Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Crane School

The Original Crane School

Ah, the sweet taste of Corvus brachyrhynchos (Common Crow) which was recently consumed by my good friend and fellow local historican, James Roache. I was researching the Canton Postcard History and came across the glass ambrotype (above) of what was marked the Crane School. This image was taken sometime after 1854 and is a very early image. Folks who remember the Crane School are more likely to recall a very different building in Canton Center. Indeed, all the photos I have seen show an entirely different structure, and that is what puzzled me as well.

On April 18, 1854 a new school was dedicated in District No.3 (Canton Center) According to Daniel Huntoon, this house, when built was declared to be a building “which in beauty of architecture, completeness of design and adaptation, is unequalled” The land on which it stands has been owned and occupied by Major General Elijah Crane; for which reason the committee aptly named the school after Crane.

The Crane School housed students from the first grade to high school level. The first examination for high school level took place at the Crane School in 1866 and continued there until a High School was built in 1869. The school district system was abolished in 1868 and the Town took possession of the schoolhouses in 1870. From that time forward the “School Committee” directed all school activities.

So, if the photo above depicts the Crane School, why do we remember such a different building as portrayed in the postcard to the left? Forty years after the original structure was completed, the building exhibited major deficiencies. Poor ventilation, heating, plumbing and a floor plan that could not meet the needs of the students and a burgeoning local population. By the turn of the century the defects were still not addressed, in particular the use of individual stoves for heating of the classrooms. By 1903, no major improvements were made with exception of needed repairs for a leaky roof, broken windows and other minor repairs or painting. By 1906, the town voted to spend $16,000 for some much needed improvements to the fifty-two year old structure. Architects from Boston were hired and they produce plans that completely changed the appearance of the building. The total cost of the remodeling was $16,966.80 and the Superintendent reported that “we have a modern substantial structure" ... The change has been so great both within and without that no trace of the old arrangement remains."

Indeed, the change was great. The roofline, was entirely recreated, new systems installed throughout, and the side wings extended. Some of the signature clues of the original building remained, however, and this is where Messrs. Comeau & Roache disagreed. I absolutely saw that the architects played off of the paladian windows, the fluted columns of the pediment and entrance and the decorative quoins on the corners and below the roofline. There were other smaller and obscure clues, and I felt sure something major had changed over time. But, Mr. Roache was having none of my folderol over this building, insisting it may have been another school that Canton children had attended but not necessarily located in Canton. Then, at the Historical Society I spied another photo lying on a display case. A casual glance at an exterior view of a schoolhouse with graduates in front resurrected the friendly argument. Mr. Roache listened to my case and promised to revisit this issue in the near future. Within a few hours the answer was found and we learn that the building had had multiple lives over it's 113 year history.

By 1949, the last graduates exited the building and in 1950 the school committee turned the property over to the Selectmen. The end for the Crane School was in sight. At the end of 1954 a Planning board report on the property was completed and present by John T. Blackwell to the March Town Meeting in 1955. It was voted to accept the report and approve $6,000 to raze the building and prep the lot of possible sale. Town Meeting of 1967 finally voted to sell the lot with the stipulation that said land to be used by the purchaser primarily for a super market. The loss of this building has long remained a point of great sadness for Cantonians. All we have are the memories and the photographs, and now we have another version of the school to miss. Thank you Jim, for the Corvus brachyrhynchos, next time the dish will be mine to consume.

1 comment:

Geo. said...

Jim Roache sent me the following addendum which explains the extreme conditions at the "old" Crane School.

The Crane School was the workhorse of the Canton school system; the yearly budget was the highest of all the schools, exceeding the High School budget by 50 percent in 1872. Around 1880, the school was becoming over crowded; it serviced four Grammar school grades and four Primary school grades. It had eight teachers and 440 students with an average daily attendance of 319 students. This far exceed every other school in town, the next closest had an average daily attendance of 109. That year the Superintendent reported that space was a most critical issue and Miss. Silloway’s class was a good example; the Primary D class had 127 whole numbers of enrollments and an average daily attendance of 65 students. In one month (May 1879) she had an average of 75 students. Her room was described has been 31 feet long, 25 feet wide and 13 feet tall. At that time space for students was calculated on cubic feet, this meant that each student in Miss Silloway’s class had about 155 cubic feet when authorities recommended that each student have at least 250 cubic feet. By a simply calculation the Superintendent was able to show that the air in Miss Silloway’s room was contaminated and rendered unfit for further use in about 41 minutes, not a very sanitary situation. To simplify this even further he pointed out that it would be like a family of six people occupying an 8 x 9 foot room. More room was desperately needed, it was unfair to the students because they were compelled too have early promotions and an injustice to the teacher. The Town heeded the warning and opens the Massapoag House School where Miss Silloway had an average of 47 students until she left for greener pastures by taking a job in Poughkeepsie, NY in 1883. By 1885, the average daily attendance at the Crane was 343 students with 47 at the Massapoag School. In 1883, St. John’s Church opened a parochial school in the old Davis mansion that was staffed by the Sisters of Notre Dame but it had yet to have an effect to the population of the Crane School. By 1886, the impact of the school at St. John’s was felt and the Massapoag House School was closed. The average daily attendance fell to 113 in 1886 verses 352 in 1885.