduates included Major League Baseball pitcher Ernie Johnson, who graduated in 1942 and played for the Boston Braves, Milwaukee Braves, and Baltimore Orioles before starting a long career as a radio and television broadcaster for the Atlanta Braves.

The school finally closed in 1951, upon completion of the present-day Brattleboro Union High School in the southern part of the town, at the site of the old fairgrounds. This new location allowed for more expansion as the student population grew, compared to the relatively confined space here in the center of town, and there was also room for athletic fields. Following this move, the old school building was converted into town offices. The exterior remained essentially unchanged, though, and today it remains in use as the Brattleboro Municipal Center, with hardly any noticeable difference between the two photos.

Park Street School, Holyoke, Mass

The Park Street School at the corner of Park and Hamilton Streets in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The caption in Picturesque Hampden identifies this as the Hamilton Street School, but it is actually the Park Street School, which is located just across the street from where the Hamilton Street School once stood. It is perhaps the oldest surviving school building in the city, and dates back to 1868 when it opened as a public school. Like many other buildings of this period, it had Italianate architecture, and it featured a symmetrical front facade with a tower in the center. Just beyond the school, on the left side of the first photo, was the Precious Blood Church, a High Victorian Gothic-style French Catholic church that was completed in 1878.

In 1875, the Park Street School played a grisly role in one of the deadliest, yet also one of the least-known disasters in Massachusetts history. At the time, the Precious Blood Church was under construction, and the parishioners, largely French-Canadian immigrants, worshiped in a temporary wooden church, located behind the right side of the school at the corner of Cabot and South East Streets. The wooden church, built in just a month in December 1869, had a capacity of about 800, and included a large balcony that could seat about 400. On May 27, 1875, the church was filled with some 600 to 700 worshipers for an evening Corpus Christi mass, but toward the end of the service a lace curtain, blown by a stiff breeze through the open windows, touched a lighted candle and caught fire.

The fire on the curtain quickly spread to the wall, and within minutes the building was engulfed in flames. Those on the ground floor of the sanctuary had a fairly easy escape route, through any of the three front doors of the church. However, those in the balcony had only a narrow stairway that led down to the front entrances, where the crowds from the ground floor were also trying to escape. One of the doors eventually became blocked by people who had tripped over each other, and firemen worked desperately to free people from this pile in what little time they had. In particular, future fire chief John J. Lynch – namesake of the former John J. Lynch Middle School – was noted for his bravery in rescuing survivors, and thanks to the efforts of Lynch and other firemen, the death toll was not as high as it otherwise may have been.

Within just 20 minutes of the curtain brushing against the candle, both the church and the adjacent rectory were completely destroyed. The next step was to recover and identify the bodies of the victims, and the Park Street School was converted into a morgue. The bodies were laid out here in the basement by the following morning, and friends and family members of the victims arrived to identify their loved ones. Many of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, and were only able to be identified by clothing, shoes, jewelry, and other personal effects.

The total number of deaths in the fire has been variously listed as low as 74 and as high as 97, although the lower figure is probably closer to the true count. The language barrier likely contributed to some of the discrepancies, and in some cases spelling variations of the same name were apparently recorded as two different people. Either way, though, it ranks among the deadliest fires in the history of the state. By way of comparison, the Great Boston Fire of 1872, which occurred less than three years earlier, destroyed 776 buildings in densely-populated Boston, yet had a death toll of about 20 to 30, only about a third of that of the Precious Blood Church.

At the time of the fire, the new Precious Blood Church was already under construction, but work had not progressed much further than the basement. Nonetheless, two days after the fire a funeral mass was held for the victims, and about 2,500 people crowded into the still-unfinished basement, which had been hastily roofed with boards for the occasion. So many people in such a confined, makeshift space could have posed an even greater danger in the event of a fire, but the funeral passed without incident, and most of the bodies were subsequently interred in a mass grave in the Precious Blood Cemetery, located across the river in South Hadley.

Today, despite such a substantial loss of life, the Precious Blood Church fire has been largely forgotten, and here in the South Holyoke neighborhood there are few reminders of the tragedy. The new Precious Blood Church, which was completed in 1878 and is seen on the left side of the first photo, closed in 1989, and was demolished soon after. Probably the only surviving buildings with a connection to the fire is the Park Street School, which still stands here in a somewhat altered state. It continued to be used as a school for many years after its use as a makeshift morgue, but around 1930 it was sold to the church, becoming a convent and chapel. At some point, the tower was removed, and the building saw other alterations such as additional windows on the second floor, but overall it is still recognizable from its original appearance, and stands as a good example of mid-19th century school architecture.