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THE LADD STREET SCHOOL
A BRIEF HISTORY
By Katharine Blaisdell
John F. Page
The Haverhill Historical Society
....The Ladd Street School, built in 1849 for School District No. 2, was one of many Haverhill School Districts located in various sections of the town during the nineteenth century. Unlike the other schoolhouses which were built by committees appointed by the school districts, Ladd Street was built as a private undertaking by a group of nearby residents who agreed to give the district the right to use it in return for a specified payment. The agreement called for the construction of "a two-story house, about 36 by 28 feet on the ground, and to furnish District Number Two with a schoolroom on the lower floor . . . also to put in a belfry and hang the bell on the same . . . said house to be finished by the middle of June, 1849." The proposed dual function of the building was indicated in a sentence added to the agreement: "The upper room is to be used for public meetings or lectures at the disposal of the district."
....Its construction coincided with the demolition of the 1790 meetinghouse of the First Congregational Church which stood nearby. When the parish purchased the brick meetinghouse on the common in 1829, the church at Ladd Street was gradually abandoned.
....Historical sources and architectural evidence indicate that timbers and other building materials from the demolished church were used in building the schoolhouse. We know, of course, that the church bell, cast in Hartford in 1802, was hung in the new building but not until after Ladd Streeters had strenuously resisted attempts to relocate it to the newly-acquired brick church, a tale well recounted in Autobiography Of A Bell, published in 1902 to commemorate the bell's 100th anniversary.
....Many have remarked on the presence of oversize timbers of 18th-century vintage in the present schoolhouse. Architectural historian Steve Marlens noted, "As soon as I entered the vestibule and saw a massive chamfered post, I knew there were parts of an earlier, larger structure recycled within this one. [Its size] suggests it supported a much larger building originally; a post half its size would serve here." Surviving floor plans, one of them contemporary with the 1790 church building's construction, suggest a structure of about 56' x 50', or much larger than the present building's dimensions of 36' x 20'. Indeed, all available evidence seems to disprove persistent speculation that the second floor of the schoolhouse is an intact portion of the old church.
....The building was completed and first occupied for school purposes during the school year 1849-50. Lyman Buck's report for the Prudential Committee dated in March of 1850 included charges for printing the by-laws and having them framed, for building a woodshed, for procuring and installing a stove, and for the services and board of teachers; charges for the latter ranged from $2 plus to $4 plus per week.
....Later records indicate that the schoolhouse was repaired and a new woodshed built in 1893; four years later the schoolhouse was reshingled, and the interior was painted and papered in 1895 and 1918. Enrollments varied--in the 1890s there were forty pupils, but by 1906 the number had dwindled to 18. With changes in population and transportation, the schoolhouse was closed in 1927, and pupils who formerly attended there were driven to District No. 1 at Haverhill Academy.
....In 1931 the Ladd Street Hall Association deeded the building to the Knights Of Pythias, for use as a meeting place. Over the years the building was also used for dances and card parties, and for a time space was rented to the Haverhill Grange as a shared meeting hall. By 1980, the Pythians' declining membership led to a decision, made largely through the interest and determination of the late Velma Tyler, that the building be deeded to the Haverhill Historical Society for preservation.
....During the past two decades the Society has made extensive repairs to the foundation, windows, roof and belfry. With major exterior repairs completed, attention has turned to refurbishing the interior in the hope that the building--long an important community symbol--can now also be used for Society and community functions. Recent electrical work, painting and repairs to plaster and the schoolroom's tin ceiling, were made possible in large part through The Mildred Page Fund for Public Buildings at Haverhill Corner, administered by the Haverhill Select Board. We are grateful to the Board--and especially to Mildred Page--for their vision and generosity in helping to restore this precious link with Haverhill's earliest years to much of its former glory.
