Site Number 48 – The Stone School. One way or another, this building has been part of Newmarket education for nearly 200 years.
Built in 1841 to educate the children of the growing mill population, the Stone School had a few things in common with the mills. It was built on mill-owned land, and the stone was hauled from the same Durham quarry as was used for the stone mills by the river. And if it stopped being used as a school, the Newmarket Manufacturing Company had the right to reclaim it.
During the 19th century, village schools offered two levels of classes—primary and grammar. This building was used for both, depending on village enrollment each year. Whenever the mills hired more people, families moved in; while older offspring often joined their parents in the factory, the younger children were sent to school, so there were usually lots of primary aged pupils.
According to school reports, conditions up here on windy Zion’s Hill were not ideal. The stone school was a real challenge to heat, at one point requiring an extra stove. And the building did not get water piped in until 1895. Imagine the two classrooms –each with 50 or more youngsters—and no running water.
During the Great Depression, as families moved out of Newmarket looking for work elsewhere, this school probably wasn’t used as much; but by then the mills had abandoned the property, so it finally did belong to the town.
But after World War II Newmarket’s population once again climbed, and many of the town’s Baby Boomers climbed the hill to attend fifth and sixth grades here, with Mrs. Robie and Mrs. Rooney. They continued teaching here until 1965 when —after 123 years—the school finally closed. At that point, the Stone School was the oldest continually operating school building in New Hampshire.
But it wasn’t finished with education. The newly formed New Market Historical Society moved in with a goal of telling Newmarket’s story, preserving local artifacts and sponsoring historical events and educational opportunities.
Since 1966 the collection has grown exponentially, and volunteers continue a tradition of community outreach, special programming and exhibits, and such initiatives as development of the New Market Militia, the restoration of the Cheswill Cemetery, and the 2022 Downtown Walking Tour.
Site Number 49 is right next door – an even older stone building.
END OF AUDIO TEXT. See below for photos and more information.
Prior to the Newmarket Manufacturing Company coming to town, the Village was a relatively quiet spot—except whenever a ship was launched.
Census records show the population for the entire town was relatively stable in the early 1800s:
The first NMCo mill went into operation in 1824. Within six years, in 1830 the population exploded to 2,008 – almost doubling in size. In 1840 it jumped again to 2,730 people.
The town fathers saw a jump as well in school enrollment after the mills eased out the Factory Girl employee base, and advertised for more families to come work in the mills. By 1830 the mills had constructed the small Spring Pump School back near Elm Street, and this helped for a while. But as the population continued its upward spiral, the town decided to build a school in the spring of 1841. The building committee consisted of Dr. George Kittredge, Henry Baker, and three Benjamins—Wheatland, Battles and Tuttle. Since this was the direct result of the mills bringing in more employees with families, they reached out to NMCo for help.
The Company donated the land on top of Zion’s Hill, with two conditions:
1) that it was to be built of the same stone as the adjacent Stone Church (built in 1832 as a Universalist Church on Company land for use by Company employees); and
2) not entirely trusting of town governance, the Company specified that the building must be used for education; if not, the land would revert back to the Company.
The town then authorized the same rubble construction technique using the same granite and shale which had been quarried at Durham Point, similar to the Universalist Meetinghouse next door—but without the gothic arched window openings. The school was designed to face east overlooking the village and had a Greek Revival cupola (which was gone sometime after 1870).
The building committee decided that the school would be more utilitarian in purpose and design. They also decided the desks and seats were to be constructed from the same type of wood and similar workmanship as the pews in the Methodist meeting house. William and Robert Channel were the contactors for the stonework, Augustus Bradford the brickwork and plaster, and Jewett Tasker the seats, desks, etc.
(Cropped old photo around 1870 faintly showing a cupola on top of the Stone School, seen here behind the Stone Church Steeple)
The new school opened in May 1842, with Mr. P. Payson as its first instructor for a term of eleven weeks at a salary of $96.60.
From the “Company Town” by John C.Garner, Oxford University Press, 1992
At Newmarket, the first school and church – both of rubble masonry like the company’s later mills – were placed atop “Zion’s Hill”, a seemingly symbolic site above the company town like that in so many other small New England villages. Churches were probably offered such hilltop sites when they existed, because the land had no industrial, commercial, or corporate housing value. Education was nearly as important as religion in many mill towns. The land that the Stone Church and the Stone School were built on – was originally part of an orchard belonging perhaps to Jewett Tasker or David Murray. The deeds of the period are not well documented by today’s standards. Borders were generally based on trees and family properties which changed over time.
