Not long after the first settlers arrived the schoolmaster followed. The earliest town meetings indicate that the funds were appropriated for schools, as well as votes taken for the disposition of funds derived from the school lots. Wherever people congregated in the various areas of the town, petitions were made to build a school house nearby, or to divide one school district into two in order to better meet the needs of a neighborhood. In 1845 according to Lancaster there were 33 school districts in old Gilmanton.
In 1859 at the time of the division of the town there were12 school districts in the present town of Belmont. That year the districts were renumbered as follows:
3 .Jamestown 9 .Upper Province Road 4 .South Road (formerly #13) 10.Lower Province Road 5 .Village (formerly #30) 11.Farraville 6 .Seavey Road (formerly #18) 12.Badger
We have not yet been able to assign the remaining old numbers to schoolhouses, namely 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22, 23, and 25. Regretfully, we have also been unable to determine when these school houses were first built, with the exception of the Village School, and Union Road School but undoubtedly several predate their construction.
The village schoolhouse was built at the corner of Laconia Road and Church Street in 1846 of brick and probably consisted of one room of moderate size. In 1856 it was either torn down or burned and it was replaced by a larger two room building which was used until the Gale School was constructed. This schoolhouse was later moved to Main Street and converted into a store, (Penny's Market today Belmont Village Store). The school contained two divisions - Primary and Grammar. Old records use the term "Select School" but this probably refers to the Grammar school division which was the highest level available in the public schools. This division apparently was only conducted at this one school, and students who progressed through the primary levels could attend, both from the village and outside. It must be remembered that there were no grades in the schools at this time, and that each student was instructed at the level and on the subject he or she could handle.
Each school was supervised by a Prudential Committee which was elected at the annual meeting of each district. The town tax collectors collect the school tax applicable to each district and the district had to operate on the amount collected from the district. This resulted in some districts being much better able to afford good instructors and longer school sessions, while the poorer ones had to make do with the available funds. The following is the budget of District #4 (South Road) in 1867:
Income Received of the town$ 83.13 Expenditures L.A. Eaton Teaching Summer Term$30.00 L.A. Eaton Teaching Winter Term 47.00 Paid for repairing fence 1.00
Until 1887 the town's schools were overseen by an individual who bore the title Superintending School Committee - a plural title although only one person formed the committee. This office was filled for many years by Lowell French, and later by John Sargent.
In 1886 the following adjustments took place in the school system: Schools #4, South Road; #6, Seavey Road; #11, Farraville; and #12 Badger; were united with #5, the village school.#9, Upper Province Road and #10, Lower Province Road, were united although the two school houses were retained and used as warranted, as was the Farrarville School in the Village district. #7 Bennett and #8, Clay were united. Following this consolidation of schools the Superintending School Committee and Prudential Committees were abolished and a School Board was elected.
By uniting four outlying schools with the village school, it became apparent that the village schoolhouse did not have adequate facilities for all the additional students, so the structure (previously) occupied by Lincoln Noel as a dwelling was temporarily used as a school house (corner of Main Street and Depot). To provide a permanent solution to the space problem the South Road Schoolhouse was moved to Mill Street (Calvin Brown Residence now owned by Fran Stockwell) and refitted for use as the Grammar School division. The old village school now housed the Primary and Intermediate schools.
In 1897 the town report lists the following schools and their attendance:
Fall SessionSpring Session
School terms were still not of uniform duration throughout the town although now the school board was responsible for the operation of all schools. In 1898 a third or Winter term was added to most of the schools and the school year was rapidly increasing in length. In 1890 twenty weeks of school were conducted, in 1903 this had increased to thirty weeks, in 1907 to thirty-four weeks, and in 1913 to thirty-six weeks. School budgets increased accordingly; 1868 $972.00, 1898 $2,572.34, 1906 $3,572.34, 1912 $5,513.51.
In 1894 Gale School was constructed with funds donated by Napoleon B. Gale. Mr. Gale was born in 1815 at his father's farm on Mill Hill, and was for years prominent in the banking circles in Laconia. The remainder of Mr. Gale's estate was left to the city of Laconia and used to construct and fund the Gale Memorial Library. Cyrus Norris built the Gale School and he was a Corporal in the NH Volunteers Regiment, Company E in the Civil War.
In 1898 a new schoolhouse was constructed to replace the Bennett and Clay schools. This was named the Plummer School after Joseph Plummer who had served on the School Board since its origination.
During the present century the neighborhood schools continued to disappear from existence. Belmont's one room schoolhouses closed one by one as their need diminished - Jamestown in 1912, Union in 1923, Upper Province Road in 1928. Ladd Hill in 1932, Plummer in 1939, and the last, Lower Province Road in 1942. Mrs. Agnes Moulton has the distinction of being the last teacher at both the Plummer and Lower Province Road schools, and consequently the last person to teach in a one room school house in Belmont.
BELMONT HIGH SCHOOL
In the 19th century few individuals went to school past the grammar school level, and most were fortunate if their total schooling covered the the R's. A high school or academy graduate in those days were considerably more rare than is the college graduate today. This was the case because advanced schools were scarce and expensive to attend, and often when a child was old enough to help provide for the necessities of the family, he or she usually did so. Those who were able to go on to an academy usually ended up as teachers or possibly as lawyers or clergymen.
