Then & Now: School Days
Formerly the centerpeice of Salem education, this building continues to serve.
This building, the oldest of three educational buildings lining the street, was part of the center of Salem’s educational life in the nineteenth century.
John Milligan, a Boston master builder and a disciple of the famous architect, *Charles Bulfinch, built this school at 3 Broad St. in 1818/1819. It is considered an excellent example of New England Federal public building architecture.
The expense for this school was borne by the taxpayers of Salem, who have a long tradition (that some would argue is the oldest continuous in the nation), of providing free schooling to children. The first free school in Salem was established in 1637 with John Fiske as the first schoolmaster. Here, English, Latin and Greek were taught to prepare boys for the university. At the same time, the selectmen ordered that these students be taught good manners and be instructed in the principles of the Christian religion.
The school day in Salem in 1700 began at 7 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m., with the ringing of the school bell from March 1 to Nov. 1. The rest of the year, the bells were rung at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The only days off were "general election, commencement day and the rest of the week [for] fasts, thanksgiving, trainings, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.”
The education of girls wouldn’t begin in Salem until 1793, when a writing school was started for girls to learn reading, writing and ciphering. The girls' schedule was different, highlighting the gender differences in society. They went to school four days a week from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. from April 1 to Oct. 1.
In 1827, Salem voted to establish two high schools for girls, which marked the beginning of high school education for females.
Initially, this building pictured in this 1940 photograph, was the Latin Grammar and English High School for Salem. When it opened on April 19, 1819, it had 86 students. The following year, enrollment was at 113. It was set up as a classical school with its purpose of preparing boys for the university. In 1827, Henry K. Oliver was appointed principal of the English High School, where he remained for a number of years as education evolved in Salem and the nation.
Over the years, this building has undergone a number of modifications and enlargements as its usage changed. The second photo shows what it originally looked like before some of the architectural features were removed during renovations. When a new high school was built next door in 1855/1856 (not pictured), this building was converted into the Oliver Primary School.
The building on the left in the vintage photograph at 1 Broad St. was built in 1854 as the State Normal School, the precursor to Salem State University that later moved to Lafayette and Loring avenues.
In the "now" photograph, we see the Oliver School after conversion to its current use as congregate housing. In 1990, the legislature voted that this building be named the J. Michael Ruane Residence in honor of Salem’s long time legislative leader.
It currently offers congregate care for 14 residents who have separate apartments and are supervised by the Salem Housing Authority. While the building retains its original shape and “clean’" Federal lines, we note that there have been additions made such as the porch as well as modifications to the building in keeping with modern requirements.
* Bulfinch was the architect of the Massachusetts State House and the US Capitol as well as many other notable buildings.