Site No. 39: 48 North Main Street. Before 1871, this was in Strafford County. Durham’s District 9 had an old schoolhouse just around the corner north of here. After 1870, it became Newmarket’s District No. 1 and continued housing Durham Side pupils. In 1886, 50 students were enrolled.
That school burned down in 1887. The Newmarket Manufacturing Company owned this piece of land, and they leased it to the town for the purpose of building a school. By late 1888, this building was completed at a cost of $2550.04. As was typical then, the young women who taught here were recent high school graduates—maybe with a year of teacher training. They were paid about $300, and if they got married, they had to resign. Here are some of the women who taught here.
The first was 20-year-old Hannah Demeritt, who taught 37 students in the Second Primary class. In today’s terms they were first-graders—and it wasn’t unusual for children as young as three to attend. Her second year she had 44 students. Hannah then married and had a daughter. By 1895, she, her husband and her child had all died of tuberculosis—a disease as horrific as it was common.
Lizzie Caswell, an 1889 Newmarket High School graduate, was next. In 1890 she had a class of 57 pupils. She taught the following year until she was stricken with a “fatal disease”—most likely tuberculosis. On her deathbed, she requested that members of her graduating class be her pallbearers. She was 21 when she died.
With the many families moving into town, class sizes continued to grow. Seventeen-year-old Susie Kent faced a class of nearly 100 students that first term. The School Committee finally opened up the second floor and hired another teacher. Susie taught one more year before getting married in 1896. Ten years later, she died shortly after giving birth to her fifth child. She was 31 years old.
Mertie Ham grew up on Durham Side and went to this school. Valedictorian for Newmarket’s Class of 1914, she attended Keene Normal School and returned to teach 38 youngsters here. During the 1918 flu pandemic, all the schools closed. Mertie became so sick that her school didn’t reopen until even later. She did recover, but left teaching in 1919 when she got married. Mertie lived to be 90 years old.
In 1924 the new high school opened, and this schoolhouse closed. For 35 years it had been the place where the youngest teachers had educated Newmarket’s youngest students. The property was reclaimed by the mills and sold.
As you retrace your steps toward Bay Road, Site No. 40 is on the left.
Site No. 39: 48 North Main Street. North Side Primary School. In 1870, when the NH legislature approved the new town and county line between Durham and Newmarket, the town acquired two more schoolhouses. One was about three miles down Lubberland (Bay) Road (Durham District No. 6). The other, Durham District No. 9 schoolhouse was in “Durham Side” –less than half a mile from the Lamprey River bridge to downtown Newmarket.
These two schoolhouses continued in session for about 15 years, although it seems that, according to the 1880-81 report, the Durham Side schoolhouse had been moved around a bit. It had also been “repaired and refurnished with modern appliances” and “every seat has been filled during the greater part of the year.” That year’s “Statistical Table No. 2” shows a total of 49 students in Term 2 (Sept.1-Nov.12).
It also shows that there were students in two or three different levels of study. It had been suggested in 1873 that this school become incorporated into the village school district, and become part of the graded system. It became Durham Side Primary in 1882-83, but that included Primary Grades 1 and 2.
Fifty students apparently were not considered excessive for one teacher to handle. School reports for Durham Side during the 1880s bear that out. In 1885-86, Durham Side Primary had an average enrollment of 50 students. Because Bayside School had only 12 students, it was decided to close it down.
In that report, Superintendent Charles A. Morse commented about the increasing number of children in the town, noting that:
…we have at this time 450 names on our school list; a greater number, we believe, than ever before.
The establishment of a French school in the old “Stone Hall” building  has diminished the number of scholars by more than one hundred; but should that school be discontinued, then the question would arise, what shall be done with our children?
On January 2, 1887 fire destroyed the old Durham Side Primary School. During the following school year (1887-88), the discontinued Bayside School reopened – for ten weeks…with a total of five students. It was the last time it was open. (Thirty years later Newmarket’s Boy Scouts demolished the building to provide firewood for the Red Cross, during World War I.)
With the loss of the Durham Side School, there were upwards of 50 Newmarket students in need of a classroom –this during a time of increasing enrollment. In a comment about truancy, Superintendent Irving T. George wrote:
With no resort to the law and no truant officer save the Superintendent, enough pupils have been in regular, voluntary attendance at Second Primary school during this severe winter to fill an additional school room… With… a truant officer…three additional rooms could be filled. The third room should be ungraded. If the parochial school continues to run, the ungraded school might not be needed. [ Perhaps this was an accommodation for non-English-speaking students ]
A newly-formed committee explored the options: enlarge and improve the existing South Side Primary School (178 Main St.) or build a new two-story school on Durham Side.
Committee member Ai Gilman lived on Durham Side. Having a schoolhouse nearby must have appealed to him, as the town proceeded to purchase land across the road from his house. NMCo sold the land for $300. The entire cost, including the land was $2550.04. Mr. Gilman received $290 for doing the necessary “grading and foundation.” It was completed in time to open for the last term of the 1888-1889 school year—from Dec. 17 to Mar. 8. (In those days the school year began in April and ended in March.)