There are precious few school records during the Stone School’s first decade. Among those records available there is no indication of where each class was held, although the classes are listed, with the number of students in each class, the teachers’ names, and their salaries. For instance, in 1848-49, there were four classes: Grammar No. 1 (the most advanced pupils), Grammar No. 2, Primary No. 1, and Primary No. 2 (the youngest pupils). The number of students ranged from 75 to 102. That year the “new” brick school on the corner of South and South Main Streets (Site No. 10) had been built, replacing the old Cheswill schoolhouse. There is some evidence that—in the early years at least-the “new” brick shool had two classrooms. So there would have been two classes there and two up on the hill at the Stone School—but it is not clear which class went where. It seems that, over the years most of the mentions of the Stone School had to do with it needing repair. Here are some highlights from School Reports:
In 1852, the School Committee wrote in their annual report: Most of our schoolhouses are shabby things, a disgrace to the town. The inside of “Stone school-house” should be remodeled. Hopefully something was done: the 1853 report notes that one Primary class was in the Stone Schoolhouse, one was in the brick schoolhouse, and a third class was located in the “Company’s School House” (perhaps the old Spring Pump School?). This 1853 report was also the first time that a “High” school was mentioned—likely up on the second floor of the brick schoolhouse.)
The 1859-60 school report showed a change in the academic levels: Primary - Intermediate - Grammar - High School. This is how the village schools were arranged until the turn of the century when the numbered grade system was adopted.
The Stone School had been built with an exposed cellar with a brick stove chimney and a gable end supplemented by a furnace flue. This may have worked well at first, but the 1864-65 report noted that: The warming apparatus for the Stone school-house in District No. 1 is very imperfect, imparting very little heat and consuming a large amount of fuel…The Prudential Committee found it necessary to put a small stove in the lower room.
And a few years later, the Prudential Committee wrote of a need for “modern improvements for the old and terribly dilapidated furniture now disgracing the school rooms in the stone building.”
The town’s first high school building opened up in 1875. This must have alleviated some of the overcrowding bemoaned in the previous years, and it’s possible that full use of the Stone School diminished after that—not that it would generally be made public, given the mill management’s legal right to take the property back if it stopped being used for eduation.
The 1886-87 report has caused some historical confusion in its assertion that: “The establishment of a French school in the old “Stone Hall” building has diminished the number of scholars by more than 100.” This was not the Stone School — rather it was the Stone Church. At that time it was owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese; it was known as St. Patrick’s Church, but also doubled as a parochial school for the French-Canadian Catholic youngsters in town.
The Stone School may have had a break from full usage in the years before 1894-95. But once again, increased student enrollment that year prompted the need to: “open another second grade primary…and were obliged to repair the lower room in the old stone school house and furnish the same with desks and seats.” In addition to these repairs, in 1895 the town also voted for emergency funding to lay pipe and furnish the plumbing so that water could be run to the school. Just try to imagine teaching a class of 50 kids of a variety of ages on the top of a granite ledge with no running water! Buckets would have been carried up from Spring Street.
The following year 89 students attended the “Stone House Primary.”
(photo taken 1898 of Miss Mabel Mathes and her 50 students; Mabel was the daughter of Constantine Mathes. Site# 19 has her Mathes Family biography.)
Notices in The Newmarket Advertiser show that the grades at the Stone School changed over time, depending on the needs of the town.
1897 - January 2 : “The public school will begin the winter term next Monday with the same corps of teachers as last term. A new primary school will be opened in the Stone School House with Miss Eleanor Whyte of Exeter as teacher.”
September 4: ”The fall term of the public schools will begin next Tuesday. The school at Pine Hill and one room in the Stone School House will be discontinued.”
1898 - June 4: “A musical exercise will be given in the Stone School House by the children next Friday, June 10, at 3 o’clock under the direction of Miss Mabel Mathes, their teacher; the public is cordially invited.”
1900 - There is a mention of the Stone School housing the 1st Grammar students. After that, as the town went to the “grade” system, the Stone School housed the fifth and sixth grades. As in the 19th century, the old stone school continued to fill in where needed.
