The Unique History Of One Small But Very Tough Little Building In Norfolk
Over A Very Long Period Of Time . . . . . . Or The Little Building That Could
The Old North School
The Norfolk Fire Department Ladder Truck House
The Little Fire House School
The Norfolk Library and The Jeanne D. Hill Room
In 1718 Wrentham ordered that four separate schools be established, one at each cardinal point of the town, likewise the neighboring towns of Walpole and Franklin had active and multiple school buildings established during the 1700s.
From the Wrentham Selectman's records it appears that the people in the Great North (Medfield Road, today's Boardman Street) district petitioned the town for money for a school building about 1746. These people resided from Stony Brook to the North end of town. The first school in the area is believed to be somewhere between Stony Brook and Clark's Sawmill, on Medfield Road, hence the name.
We know there was a very early school house which once stood on the north side of Cleveland Street. One report indicates it may have been built in 1845 but it may have been built even earlier. This was near the residence of William Day (Assessor 1911-1934). The children and grandchildren of Robert Day (born 11 Oct 1755) attended school there. At one time the wife of Silas Fales (born 10 Jun 1798, died circa 1877), Roxa Perigo (married 5 Nov 1835) taught in the North School.
In 1877 the Norfolk School Committee noted that “More room is needed to accommodate scholars, to say nothing of visitors, fuel, etc. A building so small as to be crowded, is both inconvenient and unhealthy and ill calculated to promote the best interests of education for which we are striving.”
A committee consisting of
Silas J. Holbrook – born circa 1802
Shem Armsby – one of the original founding 32 members of the Cleveland Religious Society in April 1832 and a signer in June 1833 of the $30 deed to the Cleveland Religious Society of the land upon which is now located the Federated Church.
Elisha Ford – born 1791
recommended that a new larger school house be located on the south side of Cleveland Street. It was to be approximately 22 foot square and would replace the original school house. Parts of the pre 1845 school house would likely have been incorporated into the new school building. An appropriation of $350 for the construction was requested.
The town warrant of March 4, 1878 Article 8 stated “To see what action the town will take in regard to a petition for enlarging the North District School House.”
In the summer of 1878 the school house was remodeled by:
Silas E. Fales – born about 1829, Civil War veteran, Town Clerk 1870-1901, Assessor 1871, Town Treasurer 1876-1901, Grange Officer 1894, living on Avery Street in 1910 and father of Bertha Fales
Nathan H. Rockwood – born in Wrentham (Norfolk) circa 1846, 6 siblings, died June 5, 1913
Lathrop C. Keith - Norfolk teacher 1872-1880, Assessor 1874-1876
The sum of $250 was voted to enlarge the North School House. The real expenditures considerably exceeded that as S.E. Fales was paid $473 for materials, labor and transportation, Theodore Phenouf was paid $18.25 for painting the school and W.E. Codding was paid $3.67 for a clock. White lead and oil were also applied to the building. Total price: $494.92. Nearly double the amount approved BUT “We now have a neat, commodious and convenient room, an honor to the town and we do not think any of our citizens will assail this action of the Committee.”
In the same year, 1878, Miss Clara I. Metcalf was paid $195.50 for 23 weeks of teaching and Mr. L.C. Keith $90 for 10 weeks. Fuel was $12, care of the house $9.25 for total running expenses for the year of $306.75 or a CPS - Cost per Scholar of $12.76. Pupil count for spring term was 25, fall term 33 and winter 31; average attendance was 20, 28 and 25 respectively, with an average of 24 scholars for the year.
In 1895, the North School teacher, Lizzie Turkington was paid $297 for 33 weeks of teaching - in 1897 she earned $170 for only 17 weeks.
As of 1898 all Norfolk students were consolidated into just two school buildings, one at the Center School, next to the Federated Church in Norfolk center, the other was located at City Mills. The North School House, then being empty, was moved to the Town Hill next to the Meeting House for use as the Norfolk Fire Department’s Ladder Truck House.
In 1903 the road was widened and the hill lowered between the house of William A. Day and where the North School House had formerly stood. This was done by E. E. Ware, who exceeded the appropriation of $55.33 for this work by $5.33. A house was later built on the site of the North School at the corner of Cleveland and Fruit Streets. In 1934 this land was noted as the residence of the carpenter Thompson Smalley and his wife Grace.
The Ladder Trucks were stored in the new Ladder Truck House uneventfully until 1910 when the building got a facelift, with a new gravel and a cement driveway and the appropriate grading, as the old wooden plank driveway had fallen into decay. Also in the same year, a cellar was dug under the Truck House for storing fuel and supplies. Total expenses for these labors was $16.81.
A few minor repairs were noted as having been made to the Truck House by the Fire Department in 1916 and in again in 1924 when the H. A. Morse Lumber Corp. received $30.37 for repairs to the Old Truck House.
