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Farmington: Franklin County's Shiretown


Click the icon to see a map of the early schools of Farmington.

By Nancy Porter, Researcher and Page Creator
With images from Farmington Historical Society and Farmington Public Library

The Fairbanks School, Farmington, ca. 1885
The Fairbanks School, Farmington, ca. 1885Farmington Historical Society

Many of the early settlers were educated and cultured, having come from towns in Massachusetts with schools with a strong influence of arts and music. So education of their children was of vast importance. Butler’s History of Farmington tells us that even before the town was incorporated, Lemuel Perham Jr. taught school in town. The Town was incorporated in 1794, and at the second town meeting of that year, the town raised a sum of money for “schooling”. (Original Town Warrant)

Mosher Hill Schoolhouse
Mosher Hill SchoolhouseFarmington Historical Society

Parker’s History of Farmington says the town had 20 school districts in 1846. In many cases, districts had actual school buildings. But some students were taught at a central home. These groups were known as fireside or parlor schools. As the town grew, so did the number of schools. In the 1860’s, the town had as many as 31 Districts. Each district had an agent, and that agent was responsible for obtaining and paying a teacher, in addition to providing wood, water, and crude furniture. And the sums of money allocated to each district school appeared to vary with the number of students and the wealth of the neighborhood it served. (Old Town Reports with Superintendent’s Report)

Farmington Academy
Farmington AcademyThis is the earliest picture of the Academy available locally. Circa 1860Farmington Public Library

Farmington Academy 1803 - 1864

SEE NOTES 1829 Farmington Academy Catalog
SEE NOTES 1829 Farmington Academy CatalogFarmington Historical Society
Center Meetinghouse, Farmington, ca. 1860
Center Meetinghouse, Farmington, ca. 1860While the picture is dated circa 1860, the Center Meetinghouse was actually built in 1803 for the purpose of space sharing for various religious entities. Money for erecting the building was secured from the sale of the pews. Many of those early pew owners were some of the earliest settlers in town.Farmington Historical Society

The early settlers desired higher education of their children. Academies had been created in other Maine towns, and Farmington followed, being the 12th Academy established in what would become the State of Maine. In 1807, the Massachusetts General Court granted incorporation to Farmington Academy, just 13 years after the first Town Meeting. The Board of Trustees of the Academy held their first meeting at The Center Meeting House in April 1807. (Butler’s History of Farmington)

Searching Butler’s History of Farmington [genealogy section] one may find as many as 40 people who attended the Academy and went on to Colleges such as Bowdoin and Harvard.

Farmington Academy Catalog 1838
Farmington Academy Catalog 1838Farmington Historical Society

The Academy was located on what is now called Academy Street. The school served students from Farmington and from other towns nearby. It was supported by the tuition paid by students. However, the Academy was always struggling to keep the doors open, even though it provided a high level of education in languages, music, math and science.

Farmington Academy’s existence was one reason the Town of Farmington didn’t support a High School, when other towns in the county had already established that type of education. The tuition was low enough for about everyone to attend. But the Academy continued to struggle to keep their doors open, so when its location was considered for a Normal School, the Academy gave up their charter and closed the doors. (1864) (Butler’s History of Farmington)

The Abbott School (1844-1918, 1924-1928)

The Abbott School, circa 1920
The Abbott School, circa 1920Farmington Historical Society

The Abbot Family came to Farmington in 1836 when Jacob Abbot purchased land in the middle of the town. Jacob’s son, Jacob Abbott (yes, the father's last name has one "t" and the son's has two), educated at Hallowell Academy in preparation for his later enrollment in Bowdoin College, returned to Farmington in 1837 and purchased the Little Blue property across the street from Few Acres, and built a cottage there, where he continued his writing. After the death of his wife, Jacob moved to New York and his brother, Samuel P Abbott took over Little Blue, and opened it as a school for boys in 1844. The property was purchased by A. H. Abbott (not related) after Samuel P. and his wife’s death in 1849, and continued the plan of the originator, developing a school of picturesque scenery and natural charm. Though the school eventually closed and all its buildings are gone, the school has a fascinating history and is the reason why Hippach Field is a centerpiece in the town to this day.