REMINISCENCES OF FORMER TEACHERS AND STUDENTS
....For several years after acquiring the building from the Knights of Pythias, the Haverhill Historical Society held annual reunions at the schoolhouse, inviting former teachers and pupils. The first gathering, in 1980, brought together more than eighty people, including about sixteen former pupils, and two former teachers to share their recollections. Frances Larty, later of Woodsville, taught here in 1914, with seventeen pupils. Enrita Brock Carlson of Newbury taught here for four years, until the spring of 1922. Mrs. Carlson was persuaded by Haverhill Superintendent Norman J. Page to come from West Newbury and take the job of teaching at Ladd Street. Her mother, Louise Page of Haverhill, had also taught here, in the 1800s.
....For many years there were eight grades at Ladd Street, later only six. The school had only one teacher, who worked with the different grades in rotation. While the other children attended to their own lessons they listened to the grades that were reciting and learned from them.
....When young Rita Brock first came to Ladd Street, she was warned about an eighth-grade boy who had been too much for the previous teacher to handle, and had been sent to Haverhill Academy so that the male teachers there could straighten him out. But the principal, Friend Jenkins, sent him back to Ladd Street where he belonged. When the boy heard about the small, young teacher who was coming, he announced to the world, "She ain't going to make me do anything. I'll throw her out the window. "Guess you don't know her," they told him. "She may be small, but she's used to helping her father with the farm work, driving a team of work horses, and lifting hundred-pound bags of grain and carrying them on her shoulder. You'd better be careful or you'll be the guy that goes out the window."
....When the boy arrived at school, he was prepared to show the teacher who was boss. When she told him to go and write something on the blackboard, he refused. She looked him straight in the eye and said quietly, "I don't think I heard you right."
....The boy started to get up from his seat--but Rita knew what he had in mind. He was on the other side of a table from her, so she put her hands firmly on the edge of the table, started slowly rising to her feet, and kept glaring at him until he sat back down and said meekly, "What was it you wanted me to do?" From that moment on, he was a model of behavior. After school that day, he apologized to her, offered to help her in any way he could, and told her, "If anybody ever bothers you, just let me know."
....One time Rita kept five or six boys after school for making spitballs. After the other children had gone, she asked them whether they liked to make spitballs. "Sure we do, " they said. "Well, you go ahead and make all you want," she told them.
....The boys took advantage of this dream-come-true, and made and threw spitballs to their hearts' content. After awhile they decided they were sick of it, so then Rita said, "All right, boys, now its time to clean up all this mess." There were spitballs stuck all over the room, and it was after dark by the time they were through cleaning them up.
....Rita also told about Haverhill Academy students from Pike coming up to Haverhill Station on the train every morning and returning at night, who walked past the schoolhouse on their way to and from the Academy. (The late Louis Pike was one of them.) Rita said that as they went by, they used to talk and make faces and clown around to tease the grade school children. Rita spoiled their fun by having all her pupils go to the windows and wave at them--and after that they didn't bother them anymore.
....Abbie Bunker Hall, 92, was the oldest former pupil present at the 1980 reunion. She recalled two of her teachers--Ida Buck and Florence Dayton. They opened school every morning with a Bible reading and the Lord's Prayer. Although the schoolroom had wide desks with seats that would hold two pupils, they didn't whisper or borrow pencils as the teacher was very particular about their attending to their own work.
....Abbie also told about the cold winter days, when students pulled benches up around the big old box stove to keep warm. At noontime they took turns toasting their sandwiches over the red coals in the stove, and heating cocoa which they had brought from home.
....Rita Carlson also remembered making a hot lunch for the children, such as corn chowder. Some of the children brought vegetables from home to put into the kettle--whatever was available. Afterwards they washed up their dishes in the old dry sink in the corner.
....One of her former pupils, Bernice Luce Gilbert of Piermont, said that one time her folks had brought her over from South Newbury in a sleigh, and it was such a cold morning that her cheeks froze. When she got to school, the teacher sat her next to the stove and put cream on her cheeks to warm them up. Although there were various means of transportation in those days, Luther Wheeler said that if they wanted to go to school, they went afoot. Charles Perry added, "And if we didn't want to go, we went just the same."