History of Franklin: The Red Brick School


(Anna Hoffman)

The Red Brick School

In the nineteenth century, school was quite different than it is now. Children, flushed red in the cheeks from their wearisome trudge through the fickle New England weather, gathered in a one-room schoolhouse clutching a bundle of wood, a thin slate, and perhaps an apple to slice with their friends over lunch. They relied on the glowing flames of the fireplace, and later the wood-stove, as their heat source. 

According to Mary Olsson, chair of the Franklin Historical Commission, for about three months every year, the small schoolhouse was packed full of desks for children ages six through fourteen, oldest in the front, youngest in the back. For such a varied age range, the sheer number of children that must have been in the school seems unmanageable, especially when compared to elementary and middle schools in Franklin today. However, although it may be hard to imagine, Franklin used to be a rural, sparsely populated town. Due to the immature nature of medicine at the time, students were frequently ill and as a result, often absent from school. And, more often than not, there were more serious matters to be tended to at home. 

Primary educational concerns were writing, reading, and basic math. Students would use their slates of clay to study, as paper was unaffordable. Still, if students were practicing penmanship or cursive, they were permitted to indulge in writing on the yellowed, slightly crackled crisp page using a quill to soak the paper in cloudy, potent ink. Unlike today, textbooks were in short supply. Students brought books from home, if they had them, or borrowed them from their classmates. 

Franklin has a deeper educational history than just the Red Brick Schoolhouse. Horace Mann, an educational reformer born in Franklin, created the Common School in his earliest efforts of education reform. The Red Brick Schoolhouse is the first common school. The school was financed through local property taxes and took part in a statewide curriculum. Tuition was not charged, as Mann had a goal to bring all social classes together. Similar to today, the district was controlled by an elected school board and a county school superintendent or regional director. 

From 1833, the schoolhouse was always used for education. Mary Olsson says, “It was used by the charter school and a private company, who still used it for educational purposes”. Franklin has relatively recently decided that the small building was no longer needed within the school system; residents were against this and fought to preserve its educational purpose. Currently, the town has historic preservation plans to restore the building. 

The “red bricks” in the name of the schoolhouse are noteworthy. The bricks were originally shipped by oxen from Boston, replacing the wood the schoolhouse was originally made from. During the Great Depression and in 1959, it was considered unsafe and nearly closed. To save it, the residents of Franklin paid to have it renovated. This money was raised from selling ceramic tiles with an image of the school on the front and the history of the school on the back. Bricks, ceramic tiles, and clay blocks have saved the building more than once. 

In 1976, this renowned building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1833, the Red Brick Schoolhouse has always been at the crossroads: where Main, Maple, and Lincoln street meet.