Farmington State Normal School, 1870
Farmington State Normal School, 1870In the rear of the Normal School Building the old Farmington Academy Building can be seen. Farmington Historical Society
Farmington State Normal School, Farmington, ca. 1920
Farmington State Normal School, Farmington, ca. 19202nd floor of Merrill Hall. Now Nordica AuditoriumFarmington Historical Society
State Normal and Training School Faculty, Farmington, 1929-1930
State Normal and Training School Faculty, Farmington, 1929-1930Faculty 1930'sFarmington Historical Society

The Normal School experienced several name changes. When it was established on October 9, 1863 its name was Western State Normal School and it opened in August 1864 as such. In 1878 the name was changed to Northern State Normal School. However, for the many years it existed here in Farmington, it was known as “The Normal School”. Its official name was Farmington State Normal School – 1889 – 1945. For the next twenty years it was known as Farmington State Teacher’s College, but the name was changed to Farmington State College in 1965. Between 1968 and 1970, it became part of Maine’s University of System, and in 1970 the name changed once again to the University of Maine at Farmington; that’s what it is known by today. (Joan Small, UMF Librarian)

A brief article in the Franklin Journal says The Normal School held classes on the second floor of Beale's block on Broadway until their new building could be finished.

The May School

May School, Farmington, ca. 1870
May School, Farmington, ca. 1870This is the only known picture of the May School that exists in the Farmington area.Farmington Historical Society

With the abandonment of the Academy, the citizens had no means of fitting their youth for college. And for many families that was a major concern. Various attempts at a high school in the village failed. The Misses May (Julia Harris May and Sara R May) filled in the gap when they established the May School in 1868. F. G. Butler and T. F. Belcher built a school on School Street (now Maguire) which was occupied in 1870. Jonas Burnham joined the staff and the name was changed to the Wendall Institute. The May School was moved to Strong after 1881 and continued with some success. (Richard Mallett's Schools and Franklin Chronicle)

Farmington High School - The Beginning 1873

Farmington High School, 1877
Farmington High School, 1877 Farmington Historical Society
Farmington High School Students, 1897
Farmington High School Students, 1897Farmington Historical Society

The Year: 1873 Maine passed a law that required all towns to provide higher Education to its students. (Superintendent’s Report in the Town Report) The first third of the year, public High School classes were held in Farmington Falls; the next third of the year classes were held in-town in Farmington and the last third of the year the classes were held in the Fairbanks area. (This was referred to as the “Wheelbarrow School”) This failed. (Farmington Falls Pilgrimage book by Natalie and Benjamin Butler) Three years would pass before the town built an adequate building for the purpose of the High School. In 1877, the new building was occupied for the first time. (Butler’s History of Farmington)

It’s interesting to note that there were High Schools in adjacent towns prior to the law change of 1873. New Sharon, Strong, New Vineyard, Phillips, Dixfield are all noted in advertising for students in years as early as 1853 (Franklin Journal Newspaper)

The Willows

The Willows Hotel, Farmington, ca. 1885
The Willows Hotel, Farmington, ca. 1885Farmington Historical Society

Perhaps higher education for girls was less sought-after than that of boys. But it wasn’t overlooked. Lucy Belcher opened a school for girls named The Willows in 1872. Her father, Hannibal Belcher, built a ‘commodious building’ for Lucy and she opened with nearly 60 students. Their educational thrust was to music, drawing, painting and needlework, but science, English, and math were included for the well-rounded young ladies. Lucy’s interest in the school waned after two years and the school closed. The building itself “proved to be a white elephant”. It was converted to a hotel, which was never very prosperous. After some years of abandonment, it was used for a dormitory for Normal School students during the 1920’s and 1930’s. (Richard Mallet’s book on Farmington Schools p. 35)

Farmington Falls Schoolhouse, ca. 1880
Farmington Falls Schoolhouse, ca. 1880Farmington Historical Society

Union School in Farmington Falls

Farmington combined efforts with Chesterville and formed a Union School. (Superintendent’s Report) A new school was built in 1880 in Farmington Falls Village after some discussion between the two factions living on either side of the river at Farmington Falls. The community of Farmington Falls consisted of a number of mills and a dam to provide water power for those mills; there were equally as many mills and homes surrounding the dam on both the Farmington Falls side and on the Chesterville side. It was a busy little community, and having a school for both towns in this location was a logical thing to do.

The original drawings for the school (now in the possession of the Farmington Historical Society) were prepared by Leonard Atwood, who later became well-known in this area for the businesses he ran, the patents he developed, and his association with a new railroad.

