Originally published in the Spring 1985 Framingham Historical & Natural History Society Newsletter by Dr. Bruce Brown (1917-2010)
During the Twenties there was only one grammar school serving the educational needs of Framingham Centre: the Jonathan Maynard School. It covered grades one through eight and was also a training ground for “practice teachers” from the Normal School. This brought some relative youth into the teaching program but also required the regular teachers to be capable of teaching the practice teachers as well as us. This was no mean accomplishment, and because of it, I suspect, we were blesses with unusually talented instructors.
To be frank, however, the learning process is blurred in my memory. The principal was Miss Lena Cushing, of regal bearing and stern mien. She ran a tight ship and remarkably obtained attention under any circumstance by clapping her hands. We seemed to have frequent assemblies at which all grades gathered and heard announcements such as a proclamation from the governor commemorating, in flowery language, various holidays. Why this was necessary was unclear, unless to further imbue us with a sense of patriotism. We also sang patriotic hymns, such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic, under the tutelage of Mr. Archibald, a music teacher from the Normal School. He had a moustache and a pitch pipe, and we produced noise if not music under his leadership. Of course we pledged our allegiance to the flag each morning and started the day with a prayer. Jonathan Maynard School was a light and airy structure with one exception – the toilet facilities, which were located in the basement. When need demanded, one always asks: “Can I go to the basement?” Rapid adaption to the dark was required when you reached these depths, which were illuminated by a small ground level window and not much else. Along one dark wall was a running trough for boys. I always had fears of falling into this canal before I had adequately adapted to the dark.
Most of us walked or rode our bicycles to school. Only those from such distant outposts as Nobscot came by school bus. This was before Route 9 was built, so no great danger was posed by coming down State Street, across Worcester Road, and finally down Vernon Street to Jonathan Maynard. Many of us returned home for lunch and rode back again for the afternoon session. The playground was the Centre Common and it received maximum wear and tear. A number of games would be played in various quadrants of this area before school, during recess, and for the higher grades, after school was out. One of the proud accomplishments in my life was making the Jonathan Maynard baseball team as second baseman. This outfit was coached by Ralph Noonan – more recently known as Colonel Noonan moderator of Framingham Town Meetings over a span of years. We played other grammar schools such as Saxonville and Memorial School. Our record escapes me, but I remember we reach received an “athletic letter” during the eighth grade year. It was one of my cherished possessions – the letters J.M.S. in yellow on a green background.
Many changes have taken place in this school. Our two older children attended Jonathan Maynard in the Fifties but only through grade six due to the population explosion after World War II. By the time our daughter matriculated in the early Sixties, it accommodated only grades one through four. Now it is closed as a school and a long career has come to an end, sad to say.
Fun “on this hill” took many forms. The Normal School was an ever present opportunity for devilment. The various buildings were serviced by underground tunnels which carried steam pipes. The entrance to these catacombs was reached by a short canyonlike alley which led to a door at the foundation of one of the buildings. This door was usually unlocked and therefore the catacombs could be invaded as long as one practiced stealth. Our major obstacle was a Mr. Johnson, whose title as Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds and Resident Constable made him a formidable foe. He walked with a pronounced limp and was therefore referred to as Peg Leg Johnson; never, of course, to his face. Forays were made into the tunnels with the secret hope that we might be detected and therefore chased. He was handicapped, we were not, and therefore usually escaped capture. However, such trespassing on state property did at times get back to our parents with resulting strict admonitions to stop.
The student body of the Normal School was one hundred percent female in those days. There were two team sports; field hockey and basketball. It is fair to say we were spectators of these sports for several reasons; one, the surprising noise generated by girls playing games; secondly, an opportunity to observe girls in long stockings, bloomers and middy blouses. The reason for this latter interest, I am sure, was not fully understood but undoubtedly had something to do with early sexual stirrings.
There was a marvelous cement sidewalk that led through the campus and joined State Street where it dropped steeply to Worcester Road. This was a tempting speedway for bicycle riding, which was also an activity frowned on by the Normal School authorities. Along this walkway were placed relatively short light standards with single shade bulbs. The bulbs could be reached if you were a good shinnier. I was not particularly adept but had a friend who was. Not only was such unscrewing of light bulbs an accepted sport but there was an even more demanding assault on a standard street light at the corner of Church Street and Maynard Road. A very accurately propelled stone could effectively neutralize such illumination. One of my friends had an unerring eye and arm. This eventually led to a personal visit from one of Framingham’s policeman; it well may have been Officer Ralston. The result was permanent cessation of this activity. The individual in question with this remarkable hand and eye coordination became an orthopedic surgeon and served in the Framingham community with great devotion and skill for many years. I would naturally hesitate to divulge his name even at this late date. He is now enjoying a well-earned retirement.
State Street was lined along its eastern side south of the Normal School by a row of stately maples. There were naturally cherished by householders. There were about five of these trees fronting the Brown property. The Twenties was a period when many boy’s books dealt with tales of opening up the West. The importance of blazing trails came up repeatedly in said stories, and it was inevitable that a trail would be blazed down State Street. The maple trees were the recipients of such mutilation. The reaction of house owners was obvious. Naturally, my father and uncle were among these enraged individuals. Fortunately the trees, although wounded, survive to this day.