THE FIRST GIFT
The Story of the Rogers Grammar School
Dedicated – 1885
Material Researched and Integrated By Mabel Hoyle Knipe
Fairhaven, Massachusetts September – 1977
This Research Project
THE FIRST GIFT
Is affectionately dedicated To ELIZABETH I. HASTINGS
friend and fellow teacher In Rogers School many Years Ago
Mabel Hoyle Knipe
37 Oxford Street
ANNOUNCEMENT OF CONSTRUCTION – 1882
On November 11, 1882, the Fairhaven Star, town newspaper of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, carried a succinct yet portentous article. It was shyly tucked away in a column devoted almost exclusively to gossipy speculation and to the personal goings and comings of peripatetic townspeople. The article stated:
“H.H. Rogers Esq. has purchased the tract of land east of the Iron Works and enclosed by (contemplated) Chestnut, Pleasant and Union Streets. It is intimated that some kind of a factory is to be erected on this lot.”
Now this bit of news was abrasive to the curiosity of townspersons for they had followed avidly for years – the fortunes of Henry Huttleston Rogers, born in Fairhaven, early to become an enterprising young newspaper carrier, and later, a persuasive store clerk. He had attended the town schools, had courted and married a town girl, and had taken her off to the oil fields of Pennsylvania. There, through astuteness and hard work, he had made a great fortune, and now lived in New York in opulent surroundings, director of a great company – a comparatively young man of forty-two years, who often returned to his home town to visit his mother, attend school re-unions, and greet old friends. So everybody in town watched Henry Rogers, and as they read the Fairhaven Star of November 11, 1882 – they asked themselves: “What is Henry going to do with that land?”
They had to wait only a week. The Fairhaven Star of November 18, 1882 declaimed:
“Very much curiosity has been manifested during the present week regarding the special object of our former townsman, H.H. Rogers Esq. in purchasing the tract of land, containing two acres east of the Iron Works, comprising an entire square and bounded by Centre, Pleasant, Union, and Chestnut Streets. From the interest he has always manifested for the welfare of the home of his childhood – everyone knew it boded good for the town. But we were not prepared for the gratifying announcement which we are now permitted to make public.
“Mr. Rogers proposes to erect upon this square a building of brick and stone creditable to himself and the town, sufficiently large for the accommodation of all the scholars in the village below the high school grade, making a liberal allowance for the future growth of the town; and equip it with all the modern improvements and present it to the town.
“We would like to unearth the old cannon on the corner and fire a grand salute; and put into type the gratitude and admiration our citizens entertain for the noble gift and still nobler giver, were we not repressed and assured that praise would be distasteful to him.”
Then the editor went further in a veritable paean of triumph:
“Who says Fairhaven is a dead town?” (he wrote) “Will it appear so when the grand army of school children march up Center, Chestnut, Pleasant and Union Streets to that monumental building on Rogers’ Park?”
Thus, the people of Fairhaven, Massachusetts were to learn of their great good fortune in this theatrical announcement of H.H. Rogers’ “first gift” to his hometown. There was undoubtedly much speculation in the fragrant kitchens of the town, among the habitues of Mr. Snow’s drug store and at Beauldry Bros. stable. But whatever may have been the gossip in these havens – the town newspaper, for the three following months, maintained a great reserve and a titillating silence.
At last, on February 17, 1883, the Star vouchsafed almost reluctantly the glad news that Mr. Warren R. Briggs had been employed by Mr. Rogers to prepare plans for the new school. Mr. Briggs was a designer and architect of great distinction and had recently completed the planning of a school building in Bridgeport, Connecticut – which was reputed to be the model schoolhouse in all New England. Mr. Briggs visited the town early in February of 1883 to inspect the ground and surroundings and to make preliminary arrangements for the erection of the school.
In May, 1883, the plans had been completed. Several prominent citizens were invited to examine them, giving them high commendation, and saying that this would indeed be a model school building – and a “handsomer one than the New Bedford High School!” It was moreover stated by the Star that “one of the most celebrated architects of the state has pronounced the plans faultless. However,” continued the editor, “the Donor does not yet consent to publication of the plans – but work on the building will start June 1, 1883.”
