The Middleboro' Boys' School
The school was established in 1854 by Reverend Sylvester W. Marston who served for a brief time as chairman of the Middleborough School Committee. In contrast to Peirce Academy which was to a large extent a college preparatory institution, with students attending classes and residing either in a dormitory on School Street or boarding with local families, the Middleboro’ Boys’ School was intended as a boarding school where students would study with and reside with the Marston family in their home, an atmosphere which was considered more conducive to learning. To highlight the distinction, the school was most often referred to as Marston’s Family School or Marston’s Boarding School and the number of pupils was limited to 20. Additionally, Marston’s school was seen as the precursor to Perice Academy and Marston was also careful to ensure that his new school was not viewed as a competitor to the older and more prestigious academy. The prospectus for the Marston School in 1854 emphasized: “It is not the design of this School to prepare young men for college, but to lay the foundation for such preparation. Hence it may be regarded, so far as it has any relation to ‘Peirce Academy,’ as a primary department. To those, therefore, who wish to have their sons fit for college, we would recommend ‘Peirce Academy,’ as second to no other institution of the kind for the advantages it affords.”
The school proved highly popular, particularly among parents who sought a home-like school for their sons aged 6 to 15, one which provided a higher level of chaperoning than did private academies. One booster in the mid-1850s stressed “to those parents who care for moral as well as mental culture” that Marston’s “affords a very desirable place for the education of boys.”
A number of descriptions of the school and its operations were carried in local newspapers during its first years of operation. One lengthy description of the boarding school was carried in the pages of the local Namasket Gazette in 1855, and described the layout of the home: “The edifice is new and contains 18 rooms, including parlors, dormitories, dining hall, and school room, all neat and well adapted to the purposes intended. The school room is furnished with a library, 14 periodicals, and all needed apparatus.”
At the time, sixteen boys were in attendance at the school, all of whom appeared (at least to the writer at that time) as “contented, happy, and improving in mental and moral culture.” Tuition was set at $45 a term or $180 a year and despite the cost proved no deterrent to enrollment. Though known as the Middleboro’ Boys’ School, no boys from Middleborough actually attended. During its first few terms, fully over two-thirds of the students came from New Bedford, with some coming from as far away as Brooklyn and New Orleans. None, however, came further than Henry H. Judson who residence is listed in school records of the time as “Burmah.”
Besides the regular course of academic studies which included reading, writing, orthography (penmanship), English, grammar, mental and written arithmetic, geography, physiology, algebra, history and geometry, Marston also ensured that both art and music were featured prominently as part of the curriculum. Originally the arts were taught by Albert G. Pickens (piano), Ebenezer Wood (voice) and S. P. Hine (drawing) but in 1855 Marston “secured the services of an accomplished teacher in drawing and music, Mrs. Maria L. Wainwright of Boston. “She devotes two hours a day to music and one to drawing. At the close of the regular exercises, fifteen minutes are devoted to singing.” Likewise, manual instruction was sponsored in order to cultivate the “habits of industry.”
As part of the educational routine, Marston made use of the property which was situated on a rocky outcropping above the Nemasket River. Each of the students was given care of a flower garden, a dovecote, and the domestic animals and fowl. During the spring of 1855, more than one hundred dollars worth of fruit trees were planted on the school property, both to beautify the grounds and enhance the students’ knowledge of horticulture. On the property also stood “an ice house furnished with an abundance of cooling beverage for the coming warm season.” The school thus provided the benefits of a rural home within close proximity to the village with its churches and lecture halls. Yet Marston also made clear that the school was far enough removed “from the village, and from the bad influences of the idle and vicious who loiter about in public places.”
What surely must have been a highlight of the spring season at the school were the outings along the Nemasket River downstream to Lake Assawompsett. “The teacher occasionally takes the school into a boat and gives them a water excursion, some four or five miles across the Pond, at the head of the river.” Such ventures helped supplement the study of botany and zoology undoubtedly provided to the students at the school.
