Brown Elementary School

(Apologies for not posting recently. I was working on five different posts, none of which came together easily. If you’d like to be notified by email when I write a new post, enter your email address into the widget to the right.)

Just a few weeks ago, the School Committee approved a plan proposed by the new Wellesley Superintendent of Schools to suspend K-3 enrollment at Hardy Elementary School through the end of the school year. Overcrowding at Hardy had become too much of a problem. And now, as the School Committee tries to figure out a solution — most likely, redistricting — I’m sure that the Town is regretting closing and selling several elementary school buildings during the 1970s and 1980s. At its peak, there were twelve elementary schools in Wellesley: Bates, Fiske, Hardy, Hunnewell, Schofield, Sprague, Upham, Brown, Kingsbury, Perrin, Phillips, and Warren. The first seven are the only schools still open. Perrin and Phillips no longer stand, Brown and Kingsbury are condos, and Warren is occupied by the Recreation and Health Departments.

So what better time to bring the history of one of these closed schools back into the limelight? Remind the Town exactly what it lost over three decades ago. Let’s start with the Seldon L. Brown Elementary School, a charming little schoolhouse on Garden Road that opened in 1924.

BrownSchool

The former Brown Elementary School – built 1924
(Photo taken by Joshua Dorin in March 2013)

Brown School was one of four elementary schools that opened in a span of only fourteen months between September 1923 and October 1924. At the time, Wellesley was in the midst of the largest population boom in the town’s history — from 1920 to 1930, Wellesley’s population grew from 6,000 to 11,000, a near doubling in only one decade. The five existing elementary schools (Hunnewell, Phillips, North, Fiske, and the Fells School) were bursting at their seams. Forty students in each class was not uncommon. In a remarkable feat of efficiency, the Town was able to develop and approve plans for the four new school buildings within months of taking up the issue. Construction began immediately. The first school to open was Hardy in September 1923, followed by Kingsbury in January 1924, Sprague in September 1924, and Brown in October 1924.

For the first six weeks of the 1924-25 school year, before construction of the Brown schoolhouse was complete, ninety students attended class in the gymnasium of Rock Ridge Hall, a former private school on the site of Rockridge Road. These students had been kicked out of their old classrooms at Phillips School in order to accommodate the growing junior high school population (who shared the same building). Although the temporary facilities were adequate at first, the old gym failed to keep the children warm as the temperature dropped. Even the installation of a new electric heating system didn’t help. Finally, when Brown School was completed in late October, the students and their teachers left their makeshift classrooms with their books and personal belongings and marched along a wooded path (that would become Lanark Road) to their new school.

The new schoolhouse must have been a sight for sore eyes. And what a sight, indeed. Brown more closely resembled a mansion than an elementary school, its design inspired by English manors constructed during the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods. This unique schoolhouse — with its multi-gabled roof, decorative finials, stone mullion windows, and tall chimneys — was designed by noted architect and Wellesley resident, William Hungerford Brainerd, who (unlike most builders in Wellesley today) appreciated the value that a beautiful building adds to a neighborhood and community.

SeldonBrown_OurTownNov1903_edited

Source: Our Town of November 1903

So who was Seldon L. Brown? Better known as “Pa” Brown by the entire Wellesley community, Seldon Lester Brown was the principal of Wellesley High School from 1886 to 1916, as well as the Latin teacher (and occasionally math and civics teacher). A gifted and passionate instructor, Brown had a habit of flipping the switch that controlled the school’s clocks in order to prolong the school day a few extra minutes. He was also deeply invested in the success of the high school’s athletic teams and was one of their greatest supporters. Outside of school, Brown was active in town government, served as president of the Wellesley Club, and was a trustee of the Wellesley Free Library for twenty years. It is, therefore, no surprise that the new elementary school was named for Brown. Attaching his name to the Garden Road schoolhouse was also fitting because Brown resided nearby at 22 Colburn Road and even owned land that became part of the school grounds.

22Colburn

The Seldon L. Brown House at 22 Colburn Road — built 1914
(Photo taken by Joshua Dorin in March 2013)

Brown School was K-6 until 1975 when it became one of three grade 5-6 schools. In 1981, fifty-seven years after first opening its doors, Brown closed as a result of declining enrollment and Proposition 2 ½. The schoolhouse was sold by the Town two years later to a developer (for only $350,000!) and converted into the Garden Close condominiums.

Now, in 2013, as Wellesley struggles with overcrowded elementary schools, I’m sure the School Committee wishes it had more vacant schools to help alleviate the problem. Perhaps the Town should have realized thirty years ago that some cost-cutting decisions can’t be undone.