THE SCHOOL COMMITTEE – 1882-1885
The personnel of the town School Committee at the time of the Rogers School erection consisted of Job C. Tripp, Charles C. Cundall and Albert Collins. They were men of sound business judgment and considerable acumen in educational matters. Dr. C.C. Cundall, physician and surgeon, seems to have been particularly well informed, and upon several occasions wrote extensive articles to be printed in the Star as work on the new school progressed. On December 9, 1882 he asks:
“What is the object of this gift?” He then proceeds to answer his own question and to write literately upon the deficiency of current town education and upon the advantages which the new school would present. Among many happy prospects, he cites the following:
“The great majority of Fairhaven children never enter high school. The benefactor desires that instruction given below high school grade shall be as complete as possible so that stepping from the grammar school into the real and earnest life struggle, the pupil will find himself possessed of an education sufficient for the ordinary duties of the average citizen.
“Brought under one roof, pupils can be more easily watched and graded.
“Teachers in one room can visit others and profit.
“A spirit of healthy emulation and ambition will be engendered by mutual contact of different grades.
“Present expenses for janitors and repairs will be cut.
“A structure of stone and brick needs few repairs.
“A primary department will be retained at Oxford, so distance to a central school will be excessive for no one.”
In ending his comments, Dr. Cundall states:
“Too much respect cannot be entertained for the man who believes that intelligent citizenship is the best foundation for the Fairhaven of the future.”
GENERAL SCHOOL CONDITIONS – 1880
In 1880 there were approximately 450 pupils in Fairhaven between 5 and 15 years of age. There was one primary school, one grammar school and seven mixed schools, employing in all, eleven teachers. The mixed schools were ungraded. The school buildings themselves were ill ventilated, nearly all uncomfortably seated, and poorly supplied with blackboards, maps, charts, etc. The teachers, according to Dr. Cundall, were “faithful, conscientious and hard-working, and did the best they could under the circumstances.”
To fill teacher vacancies, the town had to rely on graduates of the high school as it was impossible to provide money to remunerate Normal School graduates. Thus, the pupils “suffered while teachers acquired method and experience.”
Dr. Cundall further states: “The advent of the Rogers School marks a new era in school history in this town. In addition to its general aesthetic advantages, it makes it possible for the six or seven grades in each of the old buildings to be separated and the scholars of each grade gathered together in a room by themselves to be taught by a teacher who should devote her entire time to work of that grade, instead of dividing it between six or seven grades as formerly.”
ERECTION IN PROGRESS – 1883-1885
Thus, amid the rejoicing of the experts and the wonderment of simple, hard-working citizens who could hardly believe in the good fortune of “getting something for nothing,” Mr. Woodruff of New York, contractor of the building, arrived in town; and on Friday, August 17, 1883, ground was broken for the new school! Almost simultaneously 60 out-of-town laborers arrived, and the Star lugubriously moaned: “Where they will find accommodations it is hard to tell!”
Mr. Arnold G. Tripp was engaged to supervise the work, and Mr. John Bradford, town citizen, handled the teaming.
It was expected that the building would be completed in eight months, but unfortunate occurrences dogged efforts from the start, and the almost fanatical care exercised in building, extended the months of construction. At the very start of the project, intensely warm weather hindered the first efforts of initial structure. The laborers suffered badly in performing this heavy, exacting work, and many had to quit from exhaustion. As the work progressed, there was great difficulty in securing slaters, and the task of plastering was greatly delayed. There developed trouble about the laying of streets bordering the site of the building. Owners of the land protested that they did not want proposed streets crossing their property.
CORNER STONE CEREMONIES – 1884, May 15th
Yet the work continued, and on Thursday, May 15, 1884, the corner stone ceremonies were held. Mr. Rogers had specifically requested that these should be very simple. His daughter, Anne Engle Rogers, and Job C. Tripp – in the presence of a large company, among whom were the Building Committee and members of the School Board – took up positions at the northeast corner of the building. Mr. Tripp enumerated the contents of a box which was to be deposited in the stone. He then passed the box to Miss Rogers, and she placed it in the receptacle, and with trowel and hammer, completed the sealing. On the northern face of the stone the date was chiseled -
-May 15, 1884-
Contents of the box were as follows:
Condensed history of the town, listing of churches, schools, merchant and business industries; copy of the Fairhaven Star; copies of the New Bedford Evening Standard and the Daily Mercury; specimen of the coin of the day; postage stamps in use, and papers of special interest to the Rogers family.