Superintendent George wrote in his 1888-1889 report on the new Primary 2nd Durham Side:
The school is graded so as to take beginners through the first three years of the course, promoting into the first class of the First Primary. There are 37 in this school….Miss Hannah Demeritt who teaches this school, is quite young and inexperienced as a teacher…
The following year, Hannah Demeritt continued teaching here for all three terms. Her student load had increased considerably to an average of 44. Some days she might have had nearly 60. Yet the second floor of the new school remained empty. It would not house a classroom for several years.
Second Primary students were the youngest. The sequencing generally started with Second Primary → First Primary → Intermediate → Second Grammar → First Grammar → High School. While this particular report does not list student ages, it was not uncommon during this era to have children as young as three attending as a Second Primary student.
Miss Demeritt’s students would have come not only from homes on Durham Side, but also from the Elm Street-Canada Street (later Nichols Avenue) area as well. NMCo had built an additional mill in 1881 and continued to add housing in the downtown area for the many new families who were moving into town. (In 1890, nearly half of the births in Newmarket were to parents who had come from Canada. By 1895 it was two-thirds.)
Hannah Demeritt left teaching after the 1889-90 school year. After having managed to challenge, guide, comfort and inspire Newmarket’s youngest students, it would be nice to imagine her having her entire life in front of her. Yet average life expectancy was considerably lower in those days. And younger adults seemed particularly vulnerable to the ravages of tuberculosis.
Hannah’s own mother had died the year she was born. She was raised by a maiden aunt on Packers Falls Road, and had the benefit of a high school education and one year at the Quincy Training School. She married shortly after her teaching stint in Newmarket, and had one child. In 1892, double tragedy struck Hannah. Her two-year-old daughter died, and then her husband contracted tuberculosis. Because it was thought that rest and a healthful climate might cure the disease, Hannah accompanied her husband to Colorado for a rest cure. However, he worsened, and they returned to Newmarket. Shortly after, on a train trip to his parents in Wakefield he collapsed and expired in her arms on the station platform. She never totally recovered from her losses, and a few years later she died of a “long and lingering illness” at the age of 26. It is likely that she too died from tuberculosis.
Durham Side’s new teacher, Lizzie Caswell was all of 19 years old. She had graduated from Newmarket High School in 1889 and attended Oberlin College for a year before teaching here. In 1890-91, the average attendance was 57 pupils, although during the second term, there were 76 pupils reported. During her second year at the Durham Side School, the average attendance decreased to 50, but she was now managing a mixed group – both First and Second Primary students. Alone.
Although she was engaged to be married to George E. Doe (another Newmarket High School graduate) Lizzie had planned to teach a third year at Durham Side. However, early in 1893 she became ill with a “fatal disease”. Her mother brought her stay with Mr. and Mrs. William Folsom in Fort Payne, Alabama, where it was warmer in hopes of her recovery, but after four weeks, she passed away at the age of 21. At her request, members of her graduating class were pallbearers. She was buried in Riverside cemetery in March 1893. Her “fatal disease” was not publically acknowledged; but it very well may have been tuberculosis which was highly contagious and ravaging the country’s young people at the time.
Had she lived, Lizzie would have given up teaching once she got married; that stipulation was written into teachers’ contracts. A look at the original Durham Side School from 1877 to 1887 shows six different teachers in ten years. There was another factor bemoaned by the superintendents: Newmarket paid teachers less than other towns did. So between marriage and seeking better compensation, there was a lot of turnover. (Could a third factor have been the overcrowded conditions under which many of them taught?)
In 1894, Superintendent Charles E. Tasker wrote:
During the past year we have been compelled by the large number of children attending the primary School on Durham Side to furnish desks and other furniture for the upper room to accommodate the pupils. This involved considerable expense … These two schools are so graded that pupils on leaving them enter the Intermediate School in the High School building.
Try to imagine that first term of 1893-94: all students were downstairs, with an average attendance of 89. The total number of pupils was 108. The teacher was 17-year-old Susie N. Kent, hired after the untimely passing of Lizzie Caswell. The younger sister of J.E. Kent of Kent Livery, she had graduated at age 16 in Newmarket’s Class of 1891. Susie managed the entire throng until the second term. By then, the upstairs room had been furnished and another teacher had been hired. No doubt breathing a sigh of relief, Susie headed upstairs to the new classroom with “only” 40 First Primary students.
After another year of teaching Susie married Lewis Walker. She died of childbirth complications ten years later—shortly after the birth of her fifth child—a daughter. She was 31 years old. Lewis Walker remarried Susie’s niece Florence Kent in 1910, and they had three more children together.
After opening the upstairs, the downstairs classroom remained with 60 or so little ones to educate. May B. Varney taught the second term, and Agnes Henue taught during the third term. Neither of them returned.
