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Islesboro--An Island in Penobscot Bay

Schools

Text by Ruth Hartley

School Bell, Islesboro, ca. 1880
School Bell, Islesboro, ca. 1880

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

After incorporating as a town in 1789, residents of Islesborough (spelling until late 1800s) voted in 1794 to divide the town into districts for schooling, and each district was responsible for maintaining a school within that district. About the year 1823, the Legislature made a law requiring the taxing of real estate for the building of school houses, and repairing the same in districts where they are situated, and the town then defined the districts by limits, not by families or houses.

At the commencement of the 19th century, the first settlers were limited in books, and it is surprising that so many grew up learning to read and write. All the books that they had were the Bible, Watts’ hymn book and the Almanac, which were resorted to on all occasions. Many who never had but a few months’ schooling became good readers and writers and spelled correctly in later life.

The first school books were the American Preceptor, English Reader, Webster’s Spelling Book, Walsh’s Arithmetic, Greenleaf’s Grammar and Webster’s Dictionary. Occasionally a visit was made by some traveling preacher, who would be hired to teach the winter school. The summer school was often kept by some of the inhabitants’ daughters.

The first schools were held in rooms of houses within the district, the teacher boarding around from house to house in the district where he taught school. This practice was kept up by more than fifty years. Each family would contribute and haul their proportion of the fuel, which was used in an open fireplace that burned half a cord a day. The ferule and birch were often made use of, and at times with great severity, whenever the teacher thought necessary, and were remembered by the scholars as long as they lived.

Ryder's School, Islesboro, ca. 1880
Ryder's School, Islesboro, ca. 1880

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

The town was divided into seven districts; most of these early schools no longer exist. District Number One was situated on nearby Seven Hundred Acre Island. District Number Two was located on the southern part of the island, called Dark Harbor School. Number Three was the Creek School located near Mill Creek. In District Number Four, a new school was built on the same location as an older school and was called the East Side School, or Pendleton School. It was the largest district in Islesboro. District Number Five school was built in 1864 and had the second largest number of pupils. It was called the Ryder School located across from Durkee’s Store, later moved to become part of the store. District Six School, known as the Sprague School, was a small one having only a few scholars and was located in the West district. District Seven school, known as the Parker school , had one of the best school houses in town. High School classes were taught in it. At that time, all the children in town had good schools and competent teachers, and many students were sent to seminaries, high schools, and commercial colleges. After a number of years a new district, Number Eight, was located on the Bluff.

The Parker School, Islesboro, ca. 1920
The Parker School, Islesboro, ca. 1920

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

In 1887 Joseph A. Sprague became the first supervisor of schools, in charge of all town schools, responsible for hiring teachers and looking after school property. At that time there were eight school districts in existence. While Sprague was supervisor, smaller districts were combined and scholars were conveyed. Local supervisors were gradually phased out and replaced by superintendents.

Inez Matthews Pendleton, a local woman who attended Wellesley College, was Islesboro’s first woman superintendent in 1905. When Mrs. Pendleton took office, six schoolhouses were open, including two so-called free high schools. Attendance at these schools was poor, probably due in part to the fact that the subject matter was more or less a dry repetition of material covered in the lower grades. Two terms of free high school had been held concurrently in 1897-1898, on the second floor of the Parker School and at Union Hall (Community Hall), with eighty-two pupils enrolled altogether.

Abraham Lincoln Statue, Islesboro, ca. 1914
Abraham Lincoln Statue, Islesboro, ca. 1914

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society
Islesboro High School, ca. 1920
Islesboro High School, ca. 1920

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

Through the hard work of “Miss Inez” as she was affectionately called, the high school came into existence in the fall of 1905. Housed in the old Masonic Hall in one large room, there were forty in the entering class. A state law was passed in 1904, requiring towns to establish high schools with four years of secondary instruction, or to be responsible for the tuition for pupils wishing to attend such schools in other communities. Mrs. Pendleton’s top priority after becoming superintendent was campaigning for the establishment of a local high school. In her annual report of 1905 she urged that a high school that “would fit children for college and rank creditably among other high schools in the state” be set up to “give our young people the same opportunities as those in other places.”

By the following year, the high school had outgrown the one room and was moved next door to the second floor of the Town Hall, where it was to remain until 1954. Entering students in 1905 were separated into two groups according to age. The younger group took four years to complete the course requirements, while the older students worked extra hard and graduated in three years, making the first graduating class of Islesboro High School that of 1908.

Dark Harbor Schoolchildren, Isleboro, ca. 1920
Dark Harbor Schoolchildren, Isleboro, ca. 1920

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

There were many changes over the years. Acre Island school closed in 1906 and its pupils transported to Islesboro to the new Dark Harbor school. In 1926-27 the commercial department was added to the high school. The third floor of the Town Hall was given over by the Independent Order of Foresters for this purpose. Malcolm Willis was the first commercial teacher. The Class of 1933, with eighteen pupils, was the largest ever to graduate from Islesboro High School.

Pendleton School, Islesboro, ca. 1940
Pendleton School, Islesboro, ca. 1940

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

A consolidation of the grade schools came about in 1941-42, when Grades 7 and 8 went to the Town Hall and the remaining grades to the Pendleton School. The first school bus was purchased that year.

In 1952 at a special town meeting on December 26, Islesboro residents voted unanimously to accept “the most wonderful Christmas gift we ever had.” Mrs. Lillian Whitmarsh of New York made the town a present of her stone summer residence to be remodeled and used as a consolidated school. Known as Rock Ledge when Mrs. Whitmarsh lived there, it was built in 1928 at an estimated cost of $225,000 by Mrs. J. T. Atterbury on Warren Mountain in the Dark Harbor section, and was surrounded by twenty-one acres of scenic grounds. An offer to purchase the residence had been made by the town the previous summer, but at that time Mrs. Whitmarsh had refused. However, when she later made the gift, she declined to accept any payment for the house. The “new school” was the ideal solution to the Islesboro dilemma, since both the old Islesboro High School and the Pendleton grade school had been condemned by the state. May 6, 1954, was moving day, when supplies and books were trucked to the new school. Although this was accomplished in the pouring rain, nothing could dampen the contagious enthusiasm. Since that time, the school has been home to all Islesboro school children in Grades Kindergarten through 12.

Islesboro Central School, ca. 1955
Islesboro Central School, ca. 1955

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

At the present time, plans are made to bring major renovation to this 81 year old building. Architectural studies and plans have been made for repair and reconstruction of the next few years.