ThrowbackThursday: City schools — Much more than the three Rs

ThrowbackThursday: City schools — Much more than the three Rs


People familiar with the clean, modern, well-lighted and well-equipped Meriden schools of today might be astounded to learn about some of the conditions previous generations of students — and teachers — had to deal with.

In 1773 it was voted “to lay a Rate of one farthing upon the pound for ye use of schools and each quarter or school to have their portion of said money according to ye list of each quarter.”

Thus were the public schools established in Meriden — public, but not free. Tuition was charged until 1863, when the town took over finance from the quarters, or districts, and established a Board of Visitors to regulate the school system.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries the population of Meriden increased tremendously, and so did the need for schools. The first class graduated from Meriden High School in 1883. The districts were abolished in 1896 and the town began supplying textbooks free of charge in 1905.

Here are some of the city schools that were in use in 1906: Southeast; Center, Corner, West and Hanover; Prattsville; West; Old Road; Willow Street; South Broad Street; King Street; Lewis Avenue; Columbia Street; Liberty Street; Central Grammar; Meriden High School.

A great deal of detail about the conditions of the schools emerges when you look at a 1926 state inspection report.

Here are some excerpts:

East Primary: Indoor plumbing, but no artificial lighting no playground equipment, no sprinkler system and no library. Coal-fired steam heat.

South East: Water had to be carried 200 feet from Mr. Rice’s well. No soap provided. Toilets outside. No artificial lighting. No library. Coal stove.

Robert Morris Annex:

“The ceiling over the heating plant should be fireproofed.” Electric lights “insufficient.” No library, no gym, no telephone, no fire escapes, no sprinkler system.

Franklin Street: No artificial lighting. No towels, soap or mirrors in lavatories.

North Colony Street: No panic bolts on outside doors. “The teachers should be instructed to raise shades and use the lights on dull days.” “The school was described as being ‘Rotten.’”

Church Street: “The boilers at this school have not been passed by the Boiler Inspector.” “The fire hazard is very great. … I would consider the building a fire trap.”

Clara Barton-Willow Street: “In my opinion the manual training room on the third floor is not the safest thing in the world. … It is used by the department that takes care of the backward children and I think this is rather a poor arrangement because these children being of low mentality, it is hard to know what they might do in case of fire.”

“Portable fire extinguishers? No. … Hose connections on each floor with hose and pipe properly bracketed for instant use? No. … Sprinkler system?No.”

East: No artificial lighting, no indoor plumbing. Well water “unsafe for drinking purposes … polluted … its safety was questionable.”

By the 1950s and the postwar baby boom, a number of older schools had been retired from


Here are the city schools that were in use in 1956:

Elementary: Jonathan Trumbull; New Israel Putnam; Old Israel Putnam Benjamin Franklin; Hanover; Samuel Huntington; Old John Barry; John Barry Annex; Roger Sherman; Nathan Hale. Junior high: Jefferson; Lincoln. High: Meriden High School.

Here are Meriden’s public schools today: Elementary: John Barry, Benjamin Franklin, Nathan Hale, Hanover, Thomas Hooker, Casimir Pulaski, Israel Putnam, Roger Sherman. Middle: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington (as well as Edison, an interdistrict magnet school operated by an independent agency). High: Francis T. Maloney and Orville H. Platt (as well as Horace C. Wilcox, a state-run regional technical school).

Sources: “A Century of Meriden,” “150 Years of Meriden,” Meriden Board of Education, published reports.

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