School Books

William Whittier's Day Book circa 1845
William Whittier's Day Book circa 1845This shows Whittier selling to Wm. Thornton a grammar and a spelling book Year 1844
Ad from the Franklin Journal
Ad from the Franklin JournalThe Eagle Variety Store's Ad for School books and supplies 1875

While schools provided education to their students, parents were expected to provide required books and school supplies. William Whittier’s day book shows book purchases as early as 1844. (Whittier was likely located in Farmington Falls) The Eagle Store in Farmington in 1875 advertised both books and necessary supplies, no doubt on recommendation of the educational system in town at that time.

The Free Text Book Law enacted in the year 1888-9, which went into effect August 1890, required that all towns provide schoolbooks to all students. The State was flooded with salesmen trying to sell their books. The Principal made his decisions to purchase books based on the quality and the price of the editions. (Superintendent’s Report - Farmington Town Report) Below are examples of early textbooks in the collection of the Farmington Historical Society.

Early Transportation

C. A. Pinkham Carriage, Farmington, ca. 1890
C. A. Pinkham Carriage, Farmington, ca. 1890Farmington Historical Society

Farmington’s rural schools varied in the length of terms and the level of education provided – the reason was funding. Many of the rural schools had funds for supplies and the teacher’s salary that only covered a few weeks. Thus the terms were short. As years passed, the Town felt that closing schools in rural districts and bringing the students to the Village School would be better for the overall education of the students and to create some standardization. However, the conveyance of those students was a cost to be borne by the town. In some cases, parents brought their children to school – some traveled a substantial distance. By 1900, children who lived on farms might be boarded at the expense of the town, or they were provided transportation. That transportation was likely in the form of a family member or neighbor who had a suitable conveyance. (Farmington Town Reports)

This carriage, built by C. A. Pinkham, a Farmington wagon, carriage and sleigh builder, came to the Farmington Historical Society from Parkman, a small town in Piscataquis County. It was used as a school bus there.

Farmington High School - 1906

Farmington High School 1906
Farmington High School 1906Farmington Historical Society

The number of students who attended the Village High School continued to increase. By 1906, a new High School building was built on High Street. This building eventually would be named for Arthur D. Ingalls, a long-term teacher at this school. The appropriated funds for this building were $30,000 but the actual cost exceeded the appropriation by $128. (Town Report) And with the continued increase in students, the building was expanded a few years after it was constructed, and some of that expansion allowed for a much sought-after laboratory for the science courses, and additional space for commercial courses for business, including typing.

Once this building was occupied, elementary students were moved into the old High School building on Middle Street and the May School building, which was now owned by the town, was closed and eventually sold. (Farmington Town Reports)

Nora Types...

Even though a new school was a great addition to the school system in Farmington, the school itself was nearly full at the time it was built. It would be ten years before the town would build an addition to the school. This addition allowed the academics to be expanded, also. At one time there were “farming” courses offered; the school built a greenhouse and students learned the growth process. One course popular with the female population was typing. The first typewriters were purchased in 1916; the next year six more typewriters were purchased. (Superintendent's Report) Nora Rackliff was a student at the high school and her certificate of proficiency survives.

Rural Schools

Booklet of the Museum
Booklet of the MuseumCover: From original water color by C. Robert TylerFarmington Historical Society

As Farmington reached the 20th Century, the number of rural schools dwindled to eight – Farmington Falls, Briggs District (Red Schoolhouse), Fairbanks, Holley, Knowlton’s Corner, Mosher Hill, Norton’s Flat, and Russell’s Mills. The number of students hovered around 145 in these schools. The number of students in the Village [graded] schools tallied 175. And the High School had 118 students. (1906 Superintendent's Report in the Farmington Town Report)

The Red Schoolhouse
The Red SchoolhousePicture taken from the Museum Booklet. Dated 1970Farmington Historical Society

The last rural school to close was the Red Schoolhouse (Briggs District) in 1958. The school later housed special needs children until it closed for good in 1969. Eventually, the schoolhouse came under the ownership of Farmington and Wilton Historical Societies. It was set up as an example of old-time education where students could visit and learn about education in the 19th century. Frequently retired teachers played the part of the teacher – coming back to spend a day in a school where they had taught years before. It was used as a site for the local Chamber of Commerce until 2003 when the Chamber found other accommodations.

In the summer of 2007, the Red Schoolhouse was moved to the Agricultural Society’s grounds, where it was rehabilitated. The schoolhouse is now open during the Farmington Fair, and has an amazing collection of old school memorabilia from the Red Schoolhouse’s heyday. Volunteers are there to meet folks and provide information. The Farmington area is fortunate that the only remaining one-room school did not succumb to time and a bulldozer.

