A High School Comes to Scarborough

By Linda Snow McLoon


It’s common knowledge that going back to early times Scarborough had over a dozen one-room district schools that offered children a grammar school education. But because no one seems to know much about when Scarborough first had a high school, I decided to do a little research on the subject. The information I was able to piece together led to this document, which tells the story of the beginnings of secondary education in Scarborough. We can track its growth from a humble beginning prompted by the state’s 1873 Free High School Law to when it could boast its first school building dedicated to both high school and elementary classes, the White School. The document also shows its move to the building that became known as the Bessey School.

The resources I used include a large collection of the Scarborough Historical Society’s town reports which are available on the society’s website. The historical society’s collection of ephemera contributed much helpful information, as did early pictures from their collections. Having access to the extensive private collection of Rodney Laughton made it possible to use his high school graduation programs, newspaper articles, and numerous school photographs. All of these materials allow us to expand our understanding of Scarborough’s early high school.

For some time prior to the passage of Maine’s Free High School Law, the friends of education throughout the state had been working toward establishing free high schools to supplement the various private academies which charged tuition. Finally, in 1873, the Maine Legislature passed a law which authorized towns to establish free high schools that offered secondary educational opportunity to all income levels at no charge, and as an inducement, the state would pay the towns one-half of their expense.

An entry in the 1878 town report acknowledging payment to W.G. Lord for teaching high school in Dunstan in 1876-1877 confirms that the first high school in Scarborough was
organized by 1876. Since it was customary for school children to walk to school, the first high school program split the year between Oak Hill and Dunstan in an effort to offer more
scholars an opportunity to attend at least one term of the Scarboro Free High School. The
following year, a third term was added in the Beech Ridge District. Some high school students would board with nearby families in order to attend multiple terms in the three locations

[For the entire article, with images please download from here.]


The town voted at the last annual meeting to establish Free High Schools in the Oak Hill and Dunstan districts, and the committee accordingly went through the necessary preliminaries and set the schools in operation. We endeavored to have the terms at different times, so that scholars who chose to do so might attend both. After some delay it was arranged to have the Oak Hill school in the fall [1876], and the one at Dunstan following it in the winter [1877]. The services of Edmund Fogg, A.M., were engaged for the fall term, which began the first of October, and continued thirteen weeks. The number of scholars in attendance was about thirty. (We have no data from which to give the exact attendance or the studies pursued.) A good degree of progress was made by all, and though the attendance was small at the closing examination, it was evident that the term had been a profitable one.

The winter term in the Dunstan district began the first of January, in charge of William G. Lord, A.M., an able and experienced teacher. There was no delay at the commencement. Fifty-five scholars, mostly large and well advanced, were in attendance, and the term was soon in full operation. It continued four weeks, teacher and scholars seeming to vie with each other in activity and interest, when it became necessary on account of contagious sickness to discontinue the school for a time. After a vacation of two weeks, it began again with some diminution of the original number of scholars, and is now in successful progress. Mr. Lord is an educator in the broader sense of the word, and in spite of the discouraging circumstance of the prevalent sickness, has made this a very valuable term of school.

The benefit of these schools comes largely from the education of teachers in them for the common schools, and in this way the town reaps a direct and immediate advantage. We consider that the success of the free High Schools this year has been such as to warrant their continuance by the town, and we therefore recommend for that purpose on appropriation, the same as that of last year. We would particularly recommend that either the municipal officers or school committee be allowed to locate the schools and direct when the terms shall begin. If this be done, we believe that the High Schools will improve year after year, until they become of recognized necessity, and value to the town.

Payable to Edmund E. Fogg, for teaching High School at Oak Hill: $250
Superintending School Committee: Augustus F. Moulton, Granville McKenney, James F. Small


The S. S. Committee and Selectmen together were last spring authorized to locate the High Schools in such places as in their judgment should be for the best interest of the town. After careful consideration they decided upon three terms to be held respectively at Beech Ridge, Dunstan and Oak Hill. It was feared that dividing the schools into three parts would make the terms so short that they would be of little profit, but the result has shown that this was perhaps the best arrangement that we could have made. We were fortunate in securing the services of Wm. G. Lord, whose former school had given so great satisfaction. Mr. Lord has devoted himself to the school with untiring application. He is peculiarly fitted for teaching and succeeds in awakening an interest among his pupils that amounts to enthusiasm. No one can deny that our Free High School the past year has been of great value. One hundred eighty-five scholars in all have been registered in the three schools, of these about one hundred twenty-five were different pupils, showing that quite a large number have attended the three terms in succession. The question for our consideration now seems to be, not whether it is best to continue the High School, but where we can find room to accommodate all the scholars who wish to attend. It is best just to say that the great success of the past year is mostly due to the untiring zeal and ability of the teacher, Mr. Lord. We would suggest that the appropriation be increased somewhat if there are to be three schools, so as to give terms of about ten weeks each.

[For the entire article, with images please download from here.]

To W.G. Lord, teaching High School at Dunstan,’76-’77: $250. Received from the state: $294.64 DO for tuition: $16 Bal due from State: $125.
To William G. Lord, teaching High School at Beech Ridge: $166.67 & $333.33 – Total due Lord $750.

Superintending School Committee: Augustus F. Moulton, Granville McKenney, James F. Small.

Having a town high school was a cause for pride and celebration, and on February 28 and March 1, 1878, examinations were held at Oak Hill and a prize declamation was offered at Dunstan. The printed program that is part of the Scarborough Historical Society’s town hall ephemera collection lists the names of the scholars from each of the three school locations along with their teacher, W.G. Lord.

[For the entire article, with images please download from here.]

The three high school terms’ locations were alternated, with the fall term at Beech Ridge, the winter term at Dunstan, and the spring term at Oak Hill. When the high school was in session, there were no common schools held in that district.

During the Beech Ridge term in 1878, Edna Libby and Lizzie Pillsbury collected work of classmates to put into the Scarboro High School Journal. They called their venture the Beech Ridge Publishing Co.

[For the entire article, with images please download from here.]


The High School has been in charge of the same teacher that gave so excellent satisfaction last year, Wm. G. Lord, A. M. The first term was held at Beech Ridge, the second at Dunstan, and the third, which is now in progress, at Oak Hill. The interest of last year has continued unabated. About seventy-five scholars have attended each of the two first terms and the average of attendance has been very high; we are not able to give the exact attendance of the present term but it is large. While some of the higher branches of learning are taught in this school, attention is given chiefly to those most useful. The teacher labors to give a practical training to the studies of all the classes. Quite a number of scholars have been teaching a part of the year and have shown in their schools the good results of their High School training. We congratulate the town upon having such a good school established and would recommend an appropriation for its continuance at least as large as that of last year.

Attendance at the Scarboro Free High School was not free for out-of-town residents, as this receipt made out by Town Treasurer Augustus F. Moulton to Charles Giles shows. Charles paid $4.00 for attending the Dunstan term of the high school in 1877.

The state rescinded the Free High School Law in 1879, and after state money for high schools dried up, the status of the high school program in Scarborough for the next decade remains sketchy.


The Legislature of 1879 having suspended the Free High School act, the town has not maintained a High School the past year [beginning in the fall of 1879]. Arrangements were made for a term to be supported by private subscriptions, but the project failed for want of a suitable building in which to have the school.

A former student, Perley Libby, reported that in 1882 Master Lord of Limington was in charge of the high school, so it appears there were occasional attempts to continue the high school program. In a number of town warrants throughout the 1880s there were articles similar to the following:

To see if the Town will vote to establish a Free High School and raise money for the same.

Permanent high school classes were resumed without interruption in 1890, when a program was initiated with terms alternating between Dunstan and Oak Hill. At some point all classes were held at the town hall in Oak Hill.

When the Scarboro Free High School resumed classes during the 1890-1891 school year, students had to show a certain level of academic proficiency in order to earn admission. Martha (Mattie) Hill passed her admission exam, and four years later she earned a diploma.

[For the entire article, with images please download from here.]

We have photographs of the scholars who made up the student body of Scarborough’s first permanent high school program in the 1890-1891 school year. This group of students participated in the fall term held at the town hall in Oak Hill in 1890.

Another picture shows the same group of students in their classroom at the town hall at Oak Hill for classes during the fall term of the first permanent Scarborough High School during the 1890-1891 school year.

This 1891 picture shows the Scarboro Free High School students who attended the high school’s second term held at the Independent Order of Good Templars’ hall in Dunstan, which was located where the soldiers’ monument is today. The winter term of the first permanent high school was run by its principal and only teacher, Bertram E. Clark, who is seated in the front row.

The Good Templar’s Hall was eventually moved to another location in Dunstan when it was taken over by the Grange organization. Later it became the Masonic Hall.

[There are many images of documents, school classes, and ephemera supporting this article and more to the article. Please download the entire article with images from here.]

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