Excerpts from The History of the Ipswich Public Schools written in 2008 by William E. Waitt, Jr, who served as teacher and principal in the Ipswich Public Schools for 36 years; and A History of the Ipswich Free Schools by Thomas Franklin Waters. Photos are from the Historic Ipswich site.
1633: Agawam (Ipswich) is settled by John Winthrop, Jr. The “Dame School” is established in the colonies and the towns’ foremost citizens who did not attend grammar schools are in attendance. Goodwife Collins dedicates more than 30 years to teaching in this first important step towards education.
1642: “The first third day of the 9th in 1642, it is granted that shall be a free school.”
1651: A grammar school is established and endowed, which was known as The Feoffees of the Grammar School. Mr. Robert Paine, according to another source, built the schoolhouse, completed in 1653, near the corner of County Road and Linden Street, facing the green, and it continued in use for a half century.
In 1704, the need for a new schoolhouse and a new Town Hall was apparent (because of an increase in population) so a Town Hall with a schoolhouse under it was built on Town Hill. In 1784, a new school house was built near the Town House, which occupied the small triangular plot in front of the present Methodist Church. This woodcut shows the second Ipswich Town House and Court, to the right of the church. The grammar school was at this location until 1794. In 1854 James Damon moved the old court building from the North Green to the corner of Market Street and Depot Square where it became the first “Damon Block.”
1890: The Wainwright School was constructed at a cost of $7,700. Edie Cook informs us that the school-house was originally beside the Payne school and was moved to its present location at the corner of Spring and Highland Streets.
1963 was an exciting year because in this year double sessions ended and all high school activities were transferred to a new building on High Street while Grades 6, 7 and 8 continued to use the old high school building which becomes a Junior High.
In 1986, a 10-room addition and extensive renovations were started at the Winthrop School. With the construction of this building Ipswich reached a landmark in that this was the first elementary school built with automatic oil heat, unit ventilators, sinks and bubblers in classrooms, an auditorium/cafeteria, a playroom, movable furniture and an internal sound system. The total cost of construction was $635,000.00, less State aid. The school replaced the old 10 room wooden Winthrop School (that was located in the front of the school to the right of the middle door) and had served the town for 70 years.
After much discussion, planning, failed voter ballots, overrides and plans, the Town Meeting decided to build a new middle school on the property in stages of less than $500,000 in order prevent defeat at the ballot. The 1963 building served the needs of the Town but was of the cheapest construction and was not suitable for an expanded high school curriculum so it was decided to build a new facility. A committee, beginning in 1992, was appointed to study the situation and they decide the site was excellent but the building should be torn down after a new one (the current Ipswich Middle/High School)was built in front of existing building. Photo cover of 1965 Ipswich Annual Report.
In 1944, the manual training program was moved from the basement of the Winthrop School to the shop building. In 1997, two modular classrooms were added to the Whipple School. This building was moved to the end of the Winthrop School (in 2000) when the new Middle/High School was opened. It still is in use today. Photo from Whipple Terrace site.
In 1996, voters approved a new middle/high school for High Street at a cost of $31.9 million. After construction delays, the new facility opened in September, 2000 with 512 students in the High School and 502 in the Middle School. A Performing Arts Center was an exciting part of the new facility.
An early history of the Ipswich Free Schools
From the two-volume set Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Thomas Franklin Waters, 1910.
Ipswich has not lost the great traditions of her past. The generous love of learning, fostered by the old Grammar School in its best days, is manifest still in the steady improvement of her free public schools, at an annual expense which has increased constantly until the great maximum of $43,000 was voted cheerfully and without debate at the Town Meeting of 1917. Year by year, the pupils pass on to higher institutions of learning.”
“A Committee to provide a building for the town school was appointed in January, 1651-2, and studious effort to secure the best educational advantages is manifest in the annual provision for the public school and frequent contributions to Harvard College.
The ancient record book of the Grammar School reads, “1636. A Grammar School is set up but does not succeed.” The failure was but temporary. A more determined effort was recorded in 1642, “It is granted that there shall be a free Schole.”
In the summer of that same year, William Hubbard of Ipswich, in his twenty-first year, “was one of that remarkable group of nine young men whom Harvard College sent forth in 1642, as the first specimens of high culture achieved in the woods of America.”