A Grading System

Freda Hillman's Report Card
Freda Hillman's Report CardFarmington Historical Society
Freda Hillman's Report Card
Freda Hillman's Report Card Farmington Historical Society

The rules regarding a student’s attendance at school were established in the years just prior to 1900 when truancy laws were passed. However, the schools found it difficult to enforce the laws, as much as they tried. Truancy, tardiness and absences persisted. Truancy posed a problem with teachers, classes and maintaining an even flow in the classroom.

About the same time, it was apparent that schools had no measure of academic success in the grading system. After several attempts to build a grading system that would measure learning, a system was developed in 1924 by Myron Hamer, Principal of the High School. To obtain an A the grade was 93-100; B 85-92; C 77-84; D 70-76; F below 70. A passing grade of 80 was required for graduation. (Superintendent's Reports in Town Reports)

Freda Hillman attended Farmington High School; her report cards remain as proof.

Early Athletics

The early High School Newspaper, The Solecism, mentions several athletic encounters as early as 1886. How “organized” these teams actually were is anyone’s guess, maybe they were teams that just picked up equipment of some kind and went to play. Random articles in the local Franklin Chronicle [newspaper] say that basketball teams played at Drummond Hall. Later on, teams might play at Music Hall. Both of these facilities were on the second floor of buildings located on Broadway in Farmington. The girls’ basketball team practiced in the Assembly Hall of the High School, according to the Principal’s Report in the Town Report of 1917. Where they actually played is not mentioned.

Girls Basketball Team 1920-1921
Girls Basketball Team 1920-1921The uniforms indicate this team had a lot of "team spirit". Farmington Historical Society
Farmington High School Football Team, ca. 1920
Farmington High School Football Team, ca. 1920This team had limited safety equipment. Leather helmets and little or no protection must have increased the injuriesFarmington Historical Society

Fields for baseball and football might be found about anywhere in town during those early years – there were fields all over town. The Agricultural Society had in-town fields where some of the early baseball games were played (Roger Spear’s unpublished history of Baseball in Farmington). Soon there was money expended for improvement in Pratt Field. Pratt Field would eventually host team sports and Chatauqua gatherings. This field was located behind the High School on High Street.

The Model School

Model School
Model SchoolTeacher: Miss Johnson First Row Student: Cecil LuceFarmington Historical Society
Students and Teachers at Farmington Model School, 1884
Students and Teachers at Farmington Model School, 1884Comparing pictures, it appears this picture was taken in front of the May School Building.Farmington Historical Society

With the Normal School near most of Farmington’s Village Schools, students learning the Art of Teaching had a perfect opportunity to apply their skills with real pupils. By 1917 the Normal School created a “Model School” where scholars from Farmington could attend, and the students at the Normal School could teach with supervision. This proved to be a very cooperative arrangement for both institutions. The scholars attending the Model School reduced the financial commitment for the town and gave the students at the Normal School an opportunity to do practice teaching. (Superintendent’s Report in Town Report)

While the Superintendent's report doesn't mention the Model school until 1917, the dates on the two pictures indicate that the Model School was in operation many years before that date.

The Training School

Mallett Training School
Mallett Training SchoolThis school will be replaced within the next year or two Farmington Historical Society

As the student population increased, and the requirements of providing education at a satisfactory standard increased, Farmington was faced with space problems again. The town voted to build another school but this time the State would be its partner; the Training School was built on Quebec Street in 1931 – providing a new facility for Student Teachers from the Normal School to prepare for their careers. The new school also provided a much-needed, larger space to house Farmington’s growing population of students. (Superintendent's Reports) This School was later named for Wilbert G. Mallett, a long-time principal at the Normal School

As of 2009, plans were underway to replace the Mallett School with a new, energy efficient building. After meetings throughout the 2007-08 year, and input from community factions, it was decided that the Mallett School will remain on the same lot, if not on the same actual location.

The Historical Society has copies of architectural drawings done in 1928-1929 - originally for a Municipal Building. But the drawings reflect the style of the present day Mallett School. Also included in the drawings were buildings and floor plans for a gymnasium. The Town did eventually build a new gym for sports teams, and the floor plan for that building mirrored some of the original plans done in 1928-1929.

