History of Schools in Putnam, Connecticut

Schools received immediate care from the fathers of Putnam. Their first meeting as a school society was held at Quinebaug Hall, July 9th, 1855. Moses Chandler was chosen clerk and treasurer. The first school committee were its honored citizens, Chandler A. Spalding, Richmond M. Bullock and Lucian Carpenter. Reverend Charles Willett, Messrs. Harrison Johnson, G. W. Phillips, W. W. White and Nathan Williams were appointed school visitors; Lucian Carpenter, collector. At the second meeting, September 21st, Messrs. Manning, Willett and B. F. Hutchins were empowered to set out and bound districts. October 6th, a larger number were designated for the important service of investigating and fixing suitable district boundaries, viz., James Allen, William Tourtellote, Alvan D. Potter, Henry Hough, L. Hopkins. Their elaborate report was mainly accepted, and after some minor alterations the bounds were allowed nearly as at present. Some distant portions of the territory were associated with adjoining districts in other towns. The six districts wholly included in Putnam, after subsequent changes and consolidation, were generally known as: 1, East Putnam; 2, South Neighborhood; 3, Putnam Heights; 4, Gary District; 5, Depot Village; 6, Rhodesville. The first formal school’ report was presented by Visitors Horace Seamans and Daniel Plimpton in 1859. Number of children then reported in town, 685; number of non-attendants, 196. The expense of maintaining public schools for the year, including repairs of school houses, was nineteen ‘hundred dollars; monthly wages paid to male teachers, $31.27, to female teachers, $16.54. Judge Seamans resigned his position in 1862, after seven years’ faithful service, his experience in teaching and deep interest in public education and the growth of the town, giving much weight to his counsel and judgment. Doctor Plimpton succeeded as chairman of the board of visitors. The growth of the schools in the central districts was now very rapid, demanding new school houses and additional teachers. In his careful reports Doctor Plimpton urged with much earnestness the special needs of Putnam village, viz., the consolidation of the two districts, and the establishment of graded schools with suitable high school. This project was warmly discussed, having earnest friends and equally earnest opponents.

In 1866 a vote was carried. in town meeting to accept the act of legislature allowing consolidation and a Union school district. Strenuous objections were made at the time, especially from the upper district. At a special town meeting, January 5th, 1867, this vote was rescinded by 93 versus 90. Agitation continued, and zealous efforts on both sides, resulting in what was called “the Sixth District School Fight,” an episode in Putnam’s history meriting Carlyle’s ” wise oblivion.” A motion from one of the chief, opposers of consolidation laid the question on the table by a final vote of 140 versus 111.

Doctor Plimpton was succeeded as chairman of the board of visitors by Reverend G. J. Tillotson, who, like his predecessors, gave much time and. thought to the interests of the schools, especially those of the central districts, now numbering 672 of the 838 children. Irregular attendance and lack of accommodation and suitable classification were greatly deplored. In 1869 new buildings were reported, with over a thousand children. Another veteran schoolteacher, Mr. J. J. Green, was now very active in school affairs, himself instructing adult pupils in a night school. Doctor Bronson and Mr. W. H. Ward also served very efficiently on the school board. As the children of the early residents of the town grew up into maturity the need of higher educational privileges was more vitally apparent. July 25th, 1873, a meeting was called to consider the question of establishing a high school. A motion to dissolve the meeting was lost by a majority of ten. A majority of twelve voted to establish a high school in Putnam. It was further voted to raise $12,000 for school lot and building. Messrs. Manning, Alton, Wheelock, Wilson and Fisher were chosen a committee to discharge all duties relating to the projected school; Messrs. Chamberlain, Houghton, Capen, H. N. Brown, Salem Ballard, committee for site. Land was purchased from Mr. G. M. Morse. Messrs. Phillips, Carpenter, G. M. Morse, Capen and Wheelock were appointed committee for building. A room was hired for school purposes and the high school actually begun during this year. Additional funds were needed for building purposes in the autumn. The prospect of a heavy debt and greatly increased school expenditures was very distasteful to taxpayers in the town, especially to those who had no personal interest in a high school. October 6th the town was again called together, to reconsider the question and rescind previous votes. A majority of 47 authoritatively decided that the school had come to stay; that a public high school had become an imperative necessity. Forty-nine pupils were reported the first term, with Latham Fitch principal, and Ellen Osgood assistant. The school building was dedicated, with appropriate exercises, December 1st, 1874. Superintendent Northrup and other prominent friends of education were present. The number of pupils was then 65-8 from outside the town.

In the fifteen years following this opening the school has been well sustained. Competent and faithful teachers have required and secured a high standard of scholarship. Hundreds of pupils within the limits of the town, and a goodly number of outside pupils, have enjoyed its advantages. Public graduation exercises from year to year have excited much interest. Scholars have gone out fitted for higher seminaries and college, and for various departments of business and usefulness. Graduates and scholars have united in a Putnam High School Association, keeping alive friendship and interest by pleasant Field-days “in Roseland Park. At the close of the last school year nine graduates participated in the exercises. The influence of the school has been every way salutary and stimulating. The public schools throughout the town are in good condition. An interesting report is recently given of the closing exercises in Sawyer’s district, formerly ” District No. 1,” of the town of Thompson. Out of forty-two scholars the average attendance was thirty-seven. The number of children reported in Putnam in 1888, between four and sixteen years of age, was 1,558; account for high school, $2,277.82; for district schools, $5,677.45; for night schools, $349.83. School visitors: Lucius H. Fuller, Eric H. Johnson, J. B. Kent, Omer La Rue, Frank H. Church, Darius S. Skinner. Mr. Skinner also serves as truant officer.

Parochial schools are also maintained for the boys and girls of the Catholic parish, under the auspices and superintendence of Father Vygen. The school house was built in 1873, together with a very commodious and ample edifice, designed for a first class boarding school for young ladies, conducted by Sisters of Mercy. These buildings are on the church grounds, near St. Joseph’s Hall and the ruins of St. Mary’s church, and are fitted up with great care and taste. Part of the cost was defrayed by the insurance on the burnt cathedral. The schools were opened in April. 1874. At least four hundred pupils attend the parochial schools, and about sixty the boarding school. This school is of a high order, conducted by devoted and accomplished Sisters. The first superior and principal, Sister, Josephine, a person of high mental attainments, died in 1876. Her successor, Viz. Paula, is well qualified for the duties of her charge, and young women graduating from this institution sustain a rigid examination with great credit. The admirable discipline and order observed in these schools, the superior and thorough character of the buildings, the beauty of the grounds, testify in the strongest terms to the energy and fidelity of their reverend projector.

Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889

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