A Brief History of Newbury Schools

The present-day school system in Newbury has its beginnings when the town hired Anthony Somerby in 1638 to be its first schoolmaster.  Somerby was granted "for his encouragement to keepe school" 4 acres of upland and 6 acres of salt marsh.  He kept school in the meetinghouse where religious services and town business were also conducted.  Although the town voted to build a schoolhouse in 1652, we find school being kept in the "watch house" (jail) in 1676.

 

The cost of education was, in those times, shared by the town and the parent.  In 1681, for example, those students who studied only English paid 3 pence per week, and those who studied both Latin and English paid a correspondingly higher rate.The first indication that a schoolhouse had actually been built is 1691 when Seth Shore, the schoolmaster, was paid 30 pounds sterling "to keep school one third part of the year at the middle of the new town, one third part at the schoolhouse, and the other third part about middle way between the meetinghouse and old town ferry."  Here also is the first record of the schoolmaster moving about town to teach the children of families too remote from the schoolhouse.

 

In 1694, land for a schoolhouse was prepared at the "end of Noyes Lane and Mr. Woodbridge's house."  Mr. John Woodbridge was chosen to keep the grammar school in 1713.

 

The first mention of education in Byfield occurs in 1729 when the town voted 15 pounds sterling to cover Newbury's part of the cost of educating children at "the [Byfield] Falls parish."  At this time, schools were kept in private homes and in other available buildings as well as in the schoolhouse, which stood near the First Parish Meeting House.  After 1691, appropriations for schools were divided among parishes, each authorized and instructed to provide "convenient school rooms and suitable teachers."

 

Again in 1730 we find school being kept in various districts of town at various times: The First Parish, which comprised the area surrounding the Upper Green, had school at "the usual place" from March through November; the area surrounding the Lower Green had school in December and January; and the "Farms" district along Middle Road had school for one short month in February.  Four years later, the town appropriated 40 pounds sterling toward the cost of keeping a grammar school at Newbury Falls (Byfield).  And in 1736 it was voted in town meeting that the grammar school would be rotated from district to district on an annual basis.

 

In Ewell's The Story of Byfield, he describes the schoolhouses that existed in town prior to the Revolutionary War to have been "square wooden buildings with windows on all four sides...and a door opening from the street into the classroom.  The teacher's desk was on a raised platform nearly opposite the door, and the benches on which scholars sat were arranged in rows at the right and left of the teacher's desk facing the stove that stood in the center of the room."

 

For a short period from 1849 to 1854 the town had its own high school, Parker Hall, which was built on land adjoining the First Parish Burying Ground.  The school was built by order of the General Court.  As soon as this law was amended in 1854, the building and land were sold by the town.

 

In 1877, the Lower Green Schoolhouse was built to replace an aging building alongside it.  This building still stands today and is managed by the Newbury Historical Commission.  Click here for a history of the building.

 

In 1882, the school district system was abolished in Newbury and the public school system presently maintained by the town was established.  The Woodbridge School was built in 1898, and in 1901 the Byfield School was built at a cost of $13,500.  These two schools served the educational needs of the town until 1956 when the Newbury Elementary School ("Round School") was built on Hanover Street.  The elementary school, which initially housed grades 3-6, was the first school of round design to be built in the U.S.  The Woodbridge and Byfield schools closed in 1996, and the "Yellow School" in Byfield was, for a short time, in use as an arts center.  Both buildings sold in the summer of 2013; the Woodbridge is being converted into three condominiums; the Yellow School is on its way to becoming a grand single-family home.

 

In the late 1960s, Newbury joined with Rowley and Salisbury to form the Triton Regional School District, and in 1972 the school was opened to the first class.  The site for the school was land off Elm Street in Byfield on which Newbury's historic Poor Farm had been located.  In the years prior to regionalization, Newbury high school students attended Newburyport High School through a tuition arrangement between Newbury and Newburyport.

 

Byfield is also the home of The Governor's Academy (formerly known as Governor Dummer Academy), the oldest independent boarding school in America.  From its humble beginning in 1763 in a small red schoolhouse on the grounds of the Dummer Farm in Byfield, the Academy has played an important part in serving the town's educational needs.  Until 1836, Byfield Parish boys attended the academy tuition-free and for many years after that paid only a fraction of the regular rate.  In 1882, day students living within the town of Newbury, but outside Byfield Parish, became eligible for modified tuition rates.  In 1898, the Mansion House on the Academy grounds housed a small public elementary school for the town.  In 1972, the school became fully co-educational, welcoming girls to the campus full-time.  The Academy celebrated its 250th anniversary during the 2012-13 school year.

 

Other private schools in the town included the Byfield Female Seminary on Elm Street, which during its short existence (1806-1821) had Mary Lyon, founder of Mt. Holyoke College, among its pupils.  The same building also housed The New England Military School during the late 1960s.

 

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Newbury Historical Commission   : :   25 High Road   : : Newbury MA 01951   : :   HistoricalComm@TownOfNewbury.org   : : www.Newbury1635.org