Teacher's Pay

School Teacher, Farmington, ca. 1915
School Teacher, Farmington, ca. 1915Farmington Historical Society
Teacher's Salaries 1915
Teacher's Salaries 1915From a page of the Town Report

During the years of WW I, towns struggled to meet expenses for education. Heating buildings was difficult as coal was nearly impossible obtain and wood was scarce. At this same time, teachers’ salaries were low; a person could make as much money in a factory as in a classroom after years of education. Farmington struggled to find teachers, and to keep those teachers once they were hired. Teacher turn-over posed a problem of continuity in education. (Superintendent's Reports in Town Reports)

During this time, health was also an issue. The influenza epidemic of 1919 closed schools for weeks. Contagious diseases such as measles, mumps and chicken pox were also rampant. The school system begged the town to hire a School Nurse and Doctor to help keep the school population healthy. (Superintendent's Report) Much like today, economics of the era had an impact on the schools.

Buses - 1933

With the addition of the Mallett School, more rural schools were closed and students were transported to the village. Transportation was now by privately-owned school bus; L. J. York owned a bus that brought students from Mosher and Perham Hills and Wesley Gardner conveyed students from the Farmington Falls Road. (cost - $4,000) By now, the town used just 3 rural schools – West Farmington, Fairbanks, and the Red Schoolhouse. (Superintendant's Report)

The Community Center
The Community CenterFarmington Community Center was built during WW II. To get permission, the town had to get a special dispensation from the Government for the materials to build this building. With steel in short supply, none was used in the construction, and over the years the building has needed extensive repair because of the lack of steel 'I' beams.Farmington Historical Society

Hip Hip Hurrah! A New Gym!

Sports teams practiced or played in borrowed space. Sometimes they used the gym at the Abbott School; sometimes they used the Alumni Gym at the Normal School. In 1940, the town voted to build a gymnasium; this was built on the same lot on Middle Street where the first high school had been located. (Town Report Warrant) The new building would provide much needed space for the town – for all kinds of functions and most specifically the sports teams. From the Franklin Journal of February 20th, 1942 we learn that Farmington High School held their first basketball tournament in the new Community Center that evening. Excitement must have reigned – new floor, new locker rooms, showers and plenty of seating for fans. That same building would host Town Meetings, Charity Balls for the Hospital, voting space for elections, and many other things. The Community Center is still an integral part of Farmington today.

St. Joseph's Catholic Church

The Catholic Parish of St. Joseph’s had become an integral part of Farmington since the Church was built in 1872. Through the efforts of Father Morrisey, a Catholic school was established in September 1947. The school was in the Ludger Matthieu house across the street from the church on Quebec Street. The house was renovated, and three Sisters of Mercy were brought here to oversee the education of Catholic children. The school was divided into nine grades in two rooms. Enrollment in the first year was twenty-eight students. But three years later, the capacity of sixty students was reached. The space was expanded and two new rooms were added to accommodate 100 students. Enrollment, in the peak years, reached 104 and the school continued to operate until 1967, when declining enrollment and the need for Catholic teachers in other areas dictated its closing. (Unpublished history of St. Joseph Catholic Church by Norman Ferrari)

Farmington High School Letter Sweater circa 1940
Farmington High School Letter Sweater circa 1940C. Robert Tyler's Letter SweaterFarmington Historical Society
Farmington High School Pennant, ca. 1940
Farmington High School Pennant, ca. 1940Farmington High School Pennant - circa 1940Farmington Historical Society

Farmington High School - 1953

And Farmington continued to grow. Like so many other communities, Farmington saw it's schools bursting at the seams when the "baby-boomers" reached school age. It was soon apparent that a bigger high school was needed, and the circumulum needed expansion. A new high school was built on outer Middle Street in 1955. That school remains in the school system today and is used as a Junior High.

And in the late 1960's, Farmington experienced another change - consolidation. Farmington joined surrounding towns to become what we know as SAD #9, and the High School became Mt. Blue. The Farmington High School Greyhounds were no more. The Blue and Grey turned into Navy Blue & Gold and Farmington students became Cougars.

Farmington High School, ca. 1955
Farmington High School, ca. 1955Farmington Historical Society


  • Farmington Town Reports - 1868 through 1943
  • F. G. Butler's History of Farmington
  • Natalie and Benjamin Butler's Pilgrimage of Farmington Falls
  • Joan Small, Research Librarian - UMF
  • Franklin Journal & Franklin Chronicle Newspapers
  • Richard Mallett's Schools
  • Unpublished history of St. Joseph Catholic Church by Norman Ferrari

Note: Superintendent's Reports were submitted to the town of Farmington and included in Town Reports