The Ipswich Grammar School had become a pride to the Town. In the year 1650, the broad-minded citizens, with note-worthy ambition, called to the position of schoolmaster, the most eminent teacher in New England, Ezekiel Cheever. His Latin Grammar, “The Accidence” was “the first elementary book for learners of the Latin language.” His fame is second to that of no schoolmaster New England has ever produced, requires no additional testimony to its worth or its merits.”
A Committee to provide a building for the town school was appointed in January, 1651-2, and studious effort to secure the best educational advantages is manifest in the annual provision for the public school and frequent contributions to Harvard College.
On Jan. 26, 1652, the Town voted “For the better aiding of the school and the affairs thereof, Mr. Samuel Symonds, Mr. Nathaniel Rogers, Mr. Jonathan Norton, Major Daniel Dennison, Mr. Robert Paine, Mr. William Paine, Mr. William Hubbard, Dea. John Whipple and Mr. Wm. Bartholomew, were chosen for a committee to receive all such sums of money, as have and shall be given toward the building or maintaining of a Grammar school and school master, and to disburse and dispose such sums as are given to provide a school-house and school master’s house, to write and cast accounts.”
Mr. Robert Payne “at his own proper cost & charge” built an edifice for a grammar school, which was erected in the corner lot, bounded by County Road and Poplar St. Mr. Paine held title to this estate until 1683, when he conveyed it to the Feoffees. There Mr. Cheever made his home.
When Scholars had so far profited at the Grammar Schools, that they could “read any classical author into English, and readily make and speak true Latin, and write it in verse as well as prose; and perfectly decline the paradigms of nouns and verbs in the Greek tongue, they were judged capable of Admission in Harvard College.
This was the substance, then, of the course of study in the Ipswich Grammar School, though room was made probably for the elementary studies in reading, writing and arithmetic. The School became famous, and many boys came for their preparation for College. So many Ipswich boys graduated from Harvard in those years, that we are sure of the names of some who were trained by Mr. Cheever.
Little children, and girls of any age, were not eligible for the Grammar School and there were “dame schools,” taught in private houses in the various neighborhoods. One of the finest and strictest was run by Madame Rogers at the spot where the old South Congregational Church stood. When the church was built, the Rogers house was moved down County Rd., and still stands today.
Daniel Rogers became the Teacher of his old school, and remained in it until 1716, fitting fifteen young men in that time for the College. In after years, he became Justice of the Quarter Sessions Court and Register of Probate, and lost his life in tragic fashion on the Salisbury marshes in 1722. Returning from Salisbury where he had been holding Court, he lost his way in a blinding snowstorm, Dec. 1, 1723, and strayed out on the marshes, where he perished. His gravestone in the Old Burying Ground on High St.
The school-house built by Mr. Robert Paine in 1653 for the use of the Grammar School, facing the School-House Green, as it was then called, continued in use for half a century. The watch-house near the meeting-house and was no longer needed for that purpose, the peril of Indian attack no longer remained, and it served the community as a crude school room, with “such woman, as will teach children to read and as in y’ prudence” to be appointed by the selectmen.
In 1704, the Town built a Town House “with a school-house under it,” near the great ledge on Meeting House Hill with the help of the County. Town meeting voted on a resolution that specified a building about 32 feet long, 28 feet wide and 18 or 19 feet tall “with a flat roof raised about 5 foot” It was located on the grass plot in front of the Methodist church, close to a huge ledge that reached nearly to its eaves, which was blasted away many years ago. A school room was provided in the lower story and the Court room occupied the upper floor. The school continued in this location until 1794.
As the population grew, the old Town often resorted to many makeshifts in regard to a proper school building. As early as 1714 it was voted that “the watch-house should be improved during the summer by some person who will undertake the teaching of young children to read.” In 1731, the town resorted to using the almshouse for classes.
In 1718 the town voted 60 pounds annually as the school budget of the Grammar School, and “That every child going to school shall pay for ye schooling at ye rate of 20 shillings per scholar, and what that will fail of sixty pounds, the Town will make up to ye sum for ye year ensuing.” The fire was provided by the parents, and in case of a refusal to find the wood, “the Committee are ordered to dismiss the scholar from the School.”