The town meeting of March 16, 1925, Article 18 “Voted that the Moderator appoint a committee of three to bring in plans to remodel the Truck House to make Town officers rooms and storage rooms for town machinery, said committee to report as soon as possible.” The committee was comprised of William M. Gallagher, Henry B. Rockwood and Arthur D. Hill.
A special Town meeting was held on December 9, 1925 which instead voted to appropriate $3000 to build a completely new Fire House, in another location and that the old Truck House on Town Hill be left alone until March 1926.
On March 15 of 1926 in Article 15 the town appropriated a sum $500 to be used at the discretion of the Selectmen for care of the old Fire House.
After the new fire house was built for the Fire Department the little North School House was once again turned back for use as a school building.
The Center School - whose distinctive shape graced the lot beside the Federated Church in Norfolk Center, until it was raised in the 1950s - at this time was starting to see an increase in the number of enrollments and finally by the fall session of 1930 it was evident to all that the Center school had become “too crowded for efficient work”. The School Committee reported that “Owing to an increased number of children at the opening of school in September, it became necessary to fit up another room to comfortably accommodate the children." At some expense (total repairs for the year were $1,120.82) the old fire house was altered, a new floor was laid and after making a few other changes and additions we are using this building for a school room at the present time. The seventh and fourth grades, being the smallest
were placed in this room, thus relieving the Grammar room of one grade……now only one room has over 33 children.” On September 29, 1930 Miss Loretta C. Brown began her work in the new Fire House School, taking the 7th and 4th grades from the Center building to the Town Hill proper.
In 1931 Mrs. McBride was transferred to the Fire House School. The School Committee pleased with their new accommodations reported that this room is in better condition than last year, having been redecorated inside and newly painted outside. Extra seats have been added and temporarily it provides every comfortable and convenient room for a part of the 3rd and 4th grade pupils. Since the opening of the old Fire House as a school, no room is overcrowded. The 31 pupils and teachers have been very happy there in the privileges it offers and commendable results have been obtained.
In the summer of 1932 the Firehouse school stove was jacketed and the students were kept comfortably warm during the winter months. It was noted that the window boards are in constant use and while it has no basement or protecting porch or double door at the entrance, the room is comfortable and safe. In this year the Fire House School was used as the home for grade 3 and part of grade 2.
Miss Jones took over teaching responsibilities at the Fire House School in 1933 with the 4th grade pupils under her tutelage. “It was impossible to take care of all the extra children who had moved into Norfolk without the use of this Fire House School”.
“The Little Fire House School” received a fresh coat of paint in 1934 and the School Committee noted that at the Center School almost every room was filled to comfortable capacity or more, including the overflow room at the Fire House School.
In September of 1939 the Firehouse School was “abandoned” as a regular schoolroom, turning its use instead to house the Manual Training class. The School Committee reported that the Firehouse School provides suitable accommodations for this and additional industrial arts equipment is being installed so that Mr. Rosecoe Twombly of Southville will be able to conduct lessons in woodwork with the boys of grade 7 and 8.
The 1940 report indicates that The Industrial Arts shop was being enthusiastically developed and has already proved to be of great stimulus and value to our boys. Machines such as a bandsaw and others were purchased and added to large complement hand tools already being used.
By 1941 with the Winds of War on the door step and school enrollment down, the Industrial Arts program was relegated to using the fire House School only 1 day a week – Fridays. Mr. Twombly was called into service 1942 and although his position would be held open awaiting his return, following service to his country, Mr. William Jones took over the Industrial Arts program at the school.
An oil burning stove was installed in 1944 to replace the old iron wood burning stove which had kept so many students warm throughout the cold winters but the stove from the school saw new life as it was eagerly pressed into service as a gift to the Mirror Lake Fire Department.
In 1946 after the allied victory Mr. Twombly returned once again to his previous position conducting the Industrial Arts classes and adding additional evening craft classes for benefit of the townspeople in the Fire House School.
By 1947 metalwork was being introduced into the repertoire of the IA program but class size was again becoming an issue for the town and the needs for a larger school were pressing and obvious.
With a move to larger Center School quarters the Permanent Library Committee requested on March 6, 1950 that they be permitted to use the Old Firehouse School once it was fully vacated by the School Department and in the Town Meeting of March 5 of 1951 Article 16 allowed the transfer of $1600 in surplus town revenue to be used towards remodeling the Fire House School for use by the library.
In 1957 additional renovations to the library were made in 1957 and as the library expanded around it - it became a single room in the library complex - The Jeanne D. Hill Room. This building/room continued to be one of the busiest and most heavily used public spaces in the Town of Norfolk. It has been used as a meeting room and exhibit space by charitable, non-profit and community groups to help meet the educational, recreational, and informational needs of the community and it has also been used as meeting room for various Norfolk town boards and commissions.
The little North School House, School House Fire Station, Library and Meeting Room remains a very important part of our Norfolk town history as there is only one other remaining structure that was used as an early school and that is now a private home on Myrtle Street – “The Little Fire House School” truly has been……
“ A Neat, Commodious and Convenient Room - AN HONOR TO THE TOWN “