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The earliest information to be obtained in regard to educational matters in Topsham is that contained in the town records. It appears from these that on March 18, 1766, the town voted to raise £60 for a "minister and school-master" for that year, and Thomas Wilson was chosen a committee to agree with him or them. At the annual meeting in 1768, John Reed and John Fulton were chosen a committee to obtain a minister and school-master for that year. At a meeting of the Pejepscot proprietors, held July 23 of this year, it was voted:---

"That Lott Number sixty-five adjoyning to the aforesaid Lott granted to ye first settled Minister lying on the Rear of the Lotts conveyed to Benjamin Thomas and bounding Northwest on Land belonging to Heirs of William Wilson as described and laid down in the Plan, be and hereby is granted to the Town of Topsham, for a Lott for the Benefitt and advantage of a Publick School, to continue for said use forever- said Lott contains one hundred Acres."1

On July 14, 1770, the town voted that the school-master should be hired for one year from the date of his first commencing school.

At the annual meeting in 1773, the selectmen were instructed to divide the town into several school districts and to proportion the taxes according to the number of children in each district. The amount raised this year for schools was £26 13s. 4d.

From 1786 to 1792 the employment of a teacher was left with the selectmen.

At the annual meeting of the town in 1795, the selectmen were instructed to take measures to secure the lot of land called the "School lot," "which was said to belong to the town." The article in the warrant to provide for the employment of a school-master was this year passed over.

At a town meeting held May 6, 1799, the selectmen were instructed

1. Pejepscot Records.

History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell:
Part II, Chapter 16: Educational History of Topsham page 483

to divide the town into such school districts as they should deem advisable. Three hundred dollars was appropriated for the support of schools this year.

The selectmen neglecting for some reason to divide the town into school districts, Reverend Jonathan Ellis, Alexander Thompson, Senior, James Wilson, Arthur Hunter, William Wilson, and Samuel Winchell were chosen a committee for this purpose in 1800. The town also voted to have six school districts and to build a school-house in each district within thirteen months, and $1,200 was appropriated for that purpose, upon the condition that each district should give the land needed for its school-house.

In 1801 the preceding action of the town was so far modified as to make seven instead of six districts. It was also voted this year that the school committee should consist of one person in each district.

In 1802, Benjamin Hasey, John Merrill, and Benjamin J. Porter were chosen a committee to petition the legislature for permission to sell the school lot and to place the proceeds of the sale as an accumulating fund until it should net an income of three hundred dollars per annum, or in any other way which the General Court might think proper.

In 1803 three of the school districts, Numbers 4, 5, and 6, were consolidated into one.

On March 6, 1804, the General Court authorized the sale of the school lot and the investment of the money accruing therefrom.1

Nothing of importance in relation to educational matters appears in the town records subsequently to this time, until the year 1825. In their report for that year, the school committee express doubts "whether knitting and sewing ought to be permitted in town schools," and express the hope "that parents in future will be convinced of the impropriety of imposing this service on the instructress."

In 1828 the town voted that the selectmen should make a sale of the school lot, in accordance with a former vote passed for that purpose.

In 1830 the trustees of the school fund reported that the school lot was sold on the twelfth day of December, 1829, to Captain Samuel Perkins, for three hundred and fifty dollars.

In 1833 the school fund arising from the sale of the school lot amounted to four hundred and twenty dollars and thirty-four cents.

In 1837 the town voted that the surplus revenue money, that was or was to be deposited with the town by the State, should be kept as a

1. Massachusetts Acts, 1804.

fund, and that the town treasurer should be permitted to loan the money on interest, under the direction of the selectmen, who should see that good security was taken, and that the interest should be divided amongst the school districts. The next year, however, though a strong protest was made against it, this vote was reconsidered and the money was divided among the inhabitants.

Between 1851 and 1870 the superintending school committee kept a record of their doings. From this record it appears that the following persons were chosen for school committee in 1851: Reverend Jonathan Clement, James Gilpatrick, and A. D. Wheeler. At their first meeting they drew lots, as provided by law, to determine the time for which they were respectively to serve on the committee. Reverend Mr. Wheeler was selected to serve one year, Mr. Clement for two, and Mr. Gilpatrick for three years. There were at this time nine school districts in town, which were designated as follows:-

Number 1 was called the Jameson district.
         "   3    "    "    "Oak Hill district.
         "   4    "    "    "Middlesex district.
         "   5    "    "    "Mallett district.
         "   6    "    "    "Cathance district.
         "   8    "    "    "Jack district.
         "   9    "    "    "Bay Road district.
         "   11    "    "    "Alexander district.
         "   12    "    "    "Little River district.

