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124 Years Ago - Henry H. Rogers, the Donor, Makes an Address at the Dedication of Center School

New Bedford Mercury, January 4, 1898

Mattapoisett was filled with rejoicing yesterday because of its new school building, the gift of Henry Huttleston Rogers, whose liberality to the towns in which he spent his boyhood is familiar to newspaper readers the country over.

And not only was there rejoicing at the gift, but Mr. Rogers was present to rejoice in the giving, and that the pleasure was mutual was apparent to all present.

The school building was used for the first time Monday morning [January 2, 1899] when teachers and pupils gathered at the Barstow school and carried their books and belongings to the new building, in which the different classes were assigned rooms. The classes then took seats in the school hall, where these simple exercises marked the opening of the building:

Song by the schools.

Scripture reading by Pliny A. Allen, Jr.

Prayer by Rev. Robert Humphrey.

Song by the schools.

Presentation of keys to L. LeB. Dexter, chairman of the school committee, by Joseph L. Cole, chairman of the selectmen.

Song by the schools.

Benediction by Rev. Mr. Humphrey.

The exercises of dedication, however, did not occur until yesterday afternoon, when a representation of the townspeople, which more than filled the hall, was present. Out of deference to the expressed wish of Mr. Rogers, there was little attempt at formality, and the occasion was more for the purpose of giving the townspeople the opportunity to inspect the school building than otherwise.

Superintendent Gray of the Fairhaven and Mattapoisett schools was in charge of the exercises.

After a fervent prayer by Rev. Robert Humphrey that the children might appreciate the increased facilities offered them to secure an education, a vocal duet was sweetly sung by Missus Edith Burbank and Alice Meiggs. This was followed by a violin solo, played with excellent taste by Miss Purrington, and by an action song by the primary class under the direction of Miss Buck.

The following letter was then read by Mr. Cunningham:

New York, January 1, 1899

To the people of Mattapoisett, Mass.:

I appreciate fully the respect you have shown my request that the school house be opened without any public ceremony, and thank you for your kindly action.

I am confident that you feel grateful for the gift, yet for the reason that I have been blessed with the spirit to give and the means to carry out, I must claim that my happiness equals yours. I hope, therefore, that the building will be accepted in a spirit of mutual congratulation.

If the gift commands your increased interest in educational matters and the children are made happier and healthier, my purpose will be accomplished.

I ask you to accept the building with the best wishes of myself and family, and at the same time, I desire to express to Dr. John C. Shaw, with your approval, our gratitude for his kindly aid in the pleasing work.

Yours sincerely,

H. H. Rogers

The letter was written by Mr. Rogers at a time when he did not expect to be present at the dedication, but he had changed his plans and was present in the hall. The applause which followed the reading of the letter was continued until Mr. Rogers rose to acknowledge the expression of goodwill.

"I thank you for your hearty greeting," said Mr. Rogers. "As a boy, youth, and man, I have known Mattapoisett somewhat in detail for about 50 years. The beginning of my education, the alphabet, was learned in Fairhaven, but before I was six years old, my parents came to Mattapoisett, and I attended my first school at Eagle hall, where I was sent to Woodbridge Howe, a competent and faithful teacher. Later I attended the little schoolhouse on Church Street. At that time, it was supposed to be part of a boy's education to whittle up the school building and furniture, so I borrowed a knife and began. In about five minutes Otis Howe, who was in charge of the school, taught me that I had made a mistake. I hope you young boys will be careful how you use jack-knives about the school building.

"Sometimes it is a matter of interest to know what influence a little thing has. A year ago, when Mrs. Rogers and I drove over to Mattapoisett to attend the dedication of the Town Hall, we met many of those whom I had known in boyhood. Among them was Mr. Burbank, who expressed his satisfaction with the Town Hall but wished that the town had a better school building. As we were riding home, I said to Mrs. Rogers, 'I've a mind to build a school for Mattapoisett,' She replied, 'Why don't you do it?' So I want you, when you thank me, to think of Mrs. Rogers and thank her as well, for if she was not the inspiring spirit, she certainly heartily commended the idea.

"I want to say a word or two to these boys, now that I have a chance, about how they may become good citizens. This world was made to work in, to work in for our own sustenance and for the help of others. Every creature in the world has to make its living, the animals of the field, the birds of the air, all must work. If you work, you may succeed, but if you don't, you never will. The real pleasure of this life is found in work. But I don't wish to detain you by a lesson in morals, and the things which I might say to you can be said so much better by your instructors that I will leave them for others to say.

"I thank the people of Mattapoisett for the kind acceptance of the gift and hope it will be half as enjoyable to you as the giving has been to us. If the children are made happier and healthier, we shall be very well satisfied."

When Mr. Rogers had resumed his seat, and the applause had subsided, Edward Stetson, one of the pupils of the school, called for the nomination of a committee of 10 pupils to prepare suitable resolutions of thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Rogers on behalf of the school children. The pupils chose the following committee: Edward Stetson, Edith Burbank, Lida Denham, Irene Achorn, John Tracey, Clara Ames, Grace Pratt, Carrie Matthews, Arthur Ashley, and Joseph Gomley.

The regular program was then resumed with a vocal trio sung by Misses Anna B. Trowbridge, Edith Burbank, and Alice Meigs.

Not to be outdone by the school children, Charles Atsatt suggested a rising vote of thanks to Mr. Rogers and Dr. Shaw, which was given by the townspeople with a hearty will.

The exercises were concluded by a chorus, a potpourri of national airs, by the pupils of the High and grammar grades, under the direction of Miss Trowbridge.

