Westfield High School, Past and Present

The old high school
In 1793, the town of Westfield, then in the county of Hampshire, voted the sum of £600; "for the purpose of erecting and supporting an Academy," by which piety, religion, and morality should be promoted, and in which youth should be instructed in sciences, and such of the liberal arts, and in such languages, as the trustees should direct.

Left:  The old high school with Academy Building in the rear

Within four years, one thousand dollars additional had been secured by subscriptions from the inhabitants of the town, and the money was expended in erecting they wooden structure that was known as the east wing of the present High School building, and that was burned in November, 1890.

The State Legislature had given to the trustees the half od a township in the province of Maine, and the proceeds of the sale of this land was invested as a permanent fund, the beginning of that fund that to-day makes it possible, with the co-operation of the town, to maintain a High School of the first rank.

The First Academy building was dedicated in 1800, and the Rev. Joseph Lathrop, one of the trustees, and the pastor of the First Church in West Springfield, preached the dedicatory sermon from the text: "That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace."

Mr. Peter Starr was the first preceptor. For fifty years this school was the pride of the town, and held no second place among the academies of Massachusetts. Then, from the lack of endowment and from an increasing interest in public schools, it began to decline. But through endeavors of leading men who thought that the Old Academy must not be given up, ten thousand dollars was raised to repair, remodel, and enlarge the building. THe original house was moved back to make room for a new front of brick. July 31, 1857, the corner stone of the new building was laid with appropriate exercises. The building itself was dedicated August 25, 1858, with an address by professor Tatlock of Williams College.

High School at the Present Day

Above:  High School at the Present Day

The establishment of the town High School diverted interest in a measure from the Academy, and gradually the old institution yielded to the fate that has overtaken so many of the ancient New England academies. In 1855, the town High School was opened on the second floor of the town building, "sandwiched," as someone said, "between the town hall and the lock-up." Its first principal was Mr. Wm. A. Smith, who received a salary of $350, and his assistant was Miss M. A. Thurston, who received $150. During the first term there were seventy-four pupils.

Before many years it became apparent that the school must have other and better quarters, and negotiations were entered into that finally ended in the purchase of the Academy buildings and grounds, for the sum of thirty thousand dollars, ands in 1867, the High School was move thither. Mr. Abner E. Gibbs was then its principal. It having been stipulated by the town that the thirty thousand dollars paid for the Academy property should within thirty years yield to the town a revenue to the educational interests of the town, in 1889-90 the town and the trustees of the Academy entered into a compact by which the town agreed to enlarge and improve the High School property, adapting it to the necessities of a first-class High School, and the Academy trustees agreed to pay, annually, certain sums toward its permanent maintenance. At a cost of about seventy-five thousand dollars the building occupied by the High School was made over and enlarged according to the plans furnished by Mr. W. C. Brocklesby of Hartford, Conn., and was properly equipped for the uses to which it was set apart.

September 18, 890, exercises of dedication were held, over which the Hon. M. B. Whitney presided.

The new High School was opened the following Monday, with generous provision for a general course of study, and special provision for such as wish to fit for business life, the normal school, the technical school, or the college.

                                                    — Sara M. Kneil.

Herbert W. Kittredge was appointed principal in 1890. As the result of his thorough teaching, careful administration, and tireless energy, and the loyal co-operation of competent teachers in the several departments, the school has reached a foremost rank in the high schools of the State.

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