IN Chapter V it was mentioned casually that the first school in Port Hope was kept in 1797 in the Smith Homestead by Mr. Collins of Montreal. From that date until 1812 nothing definite is known of any educational institution in the village but it is not unlikely that there were private schools similar to the above, where the children of the village received instruction.
In 1812 it would seem that there was a plank schoolhouse situated on Walton street opposite John street and, though a private institution, it may yet be considered as the parent school of the present public school system of the Town. It was taught in that year by Mr. John Farley, whom history records as a man of good education and a successful teacher. He was succeeded during the next few years by Mr. John Taylor and later by Miss Hannah Burnham, who was school mistress there from 1815 to 1817. Then followed Mr. Gardiner Clifford and Mr. Page during brief intervals.
At this juncture the school was taken down and removed to the corner of King and William Streets, where it stood for many years. In it in its new position taught Mr. Hobbs, Mr. Valentine Tupper, Mr. Alexander Davidson, Mr. Patrick Lee, Mr. John Bengel, Mr. Rattery, Mr George Hughes and Mr. Maxwell in succession, bringing the school down to 1833.
Meanwhile as might have been expected there were numerous other schools started in various parts of the Town. Mr. John Taylor opened a school on Cavan street in 1819. Chief Justice Draper, then a law student, taught here about the same time. The Rev. Mr. Coghlan in 1832 built the house until recently occupied by Mr. James Kerr, and took advanced pupils. Mr. Millard and Dr. Shortt continued his labours there. About 1832 Mr. Murdoch McDonnell taught in J. D. Smith’s old store on Mill street for a short time and then built a school on the south-east corner of Pine and South streets, which was later rented by the School Trustees. These are but a few of the educational institutions that the Town possessed.
The first government aid granted to the schools of Port Hope was received in 1842 and amounted to the sum of £45 12s. 6 1/2d. From this it may be concluded that there had begun some public supervision of the schools, though probably it only amounted to the annual appointment of a Superintendent. The Rev. John Cassie was . the first such. In 1844 the Town was divided into three school sections, of which Section I comprised the present Ward 2, Section II the present Ward 1, and Section III the present Ward 3. For each of these sections Trustees were appointed. Both Sections II and III had school-houses already but, though tenders were asked for the erection of a brick school in Section I it does not appear that there was ever a schoolhouse there.
In 1848 the first Board of Trustees for Schools was appointed. It consisted of Revs. J. Cassie and J. Baird, and Messrs. John Reid, Wm. Mitchell, Wm. Barrett and Wm. Sisson. Mr. Mitchell was Chairman and Mr. Baird Superintendent for several years.
In 1851 the plank school was moved some distance back on William street and repaired. Mr. Thomas Watson was placed in charge of it, while Mr. Spotton occupied the rented school on Pine street. Another small school was kept at the same period by Mrs. Grierson in the kitchen of her house, just south of Holmes’ establishment on John street. The fees of the pupils at these schools were about $1.25 per quarter.
Two years later the Board of Trustees decided to erect two new schools, according to a plan strongly favoured by Mr. Wm. Barrett and some others. These schools were to be octagonal in shape and lighted from the top. Lots were secured,one where the present East Primary stands and the other on the corner of Little Hope and Sullivan streetsand the schools were erected. Mr. Spotton was removed to the western school and Mr. Watson to the eastern school, while Mr. Wright was placed in charge of the old plank school on William street. Meanwhile, as will be seen later, a regular Grammar School had been established which absorbed the older pupils of these schools and made it scarcely possible to keep so many institutions going. The result was that a union was consummated in the fall of 1856 and a United Grammar and Common School was opened on October 14th, 1856 in the upper flats of Knowlson’s Building, corner of Walton and Cavan Streets, with Mr. John Gordon as Principal. Thomas Benson, Esq., Chairman of the United Board, was the man to whom the most credit was due in bringing about this important move in the educational history of the Town, without which at that time neither Public nor Grammar Schools could have properly filled their mission. In an announcement of the opening of the new school, addressed to parents and guardians of children in the Town of Port Hope, Mr. Benson explains that ” the hours of attendance will be from 9 o’clock until 12 in the forenoon, and from r to 4 o’clock in the afternoon, on every week day excepting Saturday. The fees are fixed at 3s. 9d. per quarter for the pupils in the Primary Schools ; 5s. for those in the elementary English branches in the Union School ; 15s. for higher English, including geography, astronomy, history, physiology, chemistry and natural philosophy ; 20S. for the foregoing studies with algebra and mathematics and 255. including the classics.”
To give a proper idea of this old school, it will be necessary to borrow from Dr. Purslow’s concise description, written during the last few years. ” You entered at the back of the building by a door on Cavan Street, now the side entrance of Mr. McLennan’s store. There were ‘ no separate entrance for the sexes.’ You mounted two flights of stairs about three feet wide and came to an enlarged passage, which served as a waiting-room for the girls ; another flight of stairs and you came to a similar waiting-room for the boys ; up another flight, narrower if anything, and you arrived at the top loft, which had been partitioned off into five school-rooms.”
Meanwhile the octagon and plank schoolhouses were still kept open as primary schools. Mr. Watson was brought into the Union School, Mr. Wright took his place in the east octagon and the services of Mr. Erskine, a scapegrace son of Lord Erskine of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, were secured for the plank school. The latter building was shortly after consumed by fire and thus perished an historic land-mark of the Town. A new shifting of teachers ensued. Mr. Spotton came down to the Union School and his place was taken by Mr. Wright, while Mr. Erskine undertook to teach in the east octagon. Tracked by ill-luck Mr. Erskine’s second school was almost immediately after consumed and the unfortunate master dismissed from the service of the Board. This school was then opened in a small wooden building near the corner of Ward and Elgin Streets and remained there until the present East Primary School was built in 1868. The career of the west octagon was of a somewhat longer duration. It continued to be used uninterruptedly until the time the new West Primary was built in 1873 and it was then torn down. Among its later teachers was Mr. J. R. McNellie, who subsequently taught in the East Primary for many years. The Union School, notwithstanding its uncomfortable position, continued to prosper, so that in 1861, a move to more commodious quarters was deemed necessary. In that year it was transferred to the old Meredith Building on Mill Street, until recently occupied by the Carpet Factory. Mr. Gordon severed his connection with the School in 1865 and was succeeded by Dr. Purslow. Meantime the Board of Trustees felt that the time had come to erect a regular school building and negotiations were set on foot whereby the present site of the Public School was acquired and aid promised from the Town Council. The present building with the exception of the north-east wing was built during 1866 and opened in 1867. During the process of construction the Town passed two by-laws authorizing the raising of $10,380 to meet the expenses incurred. Here the Union School was housed for five years, when, owing to the making attendance at the Common (Public) School free the accommodation was rendered too small. The Grammar (High) School accordingly left the building for new headquarters on Brown Street. Upon the separation Mr. Thomas Watson became Principal of the Public School for one year. Then the services of Mr. Goggin were secured and he continued as Principal until 1885 when the present Head of the school, Mr. F. Wood, was appointed.
A new wing containing three commodious class-rooms was added to the school in 1883 so that now there is room for eleven large classes. A Model School for the County of Durham was established in 1877 and has had a prosperous career. Two years ago by the extinction of the Cobourg Model School, it has virtually become the Model School of the United Counties.