(photo: 5th Grade outside the school house on the ledge on top of Zion Hill, 1906)
(photo: Teacher Leona Noble with 5 & 6th grades, 1911)
1912 - 1914 - 7th and 8th grades; 1923 - 3rd & 4th Grades……
1924 - The New High School was built on South Main Street, freeing up the older high school building for use to house the primary grades.
1930 - The school was closed with no immediate plans to reopen as the town’s population had dropped after the strike and families began to leave town. The population of 1920 was 3,181; and in 1930 it had dropped to 2,511. Once NMCo abandoned its properties, there was no need to house a class there until the school enrollment stabilized; then this building once more housed various grades as needed.
(photo of the 1914 graduating 8th graders)
In the later 1930s - 1940s it housed the 7th and 8th Grades.
In 1943 — There was a crisis of shortage of teachers; only four of the existing 14 teachers had signed contracts. It left no Headmaster and five vacancies in the High School, three in the Primary School, and no teachers in the Stone School.
The crisis was exacerbated not only by the war and its drain of young men and women into the service and defense department jobs, but locally — a lack of sufficient and affordable housing in town, low salaries and no “sick leave” policy.
1947- In January Wilbur” Rusty” Sharples replaced John Edgerly as custodian of the Elementary and Stone Schools. Mr. Sharples was also the school truant Officer. He had worked for the NMCo for years and then the Portsmouth Navy Shipyard during the war.
After WW II (with the birth of baby boomers beginning in 1946, it would house the fifth and sixth grades through the 1950s until it closed in 1965.
1963 - When the town decided to close the Stone School, it was reportedly the oldest school still in operation in New Hampshire for its original purpose. Although, the building was almost continuously used as a school during twenty-seven presidencies, from John Tyler in 1842 to Lyndon Johnson in 1965, only two presidential portraits were ever displayed – those of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln; they are still hanging in the building today.
1965 - When the new elementary school opened, the Stone School closed its doors for good.
The newpaper photo printed in 1966 has a caption which reads:
Newmarket’s Stone School, the oldest elementary school in New Hampshire, is part of an overcrowed elementry school problem in that town, caused when St. Mary’s Parochial School cut its classes from 50 to 40 students, with the overflow going into the public school system. That was three years ago. A new elementary school scheduled to be built sometime before September, 1966, will provide 18 classrooms.
Newmarket Central School librarian Sylvia Fitts Getchell served as Museum curator until her death in 2012; she was instrumental in applying for and receiving the Federal Historic status for not only the Stone School, but also for the other quarried stone structures in town—the Stone Church and the old NMCo. Mills 1,2,3 and 4.
In 1965 at an informal meeting over the old fire station (Site No. 12) Walter “Count” Olszanowski approached Roy Kent and Richman Walker about the possible creation of a historical society. Word soon spread among civic and religious groups, and interested townsfolk met to put a plan into action.
The first two meetings were held at the Fire Station and devoted to the discussion of a governing body and establishing requirements, aims and objectives. The third meeting (also held at the Fire Station) named a committee to select officers, and a name was chosen – the original name of the town as two words “New Market” was decided.
The first official meeting of the New Market Historical Society was held January 17th, 1966. The first elected officers were: President: George Griswold, VP: Sylvia Getchell, Treasurer: Roy Kent, Recording Secretary: Betty Philbrick, Corresponding Secretary: Theresa Walker, and Board of Directors: Edward O’Connor, Alfred Jablonski, Clinton Haley and Charles Stevens.
The newly formed group sought to acquire artifacts and use the old Stone School as a museum dedicated to safeguarding the history of Newmarket.
Throughout the weeks leading up to the Town’s March 1966 vote George Griswold and other members continued to send short articles to the Newmarket Times for publication: the first race track, old ships built in Newmarket, the history of ironworks along the Lamprey, cemetery restoration, the town pound, early slaves, Newmarket’s role in the Revolution, etc.. George would send one or two old historic photographs to the Newmarket Times for publication, asking if anyone could name those in the photos.
Members actively sought to create a sense of urgency in the community for the preservation and appreciation of our history. The public relations campaign paid off. At the Town Meeting in March 1966 the townspeople passed the article to transfer the Stone School building to the newly formed New Market Historical Society. In a dedication ceremony December 17th, 1966 Selectman Nick Zuk turned over the deed to Historical Society.