STRENGTH OF BUILDING CONSTRUCTION
The work of construction now went forward with increased impetus. No effort or money was spared to make the building aesthetically attractive, healthful, convenient, and thorough in construction. The brick walls were of great solidity, and numerous brick partitions, arches and iron beams attested to the concern of Mr. Rogers that youngsters attending his school should know the safety of solid and expert construction.
The under-floors were laid diagonally, and the cement work of the cellar was poured nearly a foot in thickness. A layer of heavy paper was inserted between the two floors of each room to absorb moisture and deaden sound. The walls received two coats of plaster and were treated with a very hard finish. The blackboards, maneuvered into place, were of solid chemical state, and a large iron tank in the attic supplied water for the boilers.
A November 22, 1884 issue of the Star signaled near completion of the building with the announcement that a fancy iron railing was being placed across the archway at the level of the bell deck, and the ridge board had been sealed in copper.
By this time, the school had become a transatlantic celebrity! The Star confided on September 20, 1884 that:
“A distinguished sanitary engineer (name excluded) and editor of New York says that at the international sanitary exposition in London, he saw plans of Rogers School of Fairhaven occupying a conspicuous place in exhibits, and these were unquestionably the finest plans presented at the exposition.”
DEED OF CONVEYANCE
At a special town meeting in Fairhaven held on July 7, 1885, Daniel W. Deane, Chairman of the Selectmen, read the following letter from Mr. Rogers:
Prompted by a desire to promote the education of the youth of my native town, and to give an enduring token of my interest in the welfare of its inhabitants, I propose to donate to the town of Fairhaven the lot of land on which I have caused to be erected a building suitable in size, arrangements and equipments for the purposes of a school. You will confer upon me a favor by taking such action as may be necessary to inform the town of my purposes, and to enable me to transfer, by proper deed of conveyance, the land, buildings, and improvements, which I ask it to accept.
The deed of conveyance was then read. This was signed by Henry H. Rogers and Abbie P. Rogers, and witnessed by Anne E. Rogers and Charles Edgar Mills, Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The Hon. Weston Howland offered a motion for grateful acceptance, and the town meeting members accepted “the first gift” with suitable resolutions of thanks – enumerated and adopted. It was then voted that the school be called the “Rogers School.”
The deed of conveyance, a typical legal document, had one condition – perhaps a curious one for the 19th century, but a particularly significant one to those who read of it in the late 20th. This condition states:
“- And this conveyance is made upon the condition that said school shall be for the education of the children of Fairhaven, without restriction on account of sectarian creed or religious belief; and shall never be maintained as a school separately for Protestant or Catholic children, but both shall enjoy in common its privileges, as they are now enjoyed in the public schools of Fairhaven.”
THE DEDICATION – 1885, SEPTEMBER 3RD
So it happened, after years of planning on the part of inspired and professional men – after years of conscientious, day-by-day effort by skilled and unskilled, who labored physically, and made the building grow – after years of a sustained generosity on the part of a donor faithful to a dream – after years of rejoicing by town parents in a new opportunity opening for their young ones – after all this human hope and endeavor – the splendid “first gift” was finished and deemed ready for formal dedication.
The exercises took place on September 3, 1885 in the First Congregational Church. The spacious audience room was completely occupied. There were addresses by Daniel W. Deane, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen; Professor Franklin B. Dexter of Yale College; the Rev. Henry J. Fox, Pastor of M.E. Church; and Mr. Herbert Jenney of Cincinnati, Ohio. Then there was a warm articulation of his purposes by Mr. Rogers himself. There was a musical program arranged and trained by the doughty Dr. Cundall, who never once seems to have wavered in enthusiasm for the “great project,” and, of course, there were the school children who sang with much gusto.
A printed booklet describing dedication proceedings is available in town records. Well worth reading, it contains every word spoken on that glad occasion. As one considers these dedication speeches today, one is struck by the sincerity of emotion evoked by the occasion; by the sure grasp of fundamental educational policies and procedures; and by an open-minded suggestiveness of future educational trends. It must be remembered that this was a period of marked change in educational thinking and when developing philosophies in the art of teaching were confounding the thinking of the experts. Yet, much that was said by speakers that day regarding learning was sensitive and far-sighted. Much that was suggested – has come to pass.
That faithful raconteur, Dr. Cundall, wrote in a later issue of the Star:
“On Monday morning, Sept. 7, 1885 – boys and girls of the town bade adieu to their old discarded school buildings on Green, Spring, Privilege and Centre Streets – and went to the brand new Rogers!”
