Once the rudiments of settlement were established in pocketed areas of Massachusetts, including Cochichewick, the Puritans turned their attention to education. These intellectual immigrants brought with them staunch Calvinistic beliefs coupled with devotion to education and inquiry. By examining the laws, the demands on new towns became clear. In 1642 the General Court ordered, "the chosen men of each town to ascertain from time to time if children are being trained in learning and labor and other employment profitable to the Commonwealth."
Fines were imposed on those who did not comply. The law was important because for the first time in the English-speaking world a legislative body had ordered that all children be taught to read.
In 1647 another law specified that every township with 50 or more households "shall appoint one within the town to teach all said children as shall resort to him to write and read." Towns of 100 families were required to "set up a gramer school ye master there of being able to instruct youth so farr as they may be fited for ye university."
Still a frontier town, Andover nevertheless remained compelled by law. At Town Meeting on Feb. 13, 1701, it was "voted and passed that a Convenient Schoolhouse be provided at ye parting of the ways by Joseph Wilson (in today's North Andover area) to be twenty foot long and sixteen foot wide." The minutes also empowered the selectmen to engage a suitable school master. Dudley Bradstreet was our first.
Financing early education wasn't easy. Families were assessed a charge for reading, writing and ciphering "till said town is resolved to afford it." In 1706, town meeting allowed selectmen to assess "upon ye inhabitants as the law decides to raise money to defray our....schoolmaster's salary."
Education came to the new South Parish (today's Andover) in 1709. A schoolmaster was hired for half a year in the north and the remainder of the year in the south. Later, outlying neighborhoods began to form various precincts and tried to get their share of public funds but did not succeed until 1740. Then, in 1758, the town granted "that there be five schools kept in the out skirts" and that these district schools should not draw pay within a mile and a half of the center schools.
By 1795, Andover divided the town into districts and selectmen proportioned money according to the number of families in each district. In 1838, complying with the law of the General Court, Andover published its first annual Report of the School Committee, thereby achieving a degree of accountability.
Andover district schools usually featured one main room, wooden floors which sloped up to the back seat and few windows. The school master lectured from his desk while the wood-burning stove radiated heat in winter. Young pupils used quill pens and ink for their copy and sum books. Printed books were few and often students would use Horn books. Good students received the Reward of Merit.
Benjamin H. Punchard left a bequest of $50,000 to the town for the building of a free school, other schools being supported by taxes and private funds. The Punchard Free School was dedicated Sept. 2, 1856, but fire destroyed it 12 years later. The school was subsequently rebuilt under the jurisdiction of the town.
By 1866 all district schools were abolished in Andover. The School Regulations of the Town of Andover for that year created the Primary, Intermediate, Grammar and High Schools. They established guidelines for mixed schools, salaries, examinations, student promotions, textbooks and school committee visits. Thus, within 165 years, Andover schools advanced from one school at Wilson's Corner to a remarkably modern public school system, still supported today.
"Andover Stories" is a weekly column about interesting local people and events, told in anticipation of the Andover Historical Society's 100 anniversary in 2011.