Belmont residents traditionally attended Gilmanton Academy which was established in 1793, and at a later date Tilton Seminary and Gilford Academy or Laconia High School. Subject material of these schools included many of the familiar courses of today, although it is doubtful that such things as mechanical arts and guidance counselors had ever been heard of. The 1857 catalogue of Gilmanton Academy reports the cost of board, including rooms and washing, exclusive of wood and lights at $2.00 weekly. Belmont residents had to add this expensive item to the cost of education, as they could not possibly make the five mile trip every day. With the closing of Gilmanton Academy in 1912, Belmont residents were left with either Tilton Seminary or Laconia High School, or any other institution they chose to attend, but the town was responsible only for tuition. All other expenses such as transportation, books, and board were left to the student or his or her parents. Many older residents still remember the rush to the depot to catch the morning train to Titlon.
As long ago as 1903 the school board annual report asked the question " Why not have a high school at home?" While this thought undoubtedly came up more than once, nothing came of the idea for a number of years, probably because of the small number of students pursuing a higher education. In 1908 the school board reported that ten pupils were attending higher institutions, and by 1913 the figure had risen to twenty-three. Again in 1919 the subject of a high school was brought up, but no action was taken mainly because of the problem of transporting pupils from outlying areas to the village. Probably the biggest incentive to establishment of a local high school was the vote by Tilton Seminary trustees in 1922 to raise tuition from $55.00 to $100.00 the following year. That year the cost of sending thirty students to high school was $2,200.00, and the Superintendent of Schools said " It might be possible to maintain a high school, after it had become established, at a cost of $3,000 to $3,500."
Belmont High School had its beginnings with the vote of the 1924 school meeting to add a ninth grade at Gale School the coming fall. Six pupils were enrolled and the school was operated at a cost of $1,300 for the year. The following year 10 were enrolled in the first year and three in the second. School facilities were located on the second floor of the Gale School, at the top of the stairs. Miss Nancy Knowlton was employed as the first teacher.
At the beginning of 1927 school year, Mrs. Florence Skinner was added to the staff as a commercial teacher, and that same year a partition was placed through the middle of the 7th and 8th grade room so that the high school could have more space.
On June 7, 1928 Belmont High School (Upstairs of Gale School) held its first graduation exercises with Kenneth F. Muzzey as the first and only graduate. The following year the graduating class grew to four.
By 1930 the cost of running the high school had increased to $2,865.00, and in 1934 it was reported that the cost per pupil was $69.30, the lowest in the state. The reason for this low cost was undoubtedly the result of the minimum facilities provided. The school meeting of 1935 authorized a committee to work with the school board to study the school space problem. The committee recommended that a high school building be built at a cost not to exceed $25,000, of which 45% would be paid by the federal government, with the remainder being financed by a bond issue. Thus, at a special school meeting called the same year, this proposition was accepted and the high school building was constructed.
By 1960 another space problem was encountered, and this time a $265,000 bond issue was authorized to add an auditorium-gymnasium and classrooms.
Over the years attempts have been made from time to time to do away with a local high school. Early attempts were to transport students to Laconia, which was never a very popular idea with Belmont residents, except possibly those who lived nearest the Laconia line. This proposition was soundly defeated whenever it was brought up. At the present time pressures are again being exerted for a change in our high school. This time a cooperative or regional school district is reportedly the answer to all our school problems.
The residents of Belmont long ago voted in favor of their own high school and have reaffirmed that position several times. While our school may be smaller than the optimum, it has nevertheless served us well. Few schools of this size can boast of their graduates rising higher. Among graduates have been the head of the Small Business Administration, who is now a college president, the Vice President of a division of I.B.M., who as formerly Assistant Dean of Admissions at Boston University, a Colonel in the U.S. Marines, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, who was also a graduate of West Point, a Superintendent of Schools, a doctor, the New Hampshire State Veterinarian, the Sheriff of Belknap County, as well as teachers, engineers and other professional people.
In 1969 there were 178 pupils enrolled in Belmont High School, as well as 100 enrolled in the 7th and 8th grades. At the same time there were seventeen teachers on the staff at the school. This is certainly a giant step from the six pupils and one teacher who opened the school.
(History continued by Diane Marden)
In 1955, the Memorial School was constructed for grades one through four. The Gale School at this time was being used for the Administrative Offices, the School Nurse, and Secondary Art on the upper level.
During the construction of the Memorial School the soil from the site was transferred to the top of the hill behind the Gale School. It was used to create a ball field for Belmont's youth. Instrumental in this was Leigh and Verne Bryant. Verne had served on the School Board since the District's origination, and Leigh had been a custodian of school properties at the time. Shortly, after the death of Verne in 1975, the School District named the Belmont Ball Field, Bryant Field. By 1960, another space problem was encountered at the High School, and classrooms, an auditorium and gymnasium were added. During the 1970- 71' school year, Canterbury students grades nine through twelve started attending Belmont High School, and by 1972 became a part of the school district permanently. Growth throughout Belmont schools continued at a steady pace, and in 1971 a cafeteria and additional classrooms were added to the High School.
In 1985, the Belmont Elementary School was constructed on Gilmanton Road (State Route 140 East), the use of the Gale School ceased operation being used for cold storage. The new High School on Seavey Road was constructed in 1997, therefore the *Old* High School became the *New* Belmont Middle School, and the Memorial School became the office's of the Shaker Regional School District. Currently in 2007 space becomes an issue once again for Belmont's Youth, and the fate of the Gale School is being considered. Shall we decide to open the Memorial Building up to additional classrooms, and house our SAU offices in the Gale School? Or should we move the Gale School, creating additional space for newer construction along with a much needed bus loop? The fate of this historic structure remains to be seen at this time.