The classes then marched to their rooms, and an opportunity was given to the visitors to inspect the building. As they went from room to room, many took the opportunity to personally congratulate Mr. Rogers and Dr. Shaw, who acted as Mr. Rogers's agent in the erection of the school building, upon the complete success of the undertaking.

Refreshments were served in one of the rooms on the first floor, and music was furnished by the children of the grammar grade, a quartet consisting of Misses Trowbridge, Burbank, Meigs, and Lida Denham, and by Miss Purrington, who rendered a second violin solo which was greatly appreciated by those that heard it. In the primary department, Miss Buck's class gave a demonstration of the methods employed in teaching words.

A reproduction of a photograph of the school building, taken by Rev. Mr. Humphrey, is presented. The building is of brick, trimmed with a light-colored stone, situated at the corner of Church and Barstow streets, it is centrally located. Extensive grounds, curbed and seeded, surround it.

[Not everyone knows there are 14 happy Jester Masques, molded in concrete, adoring the red brick school positioned to forever observe the generations of children who come to play in the schoolyard. The youthful faces on the masks, smiling and winking secrets belie the tradition of the hickory sticks.]

The building is approached by two walks, leading to two entrances at the right and left, to be used by the boys and girls, respectively. These give admittance to a long corridor from which various rooms open. Each room is provided with two cloakrooms suitable to the needs of the scholar. The school rooms themselves are nearly alike in finish and seating capacity and offer a pleasing prospect of light and comfort. The rooms are finished in ash, and the walls, where not occupied by the blackboards, are tinted a delicate shade of green. Each room is supplied with the most approved pattern of chairs and desks, both being capable of adjustment to the height of the pupil. A convenient desh for the teacher is also noticed. Electric bells and a speaking tube allow for communication with the principal's room, which in addition is connected with the furnace room in the same manner. The gongs, outside and in, are rung from the master's room by means of electricity. Opening off the corridor at the north are two rooms joined by a folding door, to be used by the teachers as they require. One will probably be used as a library and is provided with a table, chairs, and bookcases appropriate for this use. The other, which has blackboards, will serve the purpose of a recitation room when needed.

The assembly room above is reached by a fireproof stairway of iron painted a dark red. A smaller corridor is found here, with entrances to the hall from the right and left with an additional rear entrance to the stage. The seating capacity of this apartment is 300, and appears to be admirably adapted for the assembling of the scholars in a body or for school exhibitions. Artistic shades of rose and green were used in it's decoration and the color scheme is very effective. The room is finished in cypress.

A visit to the basement shows the same regard for the health and comfort of the student that is to be observed elsewhere. Ample cemented playrooms, a bicycle room, toilet rooms, and two large furnaces (for the building is heated by hot water and hot air) testify to the care bestowed on this branch of school life. Everywhere are conspicuous and the mammoth ventilating shafts, a system here first to be used in the vicinity. Hot and cold water are also supplied, and marble bowls for this convenience are placed at accessible points.

The building of the school has been in charge of Dr. John C. Shaw, a native of the town, and it is due to his efforts that Mr. Rogers's wishes have been so pleasingly carried out.

The school is in charge of the following teachers: Edward F. Cunningham, High school and principal; M. Bessie Tidd, grammar grade; Grace M. Spinney, intermediate; Clara D. Buck, primary; Anna B. Towbridge, music. At the dedication exercises, the East district school was represented by Etta A. Carr and the Hammondtown school by Ethel E. Westgate.

Small notes of interest taken from town reports.

On October 27, 1897, the Board of Selectmen were authorized by a town meeting vote to purchase or take the land on the corner of Church Street and Barstow Street for a new schoolhouse, and the appropriation of $1,200 was voted for the land. Selectmen offered the owners $1,200, and they refused. So the Selectmen took the land under State law Chapter #299, Acts of 1897.

On Friday, January 12, 1900, a plaque was placed on the new school at the cost of $175. At the dedication ceremony at which Henry Rogers and his family attended, Rogers said, "The gift is made to show a greater interest in educational matters."

The first graduating class of four young ladies in June 1899 was held in Mattapoisett Town Hall, with essays by the graduates, music, and an address by Mr. J. W. MacDonald, agent of the State Board of Education.

In 1901, $185 was spent on a piano for the new school. Also, in 1901, 75 feet of fire hose was purchased to reach any portion of the interior. The Selectmen purchased four hand extinguishers for the school.

Frank M. Marsh was the first district superintendent when Mattapoisett formed an alliance with Fairhaven and Acushnet. Mattapoisett's share of his salary was $150.

The approximate cost per day per pupil was 16 1/2 cents in 1901. In 1899 a truant officer was appointed by the School Committee to curb the high absentee problem. Parents were habitually keeping children out of school in September to pick cranberries.

In the 1901 Annual Mattapoisett Town Report, the School Committee wrote, "The matter of interest shown in the schools by parents and others who should be interested is an old subject, and yet is even new. We have been impressed very favorably by the report made by our predecessors on March 1, 1865, eight years after our town was separated from the mother town of Rochester. In that report, the committee said, "we cannot hope for the greatest amount of benefits from the money expended upon our schools, under any system, until parents and teachers work together. Nothing perhaps encourages and stimulates a teacher so much as frequent and kindly greetings from parents and a free interchange of views upon the state of the school in general and the progress their own children are making in particular. A pupil will, in most cases, respect the school and the teacher and observe proper decorum in the school room just in the proportion that the teacher and the school are respected in the family to which said pupil belongs, and much of the blame which is laid on the teacher may belong elsewhere. These words are as true today as they were when written thirty-seven years ago, and we wish the parents would realize their truth!"

Mr. Manual R. Nunes, Sr. of River Road, Mattapoisett, was hired, with his crew, to excavate the basement. This was done by hand.

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