On Saturday, September 5th, the Star printed directives for the first day of school – Monday, September 7th. They follow:
“The Fall Term of the Public Schools will commence, Monday, September 7th, with the following corps of teachers:
Mr. Z.W. Kemp, Principal; Miss Annie E. Fairchild, Assistant
Grammar Department; Room 8, Miss Amanda Sears; Room 7, Lucy F. Winchester; Room 4, Sadie B. Clark.
Primary Department; Room 3, Ida E. Cundall; Room 2, Ruth E. Sears; Room 1, Lena Chubbuck.
Miss Clara A. Bourne
New Boston School
To be supplied.
Miss Alice P. Winchester.
Miss Mary J. Leymunion.
At the opening of the Rogers School the High School pupils will report to the Principal in Room 6.
Other classes of last year will report as follows:
First class, Grammar School, to Miss Fairchild in Rm.5
Second and Third Grammar classes to Miss A.F. Sears in Rm.8
Fourth Grammar class to Miss Winchester in Rm.7
First Primary to Miss Clark in Rm.4
Second Primary to Miss Cundall in Rm.3
Third Primary to Miss R.E. Sears in Rm.2
Fourth Primary to Miss Chubbuck in Rm. 1
The First Classes in Pease, Spring, and Green Street Schools will report to Miss Winchester in Rm.7; the Second Classes to Miss Clark, Rm.4; the Third Classes to Miss Cundall, Rm.3; the Fourth Classes to Miss R.E. Sears, Rm.2; the Primer Classes to Miss Chubbuck, Rm.1.”
Thus, the far-flung school units were brought together, and the “first gift” was in business!
Gradually, the outmoded and empty old school houses, largely of wooden frame construction, were sold for homes, stores or barns. Some were demolished and used for builders’ spare parts or for firewood.
The town children had settled happily into their grand new quarters, when, on December 19, 1885, three months after its opening, the Rogers School was struck by lightning! Witnesses stated that a ball of fire, six inches in diameter, struck the ornamental projection of the building on the east side of the tower. Little damage was sustained in the chipping off of two small pieces of freestone.
However, the ill fortune that had dogged the school in the early days of construction persisted. On March 29th, 1890, the Star announced sadly that “H.H. Rogers is not satisfied with the appearance of the outer brick walls of Rogers School and proposes to have them removed and replaced!” The faulty brick was gradually becoming discolored and in some instances, turning white!
On May 10, 1890 the Star announced: “The schooner A.E. Rudolph arrived with 120,000 pressed bricks for wall replacement. Ten men are engaged in discharging the vessel.”
Thus, in May, 1890, the slow and tedious task of replacing the faulty brick began. Twelve or fourteen men were engaged as all the old brick had gradually to be removed and new inserted. First class workmen were mandatory since great pains had to be taken to ensure a perfect finish, and breaking or chipping had to be avoided at all costs. To protect the new brick, straw was placed between every course in the pile.
At least fifty thousand fine pressed bricks of a superior quality were to be used at a cost of $50 a thousand! The new bricks were very even in size and a rich dark red in color.
At first it was expected this would be a five-month job, but the work went slowly because of many problems. It was necessary to make new plans for window trimmings and arches, and in the midst of infinite difficulties, “Six masons employed on the job quit work because of trouble with the boss!”
An anxious Star assured its readers that they need fear no weakening of the building walls because of the brick exchange. Indeed, they were assured, “The removal of the old brick and putting in of new will strengthen the building as the new bricks are harder.”
In the middle of this confusion, the Selectmen decided to place upon the building a tablet in terra cotta with the inscription
- Rogers School -
The matter was placed in the hands of the already harassed contractor in charge of repairs, and he was instructed to make a suitable design. At last, in November, the work was completed. The plaque was secured to the wall over the front doors, and a wreath was placed around the clock face. The original splendor of the “first gift” was restored.
INTO A NEW CENTURY
It might well be claimed that the erection of the Rogers School provided the means and the incentive for adoption of modern educational trends in the town of Fairhaven. Within the walls of the new school, there was space and stimulus for both teacher and pupil to reach and create. Good teaching and good learning resulted. Moreover, completion of this fine building seemed to evoke in the citizenry a new responsibility for the education of their children, for when, in 1896, the town started to grow inordinately, there was ready sentiment for the erection of a new school in Oxford. That area had become particularly populous, and the children there were still being taught in a little stone schoolhouse on North Street. It was a picturesque little place known as School No. 11, and for sixty-six years it had been in constant use. Now it was deemed inappropriate for school purposes. A town meeting on March 7, 1896 voted $15,000 for a new school, and this new building, the Oxford School, was dedicated on January 8, 1897.
