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Back to School: Our Education Roots

History has shown that the town of Medfield has had a long commitment to educating its young people. Town Historian Richard DeSorgher answers these questions: How did we get to this point and what are the roots of our educational system?

 

Over 2,700 Medfield students will be getting ready next week to begin another school year, with school starting on September 4, the day after Labor Day. They will be getting ready to enter an educational system that is recognized as one of the best in Massachusetts.

History has shown that the town of Medfield has had a long commitment to
educating its young people. How did we get to this point and what are the roots of our educational system?

Medfield’s first schoolhouse was built in 1666, located on North Street at the site of today’s Zebra’s restaurant. A granite marker in front of the restaurant commemorates this site. Four different “Centre Schools” occupied that spot. A second school was built there in 1732 and measured 18 by 16 feet. A third school replaced that one in 1760 and fifty years later in 1810, a fourth school was built. The 1810 schoolhouse was built as a one story building, but a second story was added later. 

In 1859, a new Centre School was erected at what is today 25 Pleasant Street. A stone marker also marks this spot.  That building, which housed students in all grades living in the center part of town, was enlarged and improved several times over the years. In 1897, it was named the Ralph Wheelock School and was in continuous operation until it was destroyed by fire in the early morning of March 21, 1940.

Back in the 1700 to1800s, Medfield was divided into three school districts: a north, a center and a south district.

The first North School was built in 1732 and was located on North Street, just north of Dale Street. A new North Schoolhouse was built in 1761 at the corner of North and Harding Streets and was replaced in 1803. The 1761 school was moved to the area of West and West Mill Streets where it is today as part of the Schoolhouse Park buildings which houses dentist Scott Bedell.  The 1803 school was taken away in 1849 and a new North Schoolhouse was erected further north at the corner of North and School Streets. This school was later called the Lowell Mason School and remained in use until 1920, when it closed. It was later destroyed by fire. This is the reason the street was called School Street.

The first South School, also 18 by 16 feet, was built in 1732 and was located near the corner of South and High Streets. There were subsequently four replacement schoolhouses, all about the same location, the first of which was built in 1761. In 1794, another new school was built which was enlarged in 1831. In 1855, a still newer school was built with the old 1794 building removed to an adjoining homestead (205 South Street) where it is still used today as a garage. The 1855 school burnt to the  ground in 1876 and was rebuilt. It was named the Hannah Adams School in 1901. It continued to serve the students in the south side of Medfield until 1904 when it was close. It was later sold and moved to 15 High Street, where it is still a residence today.

Due to overcrowded conditions in the 1920s, a new high school, named after Hannah Adams Pfaff, was built at the corner of North and Dale Streets, today’s Pfaff Center. The town now had two schools, with the elementary students attending the Ralph Wheelock School on Pleasant Street and the secondary students attending the new Hannah Adams Pfaff
High School.

When the Ralph Wheelock School burnt in 1940, all town students were transferred to the Hannah Adams Pfaff High School operating on double sessions.  Due to this crisis, Town Meeting voted to build a new high school. In 1942 that new high school was constructed next door on Dale Street. It was named the Hannah Adams Pfaff High School and the North Street building, the former high school, became the Hannah Adams Pfaff Elementary School.

In 1951, due to still more overcrowding, a new elementary school was built on Adams Street, today’s Memorial School. It was enlarged by 13 classrooms just five years later, and the Pfaff Center building became the Junior High School. In 1961, a new Junior-Senior High School, named for Amos Clark Kingsbury, was built on 24 Pound Street (today’s Blake Middle School).

With the moving of the high school students to Pound Street, the Hannah Adams Pfaff High School then became the Dale Street Elementary School and the Hannah Adams Pfaff Junior High School on North Street (now the Pfaff Center) closed. The North Street school building remained unoccupied until 1967 when it was turned over to the Park and Recreation Commission for use as a Youth Center. Organized around a Youth Center Advisory Board, Saturday night dances were held every weekend with 200 to 300 teenagers in attendance. Today, the building serves as headquarters for the Park and Recreation Commission.

In 1963, a major addition was added to the Dale Street School that included 10 classrooms and a cafeteria and renovations were made to the existing building.

Less than five years after the new Junior-Senior High School opened on 24 Pound Street, a new separate Junior High School had to be built next door to the high school (88R South Street, today’s high school building). Then three years later, in 1969, Medfield’s newest school was built, yet another elementary school. This time the school was built on Elm Street and was named the Ralph Wheelock School.

A Town Meeting attempt to remodel and add an addition to the high school was defeated by 10 votes in 1972, a vote many would regret years later when a more expensive addition had to be added in 1996. By the year 2000, the Town of Medfield had the highest percentage of young people under the age of 18 than any city or town in Massachusetts. This caused a record number of students to fill the school system, forcing renovations and additions to the Memorial School, the Dale Street School, the Middle School and the High School.

After the additions and renovations to the middle and high schools were completed, the two schools switched buildings. This brings us to today’s configuration of the Memorial School housing grades K-1, the Ralph Wheelock holding grades 2-3, Dale Street with grades 4-5, the Thomas A. Blake Middle School with grades 6-8 and the Amos Clark Kingsbury High School with grades 9-12.

Good luck and success to all the students, teachers, administrators and staff of the Medfield School system as they begin the 346th year of public education in the town of Medfield.

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