| Source: The Hyde Park Historical Record v. 1, no. 1, April, 1891
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The Butler School
The Oldest School-House in Hyde Park.
By Frank B. Rich (Read before the Hyde Park Historical Society, April 22, 1887)
On the north side of East River Street, between Huntington and Wood Avenues, stands a one-story frame building known as the Butler School. It is the oldest school-house in Hyde Park. The history of the building dates back to the beginning of the century, while the history of the school covers a period of over one hundred years. At the Dorchester town meeting in March, 1783, the town voted "That Ebenezer Trescott, Nathaniel Weatherby and others be allowed their proportionable part of the school money, they using and improving it for the purpose of educating their children."
At that time there were no public school accommodations for the residents of the sections now known as Hyde Park and Mattapan. Miss Polly Williams (afterwards the wife of Ebenezer Vose) was the first teacher engaged. The school was held in a building used as a corn barn; it stood in the yard of Richard Clarke opposite the site of the present school-house. For three years this rude and inconvenient structure served the purpose of a district school, the town of Dorchester making small appropriations each year for its maintenance.
The people soon demanded more accommodations, and in 1786 a school-house was built about where the present Butler School stands, the expense being borne in part by the town of Dorchester and the inhabitants of the district. Among those who assisted were Ebenezer Trescott, George Clarke, William Sumner, Lemuel Crane, Richard Clarke and Jeremiah McIntosh, prominent residents of the district. The building was of wood, twelve feet wide, fourteen feet deep, one story high, and without plastering or clapboards. It had four small glass windows, which closed with wooden shutters. Miss Gillespie, Mrs. Joseph Hawes and others taught there. Of course the building could only be occupied summers, and in order to meet the requests for a winter school the teacher, Mr. Lemuel Crane, in the fall of 1790, transferred the pupils to his own dwelling, where the winter term was held. The house is still standing on River Street, corner of Metropolitan Avenue, and is owned and occupied by the heirs of the late Elihu Greenwood. Mr. Crane also held evening schools here for boys employed in the paper mill. The following year (1791) the school-house was improved and made more comfortable by filling in bricks between the boarding, but the building was never plastered.
In the list of teachers are Miss Polly Crane, in the summer of 1797; Dr. Samuel Gould of Dedham, the winter term of 1797-98; Benjamin Heaton, 1798-99, who, tradition says, was so near-sighted that the boys used to play tricks with him in consequence of this defect. His successor was a Mr. Peck, 1799-1800. In the winter of 1800-01 the Rev. William Montague, a distinguished clergyman, was engaged as a teacher. He was rector of Christ Church, Boston, from 1787 to 1792, and for twenty-six years following that was rector of the Episcopal Church at Dedham. He also took a great interest in the Butler School, particularly the study of mathematics. He died in Dedham, July 22, 1833, in his seventy-sixth year. Perley Lyon of Woodstock, Conn., kept the school from 1801 to 1803; Miss Martha Sumner in 1803; Griffin Child, 1803-04; he was the last teacher in the old building. The salary at that time was $13 a month and board for the six winter months, for which the district paid $2 per week. The district had now outgrown this 12 x 14 building, and in 1803 the town of Dorchester appropriated $300 to build a new and commodious school-house.
The population of the town of Dorchester at that time was about 2,500, and the town was divided into four school districts; this one, sometimes called the Western District, was given new boundaries and called District No. 5. It included all the territory from the old Dedham line, near the Readville cotton mill, to the old starch factory now standing on the north bank of the Neponset River, about half a mile below Mattapan. The district was large in area, the small population very much scattered, and the school fund insufficient to meet the actual necessities. At this time the former teacher came forward, Mr. Lemuel Crane, then a member of the board of selectmen of Dorchester, afterward Representative to the General Court from this district, and he deeded, June 26, 1804, to the fifth school district of Dorchester the present school lot, containing about fourteen square rods, with the provision, ?The said land to be held by said district for the purpose of building a school-house thereon, and to be improved for the benefit of schools, and for no other use; and when said district shall cease to improve the said land for the purpose aforesaid, for two years in succession, then the said land shall revert back to me or my heirs.?
The town of Dorchester having appropriated $300, the district added $180, and the old school-house was sold for $25, making $505 for a building fund. Lemuel Crane, Jesse Ellis and Jeremiah McIntosh were appointed as a building committee, and the present structure, accommodating sixty pupils, was erected during the summer of 1804. Jesse Ellis and William Paul were the builders. The total cost, including desks, seats, fencing, etc. was $472.86. William Sumner gave the school a stove, which did good service for over thirty years. Mr. Griffin Child, who had taught in the old building, opened the winter term of 1804-05 in the present building, the custom then being to have male teachers for the winter terms and female teachers for the summer. Among those who taught in the present building are Miss Susan McIntosh, 1805; Miss Clarissa Sumner, 1806; William Fox of Woodstock, Conn, 1807-09; Waldo Fox, 1810; Miss Sally Sumner, Eben Tolman, Aaron D. Capen, followed by a long list of prominent men and women of Dorchester. The number of pupils attending continued about the same for many years, for as the population increased new school districts were formed. In 1815 the district was made smaller by a school being established at Upper Mills, now Mattapan, called district No. 6. Then in 1829 District No. 7 was added. The number was still further increased and the districts renumbered in 1836, this district (No. 5) becoming No. 7. The name ?Butler School? was given to the building in 1849, when the school committee of Dorchester changed all the district numbers to names. The reason given was to bring the schools into association with some of the great and good men who have lived among us. The name Butler was in honor of the Rev. Henry Butler, a native of Kent, England, and a graduate of Cambridge University. He settled in Dorchester about 1654, where for some twelve years he was engaged in the work of the ministry and in teaching. He died in England April 24, 1696, at the age of seventy-two.
The town of Dorchester continued the regular sessions of the school up to the time of the incorporation of Hyde Park, April 22, 1868, when the building became a part of the new town?s property and the school was continued, with slight interruption, until the opening of the Greenwood School, December, 1872, when the Butler School was closed, and remained vacant until September, 1884. In the earlier part of the century the building served the purpose of a church as well as a school, and distinguished clergymen of forty and fifty years ago occupied the desk. Among them were Rev. Hosea Ballou, the famous Universalist preacher, who made occasional visits here during the time of his pastorate over the Second Universalist Church of Boston., Clergymen from Dedham, Milton and Dorchester Centre also conducted services here on Sunday afternoons. A Sunday school was also held here, but there was no regularly organized society. The heirs of Lemuel Crane entered suit in 1881 against the town of Hyde Park to gain possession of the property on the ground of failing to comply with the provisions of the deed of 1804. The case was carried to the Supreme Court, who rendered a decision, May 11, 1883, in favor of the town. The following year upwards of $600 was expended in improvements on the building, and in September 1884, the old school building was re-opened once more and regular session have since been held. The general appearance of the building is about the same as in its early days, except that the tall elms on either side the entrance to the grounds have grown into more noble proportions, and after eighty-three years of public service, both as a district school and a house of worship, the old building stands firm, with promise of many years of usefulness yet to come. Its history is a forcible reminder of the enterprise and public spirit of our ancestors.
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Created: August 15, 2007 Modified: July 18, 2010