Winter terms were also a time for outdoor recreation with skating and coasting encouraged. Winter evenings were filled with talks and “games by the fireside with the family.”
Given Marston’s calling as a reverend, it is not surprising that religion and moral instruction occupied a central place in the school’s educational life. Pupils were expected to participate in the family’s daily devotions, each boy learning and repeating a Biblical verse. Attendance at both church and Sunday School was obligatory. While not explicitly stated, Marston’s School catered exclusively to Protestants. At the time, anti-Catholic feeling both nationally and locally had contributed to the rise of the Know Nothing Party, whose platform Marston seemingly would have endorsed. In 1854 Marston ensured parents that the school was a place exempt from the “corrupting influences”, “profane habits and infidel notions of the foreign population in our City Schools” where “their sons will be properly cared for and educated under holier influences.”
Discipline within the school was to be “strict and impartial, yet mild and parental.” The conscience of the boys was to be relied upon to maintain order. When that failed, the school prospectus indicated that “the judicious rod of love will be used … when duty requires the fulfillment of the wise man’s instruction.” Nonetheless, students were provided a degree of freedom not always prevalent in private schools of the era. Pupils were allowed the same privileges as members of the Marston family, while Mrs. Marston devoted herself to the care of the boys, their clothing and the “wants peculiar to their age.”
Despite the success of the school, Marston did not operate it long. In the spring of 1856, he decided to pursue his luck out West along with Middleborough merchants Solomon Snow and George Wilbur. The contents of the school were auctioned, and the property sold on April 19, 1856, to Reverend Perez Lincoln Cushing.
Little is known about the Cushing School, in part due to the fact that local newspapers from a portion of the period during which the school was in operation have not survived. Cushing, a native of Hingham, maintained the boys school much along the lines of its founder, Sylvester Marston, and he was assisted in this work by his wife, Lavinia M. (Parker) Cushing, a former proprietress of Peirce Academy.
Cushing's school proved popular, attracting students from across the commonwealth, and the number of students seeking admission generally exceeded the available places. The school property was enlarged through the purchase of three adjacent parcels from Joseph T. Wood in 1856 and 1857, providing room for Cushing’s prize-winning livestock and accommodating his hobby of horticulture. During Cushing's proprietorship, the school, was noted for its extensive pear orchards where more than sixty varieties of fruit were raised. The pears began to ripen each July, and late pears were available the following May. In 1862 Cushing's pears took third prize at the Plymouth County Fair. The following year, they won the blue ribbon.
Despite a severe paralytic stroke in the summer of 1868 that left him temporarily speechless, Cushing rallied from his illness and continued to conduct the school for another five years. During this period he turned to grape cultivation as a respite from schoolwork. During the 1871 season, Cushing raised some 100 bushels (two tons) of Concord grapes.
Following the 1874 spring school term, Cusing sold the school, to Reverend Herrick M. Eaton and his son, Amos H. Eaton, under whom it would achieve its greatest success.
Former Middleboro' Boys' School, 25 East Grove Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Mike Maddigan, November 7, 2010.
Constructed in 1854, the residence at 25 East Grove Street served as a boarding school known successively as the Middleboro' Boys' School and the Eaton Family School until 1898. Used since that time as a commercial property, the school building later housed Heritage Oil. It is now the home of Cranberry Country Child Care, a perhaps fitting occupant given the building's place in Middleborough's educational history.
Namasket Gazette, May 26, 1854, page 2.
The construction of Reverend Sylvester W. Marston's proposed school was documented by the local newspaper in the spring of 1854.
Engraving, Marston's Family School, mid-19th century.
The former Middleboro' Boys' School building on East Grove Street has changed little in the past century and a half as evidenced by this promotional engraving from the period. Though the stone walls and landscaping which provided the school with a favorable rural setting have long since disappeared, the structure itself remains relatively unaltered on the exterior.
Middleboro' Boys' Family School notice, Middleboro Gazette, November 19, 1859, page 2.
"Card of Thanks" from The Family School, Middleboro', Mass. circular, 1874.