There was flurry of activity on Main Street in 1965/1966 with the demolition of the old Star Theater and adjoining buildings to make way for the new Post Office. That was when Roy Kent and Walter “Count” Olszanowski approached Buddy Priest who gladly donated his store’s display cases in the formation of a museum. Roy and “Count” placed one at a time into the back of Roy’s pickup truck and gingerly drove up the hill and unloaded them into the old Stone School. Mr. Griswold encouraged people to submit stories, old photographs, deeds or artifacts to the Society for safekeeping.
An old roll-top desk that was used for decades at the former Newmarket National Bank…
Mannequins from Novelle’s…
Old documents from the Town Hall and School Department…
Shoe exhibits from Sam Smith….
Bottles, coins, medals and ribbons, from everywhere….
Old photographs, stereoscopic cards, tin types, old family photo albums…
Military uniforms and memorabilia from both World Wars and Korea…
Local businesses contributed funds toward the restoration of the building…
Kids brought in family heirlooms from home (oftentimes, without their parent’s knowledge)…
In 1970, with the Town’s 250th anniversary celebration right around the corner, Dr. L. Forbes Getchell and Richard ‘Red’ Schanda (charter members of the New Market Historical Society) hatched the idea of forming a colonial militia for historical reenactment. The First New Market Militia Company of New Hampshire was the result. For more information see the link on this site for New Market Militia.
For years the museum remained closed during the winter months, the lack of heat meant each spring work parties were called to remove mold from items in the collection. Over a period of time, the mold starting destroying the photographs and documents.
In 2013 the Historical Society began a major campaign to do emergency tuck pointing to the outside of the building to stop leaks, and to get heat in the building to mitigate the mold problem. Proulx Oil got the contract and installed a permanent heating system. Since all display cases had to be moved into the interior of the rooms during the installation of pipes, that was the perfect time for a review of all exhibits collected in the past 47 years. All items not directly relevant to the town’s history were sent elsewhere, leaving a collection which would now be more germane to the town.
To be ready for the Historical Society’s 50th Anniversary in 2016, board members Michael Provost, Dave LeGault and George Walker turned the upstairs from a grandmother’s attic jumble into themed sections detailing a specific vignette.
They replicated a 1910 store display, an Edwardian parlor, an immigrant kitchen, a Lady’s salon, a school house which contained desks from various town schools, a hunting/sportsman area, a Civil War display, and a farm/industrial zone.
(photos after upstairs renovations in 2015)
For over 50 years the Historical Society has dedicated itself to increase public knowledge and enthusiasm for the town’s history. The display of that history is a museum of snapshots in time.
The goal of the Historical Society continues to preserve local artifacts, sponsor historical events and create educational opportunities.
Sometimes history has to repeat itself. During 2020, when Covid-19 brought public programming to a halt, the school department asked if there was an historic map of downtown. Thus began our pandemic project. We started with Sylvia Getchell’s Historical Walking Tour, completed shortly after the 1984 publication of her book, The Tide Turns on the Lamprey.
In an era when Internet searches and digital photography were unheard of, Sylvia had amassed, documented, and shared a treasure trove of goings-on in this old town, spanning well over 300 years.
Sylvia’s 1986 hand-drawn outline map with its 38 numbered sites became the template of the new 2022 Downtown Walking Tour. Twelve more numbered sites were added, and a digital version of Sylvia’s map was created - specifically designed to capture 50 historic sites of the downtown area of buildings over 100 years old.
—- (Sylvia Getchell’s 1986 map)
But a map cannot show the rich prehistory of each site, often going back hundreds of years.
Take Site No. 25, for example—the Post Office. It has changed little since its construction in 1967, but what of the town’s earlier postmasters and postal practices? And what of the many structures that stood there earlier—a Civil War uniform factory, the 1872 Methodist Church, Branscomb’s Tavern, and the Star Theatre? The stories of those buildings—and those times—needed a place.
The magic of a QR code on the paper map now provides a link, accessing the digital map on the Historical Society website. Here—linked to each number on the map—is a short audio summary inviting the listener to read on and discover visuals and more in-depth information on the buildings and the people associated with them.
There are stories and descriptions, photos, newspaper articles, and maps associated with each site. All of these contribute to a detailed narrative of the history of the town and its people.
The end result is a more easily accessible and in-depth history of the town and its people .
(Photo below is of the special 2016 progam featuring Newmarket Brides)