ONE ROOM SCHOOLS

THE ONE-ROOM SCHOOLS and TEACHERS

 

Public schools in Marstons Mills go back more than 250 years. In 1732 the town supported a “Squadron School” whose male teacher, usually a college graduate, taught in private homes, in this case 15 weeks at Benjamin Goodspeed’s. For over sixty years the itinerant teacher was Joseph Lewis (1702-1788), who graduated from Harvard in 1724. In 1742 Marstons Mills got four months near Benjamin Marston’s. Town leaders like Judge Nymphas Marston would have been educated in this way.

 

After the American Revolution (1794) the town created 13 school districts whose inhabitants were required to support a grammar school. Three of these were in today’s Marstons Mills: #7 in the Plains with 39 children, #8 in Jones’ neighborhood (Newtown) with 38 children, and the village #9 with 48 children, 125 all told. Local citizens taxed themselves and usually built a one-room schoolhouse. By 1818 Marstons Mills had three schools, in Newtown, the Plains and the village center.

 

The most remarkable teacher in early Marstons Mills was Amos Otis, Jr. (1801-75), the author of the authoritative Genealogical Notes of Barnstable Families. He taught here for 15 years, walking eight miles from his home in Barnstable village to school, and back. Otis went on to become founder of the Barnstable Bank and Barnstable County Insurance, an early promoter of the railroad, the temperance society, the Academy and agricultural society.

 

We do not know where the first Mills school was located, but by 1848 the town wanted it replaced as both “worn out” and “inconvenient”, declaring it one of several schools that were “little better than caves or dog kennels, unfit for anything save habitations for cattle and swine.”

 

So the local taxpayers built a new school about where the Mills Restaurant now stands, on land bought from Chipman Hinckley. Finished in October 1851 by builder C. E. King, and officially called “one of the best in town” it was formally dedicated on 6 Dec. 1851 by the respected educator Freeman N. Blake, principal of Barnstable Academy. This one room building faced south on the road to West Barnstable, with separate doors for boys and girls. On the gable peak was a flagpole and a cupola with a big brass bell. No indoor plumbing, of course, so there were separate girls and boys privies out back.

 

In 1869 Barnstable abandoned the district system, and began consolidating districts, facing the fact that schools were not all in walking distance by providing transport by large horse-drawn wagons, called “barges”.

 

The favorite teacher was Mrs. Addie Gertrude Crosby (1853-1939). At retirement she was lauded as “one of the best teachers in Massachusetts.” Born in Pondsville, daughter of Capt. Joseph Crocker, sister of long-time postmistress Hattie Mecarta, and also sister of Minnie the wife of Oliver Crocker, Jr., and Fremont Crocker who carried on the family farm.

 

She began 38 years of teaching in 1874. In 1885 she married the widower Capt. Abner F. Crosby of Cotuit, who had lost his first wife when she was only 26. But he died of TB at age 55 in 1892. During much of the eighteen-nineties Addie taught in the Mixed School of Marstons Mills, in which teachers taught all grades, ages 6 to 15. In 1900 she moved to Osterville, where she taught for 12 years, much beloved, and remembered by Elmer Whitely as “an old time teacher [who] demanded attention. There you began to learn your three R’s and no fooling.” On retirement she was longtime president of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union which won the achievement of Prohibition.

 

Ted Pierce, who attended the old school for five years (repeating one grade) drew a diagram of the school’s layout: boys came in the right door, girls thru the left. Between the doors was the wood box, and the stove, its stovepipe running overhead to the chimney at the far end. Although a student could get a drink at the pump outside, inside the door was a water barrel with dipper for common use. Jean Parker told how “Mother cautioned us about drinking from the dipper by putting our mouths over the rim, It was better to put the dipper rim under our lips.”

 

There were two platforms, on the left was the teacher’s desk, on the right “where bad kids stood”. Ted must have spent much time there, as he recalled that the teacher would go outside to talk to the stage driver and put an older girl in charge. When she came back she asked who was acting up. The girl would say Ted Pierce did this and that. “Ted Pierce didn’t do anything.” Outside, on the left was the woodshed, at the far end of which were the toilets, again boys on the right, girls on the left. This was the village school until 1915, with similar schools in Newtown and The Plains.

 

The last teacher at the one-room school was Lillian G. Murdock. Born in 1878, she came from North Abington to tutor in Sandwich, graduated from Hyannis Normal School in 1907, evidently married, and taught at Marstons Mills as Mrs. Chandler, until 1912 when she took her maiden name as Miss Murdock. Although Ted Pierce hated her because “She loved me in a bad way”, she was well liked in the village, noted for getting the first Victrola for the schools, for her singing and organizing Christmas parties, and teaching Sunday School. After 15 years here she took a job teaching in Rockland, and remarried a Plains widower John Gibby.

 

One-room teaching could not have been too bad, for all the Higgins children, including Roger who became head of the English department at Andover Academy, and his brother the Harvard trained Dr. Donald Higgins, began in the Marstons Mills school.

 

 

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