At the same time, contentions arose between the town and the Feoffees regarding the Little Neck trust, regarding receiving and applying the rents, or of ordaining and directing the affairs of the school. The Town thus assumed complete control of the Grammar School, but tensions would continue for almost 300 years until the trust was abolished by Town Meeting in 2009.
The School Committee became a well established addition to the Town officials, and the most prominent citizens found place from year to year on this dignified Board. On March 4, 1739-40, the school appropriation was increased to £150, inclusive of school rents, for the Grammar School and the reading and writing school, and it was divided between the three parishes (Ipswich, Chebacco and the Hamlet). Notwithstanding this zeal for her schools, the Selectmen were authorized by the Town in April, 1739, to answer to the Court of General Sessions to a bill of presentment found against the Town ‘for not keeping a reading & writing school.’
In 1783 there was a demand for longer terms of the reading and writing schools and provision was made for one school, to be kept the whole year in the Chebacco, Hamlet and Linebrook parishes and the other in the First and South parishes with accommodation for the children in the “Village.”
In 1798, Dr. Samuel Dana was the schoolmaster. His letter to the selectmen reveals the decadent condition of the ancient school. The Town’s people were dissatisfied with it and bright boys like Daniel Treadwell, the future Harvard Professor, were sent to school in other towns. The teachers were capable and often brilliant, but their tenure was brief and continuity of work was impossible.
Owing to the failure to provide adequate salary to teachers, the Grammar school was not kept in use after 1818, and the town hoped for some way for it to be kept open constantly, and thereby add to the number of our publicly educated men. Though a reading and writing school on the South side of the river for those that lived within a mile and a half of the body of the Town was provided for in June, 1802, there was no school-house. It may have been kept in a room in Doctor Dana’s parsonage.
It was proposed that the unfinished portion of the Grammar School building be fitted for school purposes, and a subscription paper was circulated in February, 1828, “to defray the expense of finishing the Grammar School house for a male academy.” The Ipswich Academy had been established in 1825 as a school for both sexes, but proved a failure.
The Feoffees were keenly aware of the decline of the school, and in the year 1835, an earnest effort was made to adjust it to the changed conditions of the time. They had built a new school building about 1794, but because of their lack of funds, only the upper room was finished, and the lower room remained unfinished until the South district secured it for their use.
The establishment of an English High School was now a theme of popular interest. The Feoffes built a new school at the site of the original Ipswich School near the South Green, and offered the use of their school-house and $300 annually from their funds on the conditions that the School shall combine the advantages both of a high English School & of a Latin Grammar School, that the Master of the School shall be selected by a Committee of the Town and approved by the Feoffees, and that all the youths belonging to Town who shall be pursuing a course of study preparatory to College may enjoy the advantages of the school.
A file of School Reports, beginning with the year 1846 affords us a suggestive picture of the Schools in the first half of the 19th Century. The perennial difficulties under which these schools were carried on were the fluctuating attendance, due to the incoming of the large boys and youth, and young men, often of legal age, for a few weeks of schooling in the winter, the consequent crowding out of the young children and the older girls, and the constant change of teachers. A female teacher was invariably employed in the summer, but for the winter, a man was essential. Unfortunately, the salary was so small, that only young men, often college students who were eking out their scanty funds by a few months of teaching, were the only teachers available. Their youth and inexperience, and the large proportion of pupils in the crowded school rooms, led invariably to a constant struggle to maintain decent order.
In 1874, the Town entered into an agreement with the Manning Trustees, by which the Manning High School was established. Dr. Thomas Manning was many years in everything that advanced the welfare of the Town. He died on February 3, 1854, at the age of eighty, bequeathing the greater part of his estate to the Town for the purpose of establishing “a High School in the town of Ipswich, which should be free to the youth of the town of both sexes. The small outlying schools at Candlewood and Linebrook were brought into the central school, and at last the Town of Ipswich had a proper school building.”
Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Thomas Franklin Waters, 1910.
- Vol I, Chapter XII: The Grammar School and Harvard College
- Vol II, Chapter XII: Schools and School Masters of the 18th Century
- Vol II, Chapter XXIII: Schools and School Teachers in the 19th Century
- Vol II, Chapter XXIV: The Ipswich Academy, Later Known as the Ipswich Female Seminary