Numbers 2, 7, and 10 were united into one district, which was called the Village District. Districts Number 1, 8, and 12 were up the river, Numbers 4, 6, and 9 were down the river, and Numbers 3, 5, and 11 were back from the river. The total amount of school money received this year, from all sources, was nine hundred and ninety dollars and thirty-two cents. The whole number of children in town, between the ages of four and twenty-one years, was six hundred and sixty.

In 1852 the total amount of school money was six dollars and thir-teen cents more than the previous year. The school fund this year was six hundred and sixty-four dollars and fifty cents.

Nothing has been found to show the exact time when the grading system was applied to the village schools, but on November 18, 1854, the following entry occurs in the records of the committee: "Messrs. Adams and Cotton met in the selectmen's office and examined Mr. Gaslin for the Village High School. He was found well qualified." It would seem from this, since no previous reference to it has been found, that the High School must have been established this year.

On July 22, 1848, the school committee agreed upon the following as the requirements for admission to the High School, namely, that pupils should have gone in arithmetic as far as simple interest, in geography though Colton's book, and in grammar through etymology. For admission to the grammar schools, pupils were required to know the multiplication table and the simple rules of arithmetic and to have finished the primary geography.

In 1859 the town voted that "the trustees of the ministerial fund, derived from the sale of the ministerial land granted the town for the support of the ministry, transfer said fund, together with accrued interest, to the municipal officers, clerk, and treasurer of the town, as a fund for the support of the public schools, agreeably to the twelfth chapter of the Revised Statutes of Maine." This fund was not available, however, having been loaned to individuals, one of whom was dead, and the notes of all of whom had become outlawed.

In 1861 the town elected Mr. Warren Johnson as supervisor of schools. The following resolution was found in the town records on a slip of paper inserted between the leaves, and was apparently overlooked by the clerk in copying his minutes, as it does not appear on the records:--

"Whereas, in the judgment of the town, it is desirable that the management of schools be placed in the hands of one supervisor, and whereas the ill health of the Rev. Dr. Wheeler (the only member of the former board of school committee) would prevent him from discharging the laborious duties of a supervisor, and the election of another necessitates his retirement after a service of nearly thirty years.

"Resolved, That we sensibly recognize his long and effectual services as an able and earnest educator, to whom much is due for the former success of our school system."

In 1862 the trustees of the school fund reported at the annual meeting that this fund was invested in good notes to the amount of six hundred and sixty-four dollars and forty-eight cents, and that the interest, amounting to thirty-three dollars and eighty-seven cents, had been paid, and had been divided among the several school districts.

In 1863 the town returned to the practice of selecting a school committee instead of a supervisor. In December of this year the committee made the following changes in school-books: They voted to use the Progressive Series of Readers, in place of Town's Readers; Weld and Quackenbos, in the place of Bailey's grammar; and Greenleaf's new arithmetics, in place of his old ones.

In 1869 the Wilson Series of Readers was adopted for five years.


The names of the school-teachers prior to 1800 are unknown. The earliest teacher in town of whom any record is found was Reverend Jonathan Ellis. Mr. Ellis taught school during a large portion of his residence in Topsham, between 1789 and 1811. At first he taught in a school-house at the eastern end of the town, near the old first meet-ing-house; afterwards in the school-house, which stood on the lot now owned by Captain William S. Skolfield, on the corner of Pleasant and Elm Streets. It was a small building directly opposite where the Orthodox Church now stands. Afterwards he kept a school for three or four years in the Court House. He was teaching there at the time of the great eclipse of the sun in 1806.

Mr. James Wilson distinctly remembers that the school closed at the time, and that the scholars came to his father's house to smoke pieces of glass in order to watch the eclipse. In his diary Mr. Ellis mentions the fact that he completed his school in District Number 4 on August 25, and in District Number 6 on October 7, 1800. On the first date there was a public exhibition by the school. Mr. Ellis was an excellent teacher.

In 1802, Mr. John Hern taught in a small school-house, which stood near the Benjamin Wilson house.

About 1825, Mr. Josiah Perham came to Topsham and taught the village school. He occupied the next room to the post-office, which then stood opposite the bank, where he cooked his own food, and lived by himself. He is said to have been a good teacher and a worthy, persevering young man. In later years he made himself famous by inaugurating a series of cheap excursions, known as "Perham's Excursions," and still later was proprietor of "Perham's Seven-Mile. Mirror," a panorama which was exhibited in many of the principal cities and towns throughout the country. He is said to have been the first man to sign a petition for a charter for the Pacific Railroad.

Of other teachers prior to this date, sufficient is not known to enable us to make mention of them, and the subsequent teachers of the public schools of the town have been too numerous.