When Mr. Rogers started the Unitarian Memorial Church in 1902, he presented the old Unitarian Church building to the town for school use. This was first designated as the Rogers School Annex, and later as the Washington Street School.
In 1917 the Job C. Tripp School was begun and the Edmund Anthony Jr. School was built in 1921. In 1925 the East Fairhaven School opened its doors, and Naskatucket had its own school again.
It is not inappropriate to suggest, then, that Mr. Rogers’ “first gift” served Fairhaven citizens as catalyst in development of a healthy respect for education and a deep interest in the welfare of their children.
Under the direction of astute superintendents, principals and teachers – the educational programs of the Rogers School, over the years, have been notable for solid and reasonable aspiration. There has always been emphasis upon sound scholarship and learning through individual approach.
The sturdily constructed building itself – to which an addition was added in 1958 – has served well. Students who have attended have used its facilities with pride and care. Consequently, it is in singularly good condition although it is approaching the end of its first century. The rooms are light and airy. There is a feeling of space, flexibility and freedom as a teacher stands before her class or walks the aisles. Here, the pressing compactness of many of the modern schools does not confine physically or mentally. Teachers still say they “like to teach in the Rogers School.”
There have been excellent extra-curricular ventures here. School clubs and athletic teams have been stimulating; school newspapers have augmented the English programs. Colorful fairs have brightened the school grounds, and some particularly effective dramatic offerings and pageants have drawn the citizenry in large numbers to the green lawns. In 1921 an outstanding historical pageant in seven episodes was presented; in 1934, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the corner stone laying, a pageant written by the teachers of the school was prepared. The 75th anniversary was celebrated in a pageant that depicted the special town meeting acceptance of the deed of conveyance and the dedication exercises held in the Congregational Church in 1885.
Moreover, parents of Rogers School students have, over the years, been consistently generous in support of the school policies, programs and aims. They have brought wisdom to the efforts of the faculty and understanding to the needs of the students.
The following paragraphs are taken from an address delivered by the Rev. Henry J. Fox at the dedication ceremonies for the Rogers School on September 3rd, 1885.
“He might (Mr. Rogers) have chosen to invest his $100,000 in pictures, in gems, in bronzes, in choice engravings and rare books, and have packed them away in his own house for the delight of his own household. He might have built a memorial for some college or some theological school. He might have given to some great city an incomparable gallery of art. He might have patronized science and endowed a great national observatory. He might have turned his munificence into the various channels which the needs of higher education are ever keeping so imploringly open. He might, like Yale, Vassar, Johns Hopkins, Swain and Cornell, have built a college or endowed professors’ chairs. I say he might have done any of these things, and blessed are the men who do them! But if he had allowed his beneficence to run in these channels, he would only have benefited some special class or classes and have done what men of less foresight will do to the end of time. He chose, and I think with a profound wisdom, to do something deeper, broader. In giving a school to the common people he has gone down to the root of things.
“He who furnishes the first rounds of the ladders by which alone men may attain to usefulness and honor, is to my mind, a much greater benefactor than he who puts in the higher rounds. For the higher rounds, a man standing securely on the lower ones may put in for himself, or find hundreds ready to put them in for him. It is the common school that makes the good citizen, that maintains public order, and gives stability to our institutions.”
These words of Dr. Fox are more significant to us today as we read them than they could possibly have been at the time they were delivered on the dedicatory platform. For those who attended the exercises in 1885 could never have dreamed of the future beneficence of Mr. Rogers to his home town. They could not foresee a group of splendid buildings he was to raise which have enriched the life of every citizen in the town. They could not know of the paving of streets; the far-sighted allocation of wells for pure water; the planning of a lovely park; the individual financial grants to relatives and family friends who were native to this town. None of these gifts had been proffered in 1885. They were to come over the next few years in an extraordinary outpouring of love and respect for his town.
Yet the initial fruits of this great good will had ripened as the Rogers School was dedicated – and his townspeople, with joy, accepted from Henry H. Rogers – his “first great gift.”