After 1894, Newmarket School District adopted the September-June school year, and school reports no longer referred to this building as the Durham Side School. Its official name was changed to the North Side Primary School. The name change didn’t do anything to help alleviate the large class size—especially downstairs where the youngest pupils were. Fortunately for the other teachers, the higher the age/academic level, the fewer students there were. Much of this attrition had to do with child labor in the mills. Among immigrant families, every penny counted—even if it was earned by a 10-year old bobbin boy, scrambling underneath the looms.
By 1907, Newmarket’s grading sequence had become the more modern 12 grades, and the North Primary School housed the first grade downstairs (44 enrolled, taught by M. Adaline Varney) with a 2nd-3rd grade upstairs (32 enrolled, taught by Lilian R. Smith).
Miss Varney married Daniel Brady the blacksmith in 1910 and left teaching to start a family of her own on their new Wadleigh Falls dairy farm. Their sons eventual took the farm operations, the Brady Farm became a succesful diary, holstein and horse breeding farm for almost 75 years. Her daughter Josephine Brady LaChance(1922-2019) followed in her mother’s footsteps, graduating from NHS she went on to Keene Teacher’s College and began teaching a single class of grades one thru four in Nottingham. She later moved and taught school for 26 years in Alaska.
In 1916, Mertie Ham had just turned 20. Her family lived on Durham Side; the nearby Ham Street had been named after her grandfather John Ham, the butcher. Mertie was valedictorian of the Newmarket Class of 1914, and had attended Keene Normal School in preparation for becoming a teacher.
In Sept. 1916, she returned to her own first-grade classroom in North Side Primary to begin her teaching career, with 38 first-graders. The following gives an idea of the conditions under which she taught during 1916-1919.
(photo of the Durhamside school taken 1915-1916)
The February 1919 Newmarket School Report covered the previous two years. Given that townspeople were dealing with both a world war and a pandemic, it’s not all that surprising.
Overcrowding among the youngest students was still a concern. In 1916-17, there were 98 first-graders in town. While most were 5- or 6-year-olds, there were five 4-year-olds and four students over the age of ten. The North Side Primary School was used as an overflow school, taking on additional first- and second-graders.
The following year, Mertie Ham’s third year teaching, Newmarket’s third grade was overflowing, so some third-graders were sent to her classroom in the North Side School. In addition, the pandemic of 1918 closed all schools for a month. Mertie took ill with the Spanish Flu as well, and her classroom was closed for an additional couple of weeks. Fortunately she recovered, but her teaching career ended in December 1919 when she married her fiancé Leon Crouch of Durham after he returned from the Navy at the end of WW I. Mertie lived to be 90 years old.
There was mention of using of the upstairs classroom once again. (Its use had been discontinued at some point earlier.) But Supt. Leonard reported on the physical condition of the building: “At the Durham Side school sanitary conditions are not satisfactory… a menace to the health and morals of the pupils.” In another report on its condition, it was noted that the toilets were too large for the pupils. The solution: in 1919-1920, 36 fifth-graders went to school at Durham Side.
In 1921 the second floor must have opened up again: the North Side School had 24 first-graders and 23 second graders. In 1922-23, there were 29 first-graders and a combined class of 33 second- and third-graders. And its last year as a public school there were still two classes at Durham Side. When the new high school opened in September 1924, classrooms in “old” high school up on Zion’s Hill opened up, and this building ceased its public school service.
According to historian Sylvia Fitts Getchell, Edgar Moisan bought the old Durham Side School sometime in the late 1920s. There is no mention of its sale in school district financial records, but he may well have bought it from NMCo. According to the 1895-96 School Report, there was a clause that the mill administration had included in the 1887 deed when the land was sold to the school district:
…in case said district shall cease to use the same for a public school house two years successively, … the land aforesaid shall revert to the said Newmarket Manufacturing Company.
But there is a recollection of another use – as a Polish school. Charlie Miesowicz was born of Polish parents in 1920. They lived on Nichols Avenue at the time – where many other Polish immigrants lived. Years later, he reminisced to his daughter that he had gone to “Polish School” here.
In 1928 there was mention of dances at the Town Hall for the purpose of raising funds for the Polish School. Other evidence of this school includes an undated photo. The placard in the photo suggests that the school’s goal might have been to ensure that children of Polish descent had some exposure to their parents’ language and culture.
It is unclear whether the Polish school described above had any connection with this notice in the Newmarket Advertiser in October 1922:
The resident secretary of the North American Civic League for Immigrants has organized a group of Polish speaking people, who will attend the local public school three evenings of each week, for the purpose of being taught to read and write the English language, and where, also, the Polish people will receive instructions from efficient teachers, in regard to all matters which will enable them to use to good advantage for naturalization purposes.
The goals of the North American Civic League for Immigrants seemed more aligned with the Evening School classes offered by the Newmarket school system during the 1920s. Classes were offered in literacy and “Americanization. Students could also take classes in algebra, arithmetic, stenography & typing, and carpentry & drawing. Average enrollment was about 100 students.
 The Stone Hall listed was actaully the old Catholic Stone Church on top of Zion Hill.