The Topsham Academy was started in the year 1847 or 1848 by a few prominent citizens of the town. They purchased the old Court House and converted it into an excellent school-house, with

recitation-rooms, library, etc. The teachers the first year were Messrs. Dexter A. Hawkins, class of 1848, and Charles H. Wheeler, class of 1847, Bowdoin College. They were succeeded by Messrs. Albert H. Ware and George 0. Robinson, both of the class of 1849, of the same college. The latter was succeeded by Mr. Francis Adams, of the class of 1850. Mr. John Clement taught the school after Adams left. The school was given up about 1858, the last teacher being Mr. Joshua Laighton, of the class of 1857, Bowdoin.

The tuition at this academy was, for instruction in the lower department, four dollars; in the higher department, five dollars. There was a quite good library connected with this institution, and a literary society the name of which is not now remembered.

In 1856, Mr. Warren Johnson, of the class of 1854, Bowdoin College, purchased the residence of Major William Frost, deceased; enlarged it somewhat, and on May 20, 1857, opened it for a boarding-school, under the name of the FRANKLIN FAMILY SCHOOL. While under his management, as well as since, the school proved to be a very excellent one. It was afterwards kept by his brother, Samuel J. Johnson, then by H. A. Randall, then by R. O. Lindsey, and the latter was succeeded by a Mr. Billings. It is now under the management of Mr. D. L. Smith, an experienced and successful teacher.1

In 1865 an earnest but unsuccessful effort was made to secure the location of the State Agricultural College in Topsham. Mr. Daniel T. Coffin, of New York, formerly a resident of this town, sent a donation of two hundred and fifty dollars to aid in securing its location there. An account of the efforts made by the citizens is given in another chapter.


Some time in the last century Mr. Samuel Thompson offered to keep a private school, if he could obtain twenty-five scholars, at a price ranging from sixteen to twenty-five cents a week. Whether or not he succeeded in getting up this school is not known, but it is certain that he taught a village school for a long time. He was subject to fits of derangement, and at times the town authorities had to confine him in a "cage." This was a one-story and one-room structure at the Topsham end of the toll-bridge, somewhere on the site of the present paper-mill. He was attended to here by Denem Winslow, the toll-gatherer.

1. Mr. Warren Johnson had begun to prepare for these pages an account of the school, but his sickness and death prevented its completion, and we are consequently unable to give a fuller sketch.

Moses M. Marsh, a well-known school-master of Brunswick, once taught a school in Topsham. It may have been a public and not a private school. Enoch H. Hines also taught here prior to his death in 1828. He taught district schools, but may possibly have taught a private school also.

On May 8, 1826, the Topsham Female School was opened in Greene's Hall. It was taught by a lady.

On March 9, 1829, a MISS EASTMAN commenced a school for young ladies. The studies taught were reading, writing, grammar, geog-raphy, ancient and modern history, arithmetic, philosophy, geometry, French, and painting, according to the method of Engstrom.

Tuition was three to six dollars a term. How long a time this school was kept up is not known.

MRS. FIELDS'S SCHOOL. - Mrs. Elizabeth Fields was the widow of Robert Fields, Esquire, barrister in England, a lawyer of no mean ability, who was induced to come to America, and resided for many years in Boston, in the practice of his profession. He died in 1812. In 1830, Mrs. Fields, while on a visit to General King's family of Bath, in an afternoon's drive, chanced to pass the Doctor Porter house,1 in Topsham, which General King pointed out to her as "his property, once the residence of his sister, and now likely to remain unoccupied for years." At once the idea suggested itself to Mrs. Fields of taking possession of it as a boarding-school for young ladies, and after making the necessary arrangements with General King regarding repairs and rent, she immediately proceeded to place it in order for occupancy, and in 1831 opened her school with twelve boarding and as many day scholars. General King sent his only daughter, and used his influence, which was by no means small, in inducing many of his friends in Augusta and elsewhere to send their daughters. Miss Caroline Weld was the first assistant teacher. Subsequently Mrs. Fields secured the assistance of Miss Mary Thacher, daughter of Peter Thacher, Esquire, of Lubec, a young lady of unusually fine mind and intellectual acquirements, and a Mr. Purinton, who was previously in one of the principal Bath schools. Later, in 1838, when Miss Thacher left the school to be married, her place was filled by Miss Hester A. C. Hinkley, from Hallowell, equally competent, and who, in her turn, having left in 1842 to be married, was succeeded by an accomplished sister, Miss Tryphena Hinkley, who continued in that capacity until Mrs. Fields gave up the school in 1844, when Miss Hinkley took it,

1. Now the residence of Mrs. Susan T. Purinton.

 [ Franklin Family School ]

and continued it on her own account for some time.1 After Mr. Purinton left, his place was always filled by competent male teachers, among whom were Doctors Williams, Parlin, and Hall, then students at the Medical School, and after them a Mr. Curtis, of Topsham. The average number of boarders was sixteen, and of day scholars about twelve. Mrs. Beers, the widowed daughter of Mrs. Fields, was music teacher all the time. This school was considered to be of a superior character, and Mrs. Fields was held in the highest esteem by the entire community.2

