By Rudy VanVeghten
Among the various schools where Meredith students received education was the Lang Street School, which first opened in 1925 to accommodate a growing elementary school-age student population and closed in June 1991 as a facility for grades preK-1.
Although there were still four small school houses in outlying districts in the early 1920s (Meredith Neck, Meredith Center, Dolloff and Robinson), the largest number of local school children at that time attended classes in the brick school now known as the Humiston Building. This was built in 1914 on the site of a previous village school dating back to the 1860s on land donated by Ebenezer and Cassandra Swasey Stevens, who lived at the Swasey homestead next door.
Old school reports indicate that enrollment was swiftly rising in the early 1920s, with an average attendance of 284 in 1921, 324 in 1922 and 343 in 1923. There were literally more students than could fit within the brick walls of the village school on Main Street. Superintendent of Schools Ernest W. Small appealed to townspeople for relief.
“If the increase… continues, at least two rooms should be added” to village school facilities, he said in the school report for the year ending January 31, 1924. “Probably the cheapest proposition is to build an addition at the Lang Street property.” He was referring to the Lang Street gymnasium that had been converted from the old Free Will Baptist Church. (The old gym was torn down in the early 1980s.) “There is room enough on the lot for the building, but there would be very little play ground,” said the superintendent.
Supt. Small continued, “A new four-room building with modern improvements, and on a lot large enough to furnish a playground and to permit additions, would be the best provision for the present and near future and would permit expansion at the High School.”
In the meantime, drastic measures had to be taken. “To relieve the crowded conditions at the Main Street school, a temporary room with moveable sides was constructed in the Lang Street gymnasium and the first grade placed there,” Small said. He explained that two major problems developed. First, it was bothersome to have to move the temporary walls when the gym was in use. Second, the classroom proved too cold as winter set in, and the district was forced to abandon the plan and rent space in Ladd’s Hall for the first graders. The Ladd building at the corner of Main and Highland Streets is now the site of the Meredith Historical Society Museum.
Not unexpectedly, the School Board approached voters with a request to relieve the space crunch at the March 18, 1924, School Meeting. A committee was formed, and an account in the April 23, 1924, Meredith News, described a public meeting held by the study committee and School Board. “As the meeting progressed it became apparent that everyone in the room realized that Meredith was not up against a theory, but an acute condition,” wrote News Editor Charlotte Lance.
Among the sites discussed for a possible new school were a lot at the top of Highland Street of about 10 acres; the Avery field on Waukewan Street, now the neighborhood of Avery, Clough and Colby Streets; “the grove belonging to Eben Lincoln above High Street,” now known as Swasey Park; and the Bixby property on Lang Street, thought sufficient for a four-room school building.
When the next annual School Meeting rolled around on March 17, 1925, the building committee had not completed its work, and another committee was formed. A couple of months later, School Board members Joseph F. Smith, Thomas J. Cate and Arthur F. Pottle and their building committee called voters back for a Special School Meeting.
As related in the Meredith News, “The Rev. T.J. Cate read the committee’s report. This report recommended the purchase of the Bixby property and building thereon a one-story, four-room wooden school building… After considerable discussion, the motion was made that the whole of the Bixby property on Lang St. be purchased” and the new school erected thereon. Voters approved borrowing up to $30,000 to finance the construction. “It was also voted the committee be authorized to sell the buildings on the lot and so much land as they deem best if not needed for school purposes.” The Bixby house still stands and was sold about 1980 to its tenant, the Inter-Lakes Day Care Center.
About a week after the meeting, Editor Lance strolled down Lang Street and wrote, “The Bixby buildings look in first rate repair and it’s a mighty pretty spot where the new school is to be built.” She also noted, “We wonder what the tennis fans will do for a tennis court now. The one on Lang St. has been in use for many years and will be missed,” indicating the previous use of the school site.
On November 4, 1925, the News announced, “The new elementary school house on Lang Street is finished and the four rooms are occupied, and the building stands substantial handsome, a dream come true.” General contractor for the project was Wilbur L. White, with plumbing by John W. Reardon and electric wiring by the Meredith Electric Light Company.
At dedication exercises, Building Committee member W.W. Ballard handed School Board member Dr. Pottle the keys of the building. Among those speaking at the dedication were Bertram Blaisdell, Charlotte Lance, Deputy Commissioner of Education J.N. Pringle and keynote speaker R.D. Hetzel, president of the University of New Hampshire.
By January 1926, life was returning to normal as Superintendent Small wrote, “Of course the great improvement in the Meredith Schools during the past year was the construction of the Lang Street school. Each grade of the village schools now has a finely lighted, well-ventilated and attractive school room.”
A close look at the former Lang Street School still reveals the original four-room section, with a four-classroom addition (two up and two down) added some years later to the south end. In later years, as Meredith’s school population continued to rise, as outlying schools closed and as other towns merged with Meredith to form the present Inter-Lