History of the Schoolhouse

The brick schoolhouse at the northeast corner of Shattuck and Harbor Streets, about three miles west of Town Hall, is actually the third to be built on that site. The first was probably constructed sometime after 1772 when the town voted to build four schools and appropriated 80 pounds for that purpose. Since 1759, the District of Pepperell held a school near the Meeting House and conducted three to four “moveable schools” to provide accessible education for all inhabitants.

While construction details of the first school building on the Shattuck Street site are not known at this time, a journal record of District No. 3 from 1817 to 1857 provides description of the construction of the second and third schoolhouse on this location.

In March of 1817, members and subscribers of School District No. 3 voted to build a schoolhouse “of brick on the present site”.

Also at this meeting a committee was chosen to oversee the construction and the size of the building specified at “twenty two feet squire (sic) and nine feet high and to put in six twenty squire (sic) windows, seven by nine glass one twelve in the porch.” Construction was put out to the lowest bidder who was Edmund Jewett, Jr. for a cost of $295 to be completed by October 20th. The building committee approved Mr. Jewett’s invoice for payment December 6, 1817 in the amount of $296 plus $9 interest. In July of 1819, the District voted to build a “wood house adjoining the school house 18 feet by 12 – 8 feet posts, shingled, boards to be planed on the south end and front, a necessary to be partitioned off four feet wide in the south end and a window in same with four lights, with two doors in front-one in the necessary and one in the wood house. The doors inthe wood house to be pinned with a padock (sic) & the door in the necessary with a latch and hasp…to be finished by the first day of November 1819.” Each year an appointed “Prudential Committee” would assess the physical condition of the building and recommend repairs. Recommended repairs were very minor. The district journal indicates about $5 to $8 per year was spent to fix glass, hinges and the like. Perhaps minimal maintenance contributed to the removal of this building in 1844. Or perhaps it was the influence of Horace Mann, Secretary of Education from 1837 to 1848, who campaigned across the Commonwealth to improve public education. His personal appearances and distribution of pamphlets to 3500 school districts regarding not only the value of educating the students but also of educating the teachers and of a properly furnished and ventilated school building. It is notable that the 1844 District No. 3 School House is very much like an example shown in a book of school architecture published in 1851.

The March 9, 1844 School District No. 3 meeting voted to “pull down the old school house… build a new school house on the same spot…build of brick…size to be 22 feet wide 34 feet long & 10 1/2 feet high… construction of the inside to be somewhat like the plan drawn by said (building) committee… raise $300 to build…chose a Committee of 5 to supervise the building of said house…to have the new house completed by the 20 day of June next.” It was also voted that the “District turn out & take down the old house gratis.” The school was dedicated at a ceremony held July 6, 1844. The next month it was voted “to move the wood shed back onto the old spot & fix it up in good shape.” Perhaps they missed the “necessary” during the dedication ceremony.

The school closed after the 1891 class. Space was available at the new school built in 1888 on Main Street at Chase Hill.

Not uncommonly, the school on this site was built on land owned by an individual who simply let the Town use it for a school building. Research is incomplete but one source cites that as no one could find a deed to the Town for the parcel, it reverted back to the owner of surrounding land.

The brick building has had some modifications since it was last used as a schoolhouse in 1891.

The north wall now has a double door cut into the masonry in place of the woodstove. The interior plaster and lath has been removed but the arched ceiling joists remain. Blackboards are generally intact as is the wood paneling. The teacher’s raised platform is present and in place.

The two original entrance doors remain each entering into a small coatroom complete with hooks, before entering the main room. The teacher’s platform is directly between these two doors, making a stealthy escape improbable. The wood shed is still attached to the south end of the building covering one of the two original entry doors. It might be surmised that the woodshed attached to the “boys” door providing easy access to the wood. The “necessary” inside the “woodhouse” is no longer present.

By good fortune, the schoolhouse has been maintained by owners over the last one hundred years. Except for the loss of the plaster, the “necessary” and chimney and the addition of electrical wiring and an asphalt-shingled roof, the building is remarkably like it must have been when shuttered in 1891.