Sources:

  • Norfolk County Registry of Deeds
  • Our Town: November 1903
  • Who’s Who in Pennsylvania: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporaries, Volume 1 (1909)
  • Town Annual Report: 1913, 1914
  • Wellesley Townsman: 21 July 1922; 23 March 1923; 15 June 1923; 7 September 1923; 23 November 1923; 25 January 1924; 20 June 1924; 12 September 1924; 3 October 1924; 10 October 1924; 24 October 1924; 31 October 1924; 4 May 1934; 18 February 1943; 17 November 1949; 28 August 1975; 29 January 1981; 3 September 1981; 14 April 1983; 21 February 2013
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16 thoughts on “Brown Elementary School

  1. My mother attended Brown from 1948-1954 and has shared stories of walking home for lunch because there was no cafeteria and her whole 5th grade class being sent for a year to Phillips (space issue?) and then returning to Brown for 6th grade.

    • Going home for lunch continued for a long time after that. A few of the so-called double unit schools were large enough to have cafeterias, but Brown stayed small until its 1969 addition.

      And Phillips was used for spill over classes for decades after the junior high moved to the current building on Kingsbury Street. They’d bus certain classes from the different elementary schools to Phillips. It just sounds so complicated. Glad I grew up when space wasn’t an issue.

    • Hi former Wellesleyan, your mother would have attended the Brown School at the same time I did. I lived on Cliff Road.
      Please contact me, Peter 617 834-7827

  2. MEMORIES OF SELDON L. BROWN SCHOOL 8mm movie made in 1961

    Hi, my name is Peter and I attended the Seldon L. Brown School from 1948 through 1954. I happily remember walking to school on tree lined residential streets with sandy soft shoulders, no paved sidewalks yet. I used to look at all the nice houses on the way with the sun shining on pretty flowers and also brilliantly backlighting the orange/red autumn leaves later in the year. And, we walked to school and back at lunch hour too.

    I can still remember most of my teachers names:
    Kindergarden: Miss Drake,
    First grade: Mrs. Sturges
    Second grade: Mrs. Elsie Burrill,
    Third grade: Miss LaFleur,
    Forth grade: ?
    Fifth grade: Miss Ella Buck.
    Sixth grade was at the Phillips School that year.

    Back then, I know I was hyperactive and somewhat hard to manage. Teachers worked hard with me. I was very bright but filled with way too much energy. I would occasionally push their limits and wind up being disciplined in Miss Bucks office by having to stare at the big clock on her wall for 30 minutes. I can still remember every tick tock and movement of that huge clock and it made a different sound every 15 minutes.

    It wasn’t until I had Miss LaFleur for my third grade teacher that my fondest memories were made there. She was really terrific. She told my mother that she was going to ignore my past problems and start over with me. She was going to make me a friend and then be able to work with me constructively, and she did. She also knew about the horrible tragedy that occurred the year before when the student I like best was killed in an accident. I was very upset over it for a long time. During one lunch break, Miss LaFleur took me to the Belvedere Restaurant downtown and talked with me in such a way that I actually wound up liking her. Back at school, she even let me erase the blackboard that day, something I had not done very often because it was a privilege reserved for the best behaved student that day. She tamed me. I started to think more about my actions ahead of time and I never wanted to do anything that would get her upset with me. And, all the way through the Wellesley school system, I never had a discipline problem again.

    My most exciting memory of Miss LaFleur’s class was when she brought in a small plaster model of a volcano. She put some chemicals inside it and to our astonishment, it spewed forth a lot of smoke and sparkly fire that really thrilled us (of course, there was a bucket full of water next to the table just in case). It was a very exciting event that happened before television came into our homes.

    In my senior year in high school, 1961, I went out of my way to express my gratitude to Miss Alice Teed, a 12th grade English teacher, who also inspired me. That same day, I suddenly remembered Miss LaFleur who also had such a positive impact on me and found that she was still teaching at the Brown school and I visited her there the very next day. She was very pleased to learn that I was going to go to Boston University and that I was very interested in music and the humanities (which I later went into professionally). The next day, as requested, she brought that old delapitated volcano back into her class and I filmed her demonstration with my super8 silent camera. The kids were again very impressed with it.

    I also filmed Miss Buck in her office next to the giant clock and we had good laugh over that, and I also filmed Mrs Burrell in her classroom. There are shots of recess and lining up to come back into classes as well as a really nice shot of students walking home with sunlight streaking through the trees

    This year, I converted this movie to digital format and added a music track that goes nicely with each section of the video. It is now in DVD format. If anyone would like to see it, I would be happy to show it to you. My name is Peter and my email is .
    Peter987artist@gmail.com Please contact me if you are interested.