To this account we are enabled to add the following interesting reminiscence of a former pupil:-

"For four years I was a pupil of hers, with occasional vacations. As it was the first school I ever attended, I could not at the time compare it with others, but the more I know of other boarding-schools, the more clearly I see that she was unique, and in many respects superior. There were no written regulations. In fine weather we were encouraged to study out of doors. The grounds were ample, well provided with arbors, shade-trees, swings, and 'teeter-hoards.' There was an old corn-house in view from the school-room windows, which sometimes was a summer resort for a difficult French lesson. Five or six of the Télémaque class, each with her book and one dictionary, would often have a fine social time while getting out the translation.

"Plenty of exercise, in the open air when the weather would allow, and indoors in stormy weather, was enforced upon us. Whenever the evenings were cool enough to require a fire, a good dance, of at least an hour, was required before going to bed. The school-room was large, with an immense fireplace opposite the windows, and in one corner, farthest from the fireplace, stood a large box-stove. When the weather was very cold, both stove and fireplace were used.

"Mrs. Fields's seat was at the left hand of this fireplace by a large desk, and she used to play the guitar herself, and call off for the school-room dancing.

"The food was plain, wholesome, and abundant. She always pre-sided at the table and fared exactly like her scholars.

"In the mornings we all met in the school-room, at half past six in summer and about eight in the shortest days of winter. Prayers were read, then came breakfast, and at eight in summer and nine in winter school began.

1. See "Miss Hinkley's School."
2. The material for the foregoing is furnished by Mrs. Mary Beers McLellan, granddaughter of Mrs. Fields.

"English studies came first, arithmetic, grammar, and spelling. No one was excused from spelling. Mrs. Fields would say, 'My dear, if you can spell, it takes but little of your time; if you cannot, you ought to learn' One of her commonest criticisms upon a composition would be, 'Very well, my dear! Now take it and rewrite it, and see in how much less space you can get every idea' She used to say that diffuseness and obscurity were the great faults of modern literature. Writing from dictation was with her a favorite method of drill in spelling and punctuation.

"Some young lady was always assistant teacher for the beginners; but when the assistant least expected it, Mrs. Fields herself would step in and hear the recitations, sending the assistant to hear her own particular classes meanwhile.

"At about eleven A. M., Mrs. Beers, her daughter, who was a music teacher, came in and attended to penmanship, setting the copies herself. At noon we had an intermission of two hours in summer and one in winter, with dinner about one o'clock. We had the range of the extensive grounds, provided only that we did not go out of bounds without permission and were prompt in minding the bell.

"After dinner was playtime until two o'clock. Then came sewing of various kinds, embroidery and fancy, in all its branches; also lace mending and fine darning, plain and fancy knitting. When we were all fixed at our work, some one was called on to read aloud, not more than fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. At five, school was out. After supper we usually had an hour for study, and then the tables were cleared for a dance or some other frolic until bedtime.

"The standard of honor was very high with Mrs. Fields, and yet I can recall no instance of punishment for dishonorable conduct, except her withering sarcasm and a feeling that the offender was not trusted. There was no standard of rank and no public examination, though visitors were always welcome. There was one custom conducive to social training. The house was open for a weekly reception most of the time. Thursdays Mrs. Fields and her pupils were always 'at home' to all personal friends of herself and pupils. The latter were taught to behave as the daughters of the house in entertaining guests. I do not remember which was treated as the greatest fault, - a prudish avoidance of a gentleman guest, or an appearance of coquetry and flirtation. Music, dancing, and conversation were the amusements of these reunions."

For several years subsequent to 1840, private schools were kept in town by Miss MARY B. H. WHEELER, who had an excellent

reputation as an instructress of young children. There are many middle-aged persons in town who received their earliest tuition from her, and many who remember her pleasant ways with children.

About the year 1840, MISS THEODOSIA WILSON commenced a private school. She taught schools, both public and private, in Topsham, for about thirty-four years. She was well known in the community as a successful and experienced teacher as well as an accomplished and estimable lady.

In the fall of 1842. Messrs. J. L. Nutting and J. F. Woodside both advertised that they would teach a private high school in Topsham. It is presumed that one, if not both, did keep such a school that year.


Schools for special instruction, especially in writing and in singing, have been of quite frequent occurrence in Topsham. Sufficient material has not, however, been obtained to enable one to give any extended account of them. The earliest writing-school of which any account has been found was taught in the summer of 1824, at the school-house, near the Court House, by Mr. J. Morgridge. The earliest singing-schools known were those taught by Andrew Dennison, previous to 1820, and in 1844 by L. W. Additon.

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