The Pratt Free School

The Pratt Free School
N. Middleborough, MA.

Old postcard picture of Pratt Free School. Endowed in 1865 by Enoch Pratt of Baltimore and North Middleborough. Note outdoor toilet in rear of building. Photo of Enoch Pratt, founder, shown in the upper right corner.

 

The building was originally known as Titicut Academy and incorporated on June 6, 1856, by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature. A group of local stockholders contributed $50.00 each to build the schoolhouse and establish an academy, that would be supported by students and contributions of friends. Students came from the surrounding area to study high school and some college level subjects. Zebulon Pratt was instrumental in obtaining the act of legislature and securing funds for the erection of the building. The school remained an academy for nine years, until 1865.

During 1864 the stockholders in Titicut Academy had voted to convey the property to Zebulon's cousin, Enoch Pratt of Baltimore, MD, who had expressed a desire to endow the school. 31 stockholders surrendered their shares to Enoch Pratt, who in turn made them over to a board of trustees with 200 shares of Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad Co. stock, whose par value was $50.00 and worth $68.00 at the time. The trustees had the building location and over $10,000 to start with. Dr. Morrill Robinson gave shares fully equal to the land value whereon the building stood. In 1868 and 1873 Enoch Pratt would further endow the school with more money and stock, until a total of $25,000 was presented to the trustees. (Weston-1906)

The act to incorporate the Trustees of the Pratt Free School was passed March 16, 1865, by a special Act of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Named as original trustees were Messrs. Nathan F, C. Pratt (President), Morrill Robinson (Vice President), Zebulon Pratt (Secretary & Treasurer), Augustus Pratt and Elbridge G. Little. When this was accomplished Titicut Academy ceased to exist and became Pratt Free School, free of tuition to benefit all children over 8 years of age, who lived within the limits of Titicut Parish or 2 mile radius. This would include parts of Bridgewater, Raynham and Lakeville. Certain requirements were placed upon the Trustees. Only interest income from stock could be used to hire teachers or for building repairs and maintenance. Anyone taking charge of the school must read the Bible and open each day with a prayer. No Latin or foreign languages shall be taught. Moses G. Mitchell was the first teacher. At a reunion of graduates in 1912 an alumni association was formed in honor of the first teacher at the school. From 1900 to 1925 grades 7, 8 & 9 were taught, with the 6th grade included in 1918-1920. From 1926 to 1954 grades 7 & 8. Maximum students in 1919 equaled 33 and a low of 6 in 1931. From 1954 to 1991 the school was used for various grades as needed; third, fourth and fifth for some years, then changing to first, second and third.

In 1951 by agreement with the Trustees of Pratt Free School and the Middleborough School Board, a lease was signed renting the building to the Town of Middleborough for $200 a year. The Trustees would renovate the building and cover all maintenance costs for repairs and upkeep, while the Town would staff and operate the school. This agreement lasted for 40 years until 1991. At that time all the small outlying little (red) schoolhouses were closed and children bussed into larger schools, near the center of town. It was easier to administer to a few larger schools, than scattered small ones.

Pratt Free School originally held only two large open rooms - one upstairs and one downstairs. Upstairs also had a large stage, used for graduations and plays staged by local church and community groups to raise money. When classrooms were renovated to make more space, walls were installed to create four rooms. The existing stage was removed, much to the dismay of local residents, many of which had graduated from that stage. (Curtis-1989)

In February of 1992 the Frederic L. Chamberlain School, Inc. leased the building. This school is a private, residential school (since 1976) for emotionally disturbed and learning disabled adolescents, 11 to 18 years of age. The Chamberlain School exists for the purpose of providing alternative educational placement for troubled adolescents. This arrangement with the Pratt Free Trustees still exists today.

From the original Act of Incorporation on March 16, 1865, the charter was amended on March 9, 1899 and March 11, 1918 by further Acts of the General Court. In 1996 The Trustees of the Pratt Free School had Cy-Pres amendments filed with the Attorney General, to update the original incorporation in 1865 with amended By-Laws, so as to modernize certain sections of the incorporation. Today a board of five Trustees still administer the will of the original bequest. By-Laws have been modified to allow women to serve as Trustees. Even though the school is now leased, the Trustees still cover major improvements such as painting, shingling, new fans, fire alarm systems, etc. Scholarships are awarded each year to two Middleboro High School graduates. Originally the student must have attended Pratt Free to qualify, but today that requirement is impossible.

In the early 1950's the school was experiencing some financial difficulties and Leila Ogden Allen, the boards first female Trustee, must be given credit for rebuilding the trust fund. Each week she met with an investment broker and turned the situation around, in the following few years before her death in 1975. (Curtis-1989) Today after 137 years the Pratt Free Trustees stand on solid ground.

When I graduated from Pratt Free School in 1945 there were two grades - seventh and eighth. Plymouth Street School held three grades - first second and third - while Pleasant Street (later named the Maude DeMaranvile School) had the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. Each school was one large open room with one teacher for all three grades. Twenty pupils or less was the usual size attending school at one time. There was no running water - drinking and wash water was obtained from the pump on the Titicut Green. All schools had outdoor toilets. I always thought I received a better education in the smaller schools, since there was more personal attention for each student than in the larger schools.

Enoch Pratt (1808 - 1896) Enoch Pratt was born in North Middleborough on September 10, 1808. His father, Isaac Pratt, ran a general merchandise and hardware store in Titicut Parish, North Middleborough. Isaac imported Swedish and Russian iron, which he made into nails. Working in his father's business and in a Boston hardware store, Enoch gained a wealth of experience, at an early age. He left home and arrived in Baltimore, MD in 1831. Because Maryland's iron and steel industry was only at it's infancy stage, Enoch went on to prosper in the hardware trade both in New Jersey and Maryland. Both construction nails and horseshoe nails were brought from Boston to Baltimore and sold in his store. Although he became very prosperous in business, Enoch was shunned by society. He had joined the unfashionable Unitarian Church. (Connelly-1981) Eventually he established wholesale iron houses of Pratt & Keith and Enoch Pratt and Brother (Isaac Jr.). (Romaine-1969)

Enoch became president of the new Farmer's & Planters Bank and purchased large amounts of government bonds. He became a close friend of Andrew Carnegie, who became inspired with Pratt's gift of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. As a result, in 1887, Carnegie started his own project to build a free library for Pittsburgh. In 1906 Carnegie gave $500,000 to the Pratt Library for 20 additional branches. (Connelly-1981) Enoch Pratt made the largest family fortune and became a great philanthropist. He never forgot his North Middleborough roots and through the years made the following gifts:

1852 - After the 1852 fire of the North Congregational Church, Enoch gave $500 for a new bell and clock, $100 toward the organ and $200 toward the parsonage.

1865 - $10,000 to start Pratt Free School. Two hundred shares of stock.

1868 - $10,000 stock certificates to add income to Pratt Free School for support of a library and repairs.

1873 - $4,050 donation to Pratt Free School. (Pratt Free Records 1865-1889)

1895 - Additional land for Titicut Parish Cemetery was purchased by Enoch Pratt, who then deeded over to the Titicut Parish Cemetery six acres and the house of Mrs. Otis Pratt. In 1952 this house was purchased by Miss Florence Davis, who had it moved down Plymouth Street about a mile for her residence. This made over eight acres available to the Cemetery for additional burial lots, Indian John Thomas having donated the original two acres.

1899 - Substantial contributions to the Middleborough Unitarian Society. This included a lot for the church around 1889.

1899 - $10,000 in his will endowed for the Middleborough Public Library.

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Thank you to one of our local historians,
Bill Taylor of Middleborough for photo and story.