      • Hi Mary,

        This is Brown School alum Peter Benjamin again, Hope to connect with you. I made a movie back in 1960 of some of our teachers seen teaching classes at the Brown School. It features Miss Buck, Miss LaFleur, (My favorite), and Elsi Burrillactually teaching classes. It shows students in that class playing in the jungle gym area and going home on a beautiful autumn day. A soft music track helps to set the mood, very nostalgic.
        You can reach me at Peter987artist@gmail.com

    • You’ve reversed the first- and second-grade teachers. Miss Burrill was first and Miss Sturgis was second. I know because I had the new teacher, Miss Clark, for first, when I expected to have Miss Burrill, and I had Miss Sturgis in second.

      • Hi Mary,

        Thanks for the reply about Brown School teachers. I am Peter Benjamin. I did mistakenly transpose the names of two teachers at the Brown School, it was brought to my attention by a former classmate there named Carole Fitzsimmons. Thank you for mentioning it anyway.
        Do you live locally? In 1960, before the Brown School closed, I made a really nice video of the teachers, students and settings with music that I mention in more detail above in my blog entry. My adventure there started out badly and then evolved into wonderful experiences and memories. We got a great education there, as well as some lifelong friends.
        If you are in the Boston area, or travel through here, let me know and I would be happy to show the film to you. It is about 10 minutes long and it moves people deeply.
        I have ‘new plans’ for a lot of the movies I made in Wellesley from 1958 through 1961 that have now become historic in nature, as well as the comedies I created and filmed with my classmates through 1961. For that reason, I won’t be able to send copies out of them at this time. But, as I mentioned, I am happy to show them to people. They are like time capsules that bring us right back into that time zone. Best, Peter

  3. I attended Brown School from I believe 46 – 52, many happy memories. I spent more time in the Nurses office then the classroom due to discipline problems, so much my sister thought the nurses office was my class room. I remember Ms. Buck being a 6th grade teacher/principal and the janitor was a Mr. Loring. Those were such wonderful years. . .

    • Hi Samuel,
      This is from Peter Benjamin. Thank you for your response to my posting on the Wellesley History WordPress blog. Please tell me more about your experiences at the Brown School. I lived on Cliff Road and I have a movie I made of Miss Buck, Miss LaFleur, and Mrs. Burrill.
      Do you have any photos etc. of that time. My personal email is Peter987artist@gmail.com

  4. I lived on Cypress Rd, #12, off Cliff road, wallked to school daily, down Cypress, accross Cliff, down Rockridge onto Garden and finally Brown School. I attended K thru 5th grade at which time i Moved to Marblehead. Always missed Wellesley Hills, those were such wonderful fun years.

    • HI, Peter,
      I’m sorry I didn’t remember to look back at this site. You’re my friend Debbie’s older brother! I was called Taffy in those days, and you might have been in the same class with my sister Barbara. Where do you live now? I’m in Andover.

      And hi, Sam. I lived next door to you at 25 Hawthorne. There was a stone wall between our houses. I was the third girl in the family, and I thi nk you might have had a sister who was friends with Barbara or our oldest sister, Sally.

  5. I attended Brown the fall ’64 – ’71 (K-6) and lived around the corner on Hundreds Rd. The freedoms we shared as kids – walking to school, walking home for lunch, playing kickball in the field after school without our parents having to keep a close eye on us – what fun! Life was so uncomplicated. As children we had no idea how blessed we were to be able to experience this kind of independence at such a young age.
    Did any of us NOT have Mrs. Burrill?! My teachers were Miss Drake, Mrs. Burrill, Miss Harding, Mrs. Church, can’t remember 4th grade, Miss Stevens, and Mr. Eaton. I forgot who the principal was but the nurse was Mrs. Kaufman.
    Brown School days and growing up in the Wellesley school system are fond memories, for sure!

  6. Hi, Peter and Sam,
    Peter, I’m sorry I forgot to check back on this site and didn’t see your reply. You’re my old friend Debbie’s older brother. She was two years younger than I, but she and Nancy Seiler, who was between us in age, and I were great friends.
    Sam, the back of your house shared a stone wall with the side/back of ours. We were at 25 Hawthorne.
    I think either or both of you might have known my sisters, Sally (born in ’39) and Barbara (born in ’42). I was born in ’46–it was our class, the war babies, who started all the trouble because there were so many of us.
    I spent a lot of time in the nurse’s room too. That was where you went when you were kicked out of kindergarten class. I used to go home and lurk outside, waiting around till the other kids showed up. Miss Drake never noticed.
    Was Miss Hollis your 4th grade teacher? I escaped her when I went to Phillips. Most of my class got her, but a few of us were put in with Hunnewell kids and had the wonderful Mrs. Gale.
    I live in Andover, MA.

    Best,
    Mary

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