Hidden in Plain Sight: Bridgewater's First Public School
Happy back-to-school season! Learning environments may look very different this year, but the coming series of posts will examine the buildings that have housed Bridgewater's public school students over the past two hundred years.
District School No. 1, later known as the Centre School, was originally located near the corner of Grove and Summer Streets, on what is now Bridgewater State University's quadrangle. Its four classrooms hosted the seven grades then required of primary and intermediate education, and its close proximity to the State Normal School (now BSU) made it a convenient observation school for teachers in training.
In 1891, the school was removed from the site to make way for the new Normal School building, which is pictured at left in the above photograph. Also pictured are the Normal Hall dormitory at center and the old Woodward Hall at right; Centre School was located in the grassy open space in the foreground. All three of these buildings perished in the 1924 fire and were replaced with Tillinghast Hall and the quadrangle.
What happened to Centre School after its removal is a bit of a mystery, but it was most likely bought by A.J. Elwell, who lived nearby (namesake of Elwell Avenue). Elwell owned a few buildings on Central Square, and it's rumored that he reassembled Centre School next to the Mitchell Block, connecting the two with a narrow structure in between. Comparing the 1891 and 1896 maps, you can see that the original one-story shops on this site were replaced with a two-and-a-half-story building.
The old Centre School building retains a very unusual arched tripartite window at the attic level, as well as bracketed return eaves. The first-floor storefront and second-floor windows were replaced at some point near the mid twentieth century, but you can still spot the "scars" of the old, taller windows along the second-floor façade.
In its new life on Central Square, the Centre School has contained shops, a billiard hall, a Knights of Columbus hall, and apartments. It currently houses Relevé Barre Studio and Luminous Nails & Spa.
More details about the other buildings that compose Mitchell Block