Whately — Educational
Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.
It is probable that schools were taught in town before its organization, but no account appears on record earlier than the action taken at the March meeting in 1772, when it was voted "to raise £13 6s. 8d. for schooling, and that the selectmen lay out the money in Chestnut Plains, Straits, and Poplar Bill Streets, said school-money being proportioned to each street agreeably to what they paid respectively in the last year's rate." These schools were first taught in private houses, but in the latter part of 1772 the frame of a school-house was put up at the present hamlet. The building, however, was not completed in that year; and, indeed, it was unfinished for a number of years, on account of the inability of the town to build both the church and the school-house at the same time.
In 1775, Benjamin Smith, Joseph Scott, Joseph Belding, Jr., Thomas Crafts, Elisha Belding, Perez Bardwell, John Smith, Peter Train, and Nathan Graves were chosen a school committee; but no appropriations for schools were made in that year or in the few years next following, the war having necessitated the use of the public funds in other directions. In 1780 an effort was made to secure the erection of three school-houses in town, but the purpose was not accomplished, and, so far as known, only one house was built, about 1782. It was on the Straits, and was 16 feet square. On Poplar Hill a small house was built by individuals on their own account, which became the property of the town in 1790, and in the same year provision was made for school-houses on Spruce Hill and Grass Hill. For the support of these five schools, £30 were appropriated, the money to be apportioned upon the number of children from eight to twenty-one years of age.
Mary White, Jr., taught the Chestnut Plains school in 1782, and Zilpah Stiles, Rebecca Baker, Electa Allis, Thos. Clark, John Parmenter, Benjamin Mather, Thomas Sanderson, and a Mr. Osgood were also early teachers.
In 1798 the town voted £20 to revive singing in the town; that 4 pounds of it be laid out in the east part of the town for the above purpose; and 40 shillings be laid out in the west part to support a cyphering-school or a singing-school, as the inhabitants of that part shall decide, both schools to be free to all parts of the town, and be under the direction of the selectmen.
In 1799, £50 were voted to build a school-house on Chestnut Plains Street. It was 24 by 30 feet, rough-boarded and clap-boarded and shingled, and had a chimney and hearth. There were glazed windows, each having twenty lights, with outside shutters, and the outside door a swung on hinges. For those times it was a model, and costly building, and was probably the first in which winter schools were maintained. On account of the fireplace, application was made by some of the church-going people living at a distance to use the school-house for a "noon-room." The denial of this request had the effect of determining the people in other parts of the town to possess houses as good as or better than the one by the church, and soon the town was asked for aid in building them. Glazed windows and fireplaces were supplied, and some of the houses had two hearths. Between this period and 1820 several very comfortable brick houses were built, and liberal provisions for schools were made. This interest his been well maintained.
In 1878 the entire amount devoted to schools was $1316.60, which was expended on six districts, except $50 paid for instruction out of town.
At the meeting Dec. 1, 1777, the town voted to accept the piece of land given by Reuben Belding, deceased, of Hatfield, for the use of schools, but subsequently failed to comply with the conditions of the will, and forfeited the bequest.
The question of establishing high school was agitated as early as 1828, and in the following year the town gave its consent to have a house for this purpose put up at Bartlett's Corners. The project did not succeed, and in the whiter of 1838 the necessary funds were subscribed by citizens, who built a house for select school on the West Lane. In the fall and winter of 1839-40, Addison Ballard taught a school in this building, and thereafter, for a number of years, one term per year was maintained. About 1854 the house was converted into a dwelling.
In 1871 the town-hall at the hamlet was so arranged as to afford a school-room; and the following year Miss Abbie Smith opened a select school there. which she continued five terms. The subsequent teachers have been Miss Clara Stevens, Charles W. Wight, and others. The school was at first conducted as an individual enterprise, but in 1879 the town voted $100 toward its support as a graded school, to be under the supervision of the school board of the town.