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McElwain, William H. School

250 Main St


Architectural Style

Classical Revival


Architecture, Art, Community Planning, Education

Use Type

Abandoned or Vacant, Public School


Bridgewater Town Center

Massachusetts Historical Commission Report

Architectural Significance

The McElwain School building is a 2 1⁄2-story brick building with a flat roof and symmetrical five-bay façade with two recessed front entries flanking the central bays. The architectural style is a mixture of Queen Anne embellishments and Classical Revival form. The brickwork includes variegated panels of basket weave laid diagonal and relief panels with flare headers; the brick patterning is suggestive of wall texture variations, a hallmark of the Queen Anne style. The horizontal and vertical banding of the cast stone trim is reflective of half-timbering, which is also a characteristic of some Queen Anne style buildings. However, the symmetry, general formality, and other elements, such as the protruding and prominent cast stone cornice and segmental-arch entry canopies, indicate Classical Revival influences.

The metal windows are 6/2. The metal front doors and panels appear to be alterations to fill in the two front porches. The front doors just inside of these metal doors appear to be the original front doors, with some of the original hardware intact. The interiors are largely intact with spatial configuration of classrooms and halls, interior cabinetry, wood floors exposed in many locations, wood trim, interior transom lights and doors, stairs, and entrance sequence.

Historical Significance

The building of the William H. McElwain Grammar School from 1911 to 1913 was a major turning point in the history of the Bridgewater public school system. J. Franklin McElwain donated money for the building and lot in honor of his deceased brother William H. who had founded an important shoe firm in Bridgewater and shown a commitment to the civic welfare of the town. By 1914, the McElwain School had 292 pupils, making it the largest of the town’s public schools. This structure was used as a school until the 1990’s when a new elementary school was erected.

The school was formally dedicated on February 26, 1913, sixteen days after the school was occupied. The architects were Loring & Phipps and the contractor was Harry C. Briggs of Brockton, MA. The firm Loring & Phipps was established in 1888 by partners George Fullington Loring and Sanford Phipps. The firm was recognized in its time as one of the leading architectural firms of New England and designed many public schools and other institutional buildings, suburban homes in Brookline, Somerville, Cambridge, among other places, and Masonic temples, including the Grand Lodge of Masons on Tremont Street in Boston. The school’s namesake, William McElwain owned a successful shoe factory in Bridgewater. W. McElwain’s father, E.F. McElwain established Bridgewater’s first large shoe factory on Hale Street in 1872. William McElwain continued running the shoe factory. In 1902 he implemented a program of year-round shoe manufacturing and established the first $2.00 shoe – revolutionary in the industry. At the time, his developments in the shoe industry were compared to advances made by Filene in the retail industry. At the time of his death in 1913, his factory along with his brother's in Manchester, NH, were producing over 8 million dollars worth of shoes annually. McElwain Shoe Company in NH eventually evolved into the Tom McCann Shoe Company.

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