Jaffrey Grade School part of legacy of rural schools

Richard Boutwell / Jaffrey Historical Society

JAFFREY — The 1938 Jaffrey Grade School was the sixth schoolhouse built in School District No. 2. As in most of the towns in rural New Hampshire, original school districts served various neighborhoods.

Jaffrey was divided into 13 school districts, with District No. 2 located on the banks of the Contoocook River from the border with Rindge, which included the area where downtown Jaffrey is today.

The first two schools in District No. 2 were typical one-room schoolhouses. About 1790 the first school was erected on Tyler Hill. With the development of water-powered mills along the river, a second schoolhouse was built not many years after the first school to serve the expanding village.

By 1840 a new two-story schoolhouse was built closer to the center of the village to accommodate the growing community. This new schoolhouse prompted controversy about fire safety, yet remained in operation for 14 years and is now a private home on School Street.

A few hundred feet north of the third schoolhouse, a fourth schoolhouse was built in 1854 on School Street. This two-story brick building became the pride and joy of the town for many years. Classrooms were located on the lower floor. The upstairs housed a hall, which became known as Union Hall. All manner of activities, including town meetings, graduations, dances, rallies and even sports events took place in Union Hall.

By 1890, half the students in town were living in School District No. 2. As the town outgrew the 4th-grade school, a new wooden, two-story, four-room school was built in 1894 next to the brick schoolhouse. The new Conant High School occupied the brick building.

Continued growth required the construction of a new Conant High School on Stratton Road in 1916. When it opened, grades 5 through 12 were housed on Stratton Road.

By 1927, all the rural schools had closed. The superintendent’s report in 1936 indicated that “seating capacity in the elementary rooms of the high school is severely taxed.” At the school district’s annual meeting in March 1937, a unanimous vote authorized the school board to apply to the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works for a grant to construct a new grade school and auditorium.

Construction was started during the Christmas vacation with the removal of the brick schoolhouse and entrance to the wooden building next door. For the remainder of the 1937-38 school year, classes continued in two remaining rooms of the wooden schoolhouse. Finally, in September 1938, this writer and 317 other 1st- through 6th-graders started school in the new $123,335 school, the sixth grade school building in School District No. 2.

Articles are contributed by individual historical organizations that are part of the Monadnock Historical Societies Forum. For further information, please contact Tom Haynes at the Historical Society of Cheshire County at 352-1895 or visit the Forum’s webpage at www.hsccnh.org/roundtable/default.cfm.