Cotuit has always been an educational hotbed. Cotuit became known as the “Summer Harvard” when dozens of professors joined the president A. Lawrence Lowell there. Many college-bound students spent summers in Cotuit, tutored in Greek, Latin and mathematics by headmaster James H. Morse. Exeter Headmaster Charles Fish ran a summer school at Cotuit Cottages across from the Library.

Cotuit built ten schools—and half are still standing. Only 14 years after the American Revolution Cotuit opened its first school. In 1797 the local leaders built a one-room schoolhouse next to Schoolhouse Pond, just north of St. Michael’s Church (the old Baxter Grange Hall).

Our local archivist, Ken Molloy, points out that from the start Cotuit schools were racially integrated: Wampanoag boys, sons of Hessian soldiers who had deserted from the British redcoats, children of Negro freemen, studied with Mayflower descendants. Later they welcomed Portuguese from the Azores and Cape Verde islands.

By 1845 the first schoolhouse was in such ruin that town fathers condemned it as “only fit for swine and beasts”. They tore it down and built a solid new one, which you can still see at 603 Main St., where it was moved. A new schoolhouse was built on this site in 1890, which was later moved to West Barnstable to become the “Sand Dune” tea room—it still stands at # 2514 on the Old King’s Highway.

Meanwhile, by 1830 the number of students had grown such that a school was built in Cotuit Port. This school is still in its original place, now the reference and circulation core of the present Cotuit Library.

A third school was built in 1843 in Highground near #19 Nickerson Road. Its teacher was Clara Collins, whose journal forms the basis of “The Cut of Her Jib”, describing school life. In 1856 this was replaced by the Green Schoolhouse which stands today at #1257 Main St. This was closed in 1868,
when the first consolidation took place.

The Santuit School was built on the site of today’s post office. The unnamed road off Main St. became School St. The frog pond at the rear provided the best educated frogs in town, it is said, because so many went to class in boys’ pockets. The pond was filled in to become the ball park/playground, now a neglected forest.

There’s a detailed story of early Cotuit schools written by Mary LeClair and Kay Hamblin in the Historical Society’s new book, “The Life and Times of Cotuit”. The building was repeatedly enlarged, and a second story added in 1894 to become the Cotuit High School for the western villages of the town.

In 1906 the Elizabeth Lowell High School was built on the site of today’s parking for the Kettleers ball field. It was named for the summer resident Elizabeth Lowell, who donated the land and the building (see photo). This school had the record of sending more graduates to the Normal School than Hyannis High. The most famous teacher and principal was Charles L. Gifford who was later U.S. Representative in Congress for 25 years. The high school continued until about 1925. Ten years later the building torn down and some timbers used to build the Cotuit Fire Station.

When the Lowell High School was built, the old 1868 building again became the grammar school. It was torn down in 1917 and replaced by a two-story school that many of our old-timers attended before it closed in 1958. The new brick Cotuit School was built on Old Oyster Rd., serving until 2009, when all Cotuit students were bussed to Marstons Mills. The Waldorf School opened there in 2010.

The Waldorf School is not the first private school in the village. In 1882 Edwin F. Kimball opened the Santuit private school in the Shubael Nickerson house (on Ocean View) with 32 pupils. He was so popular that the town hired him to teach in the Santuit Grammar School until he left to teach at Chauncy Hall School in Boston. He later became headmaster of the Gilbert Stuart School in Dorchester.

Adapted from article in Barnstable Enterprise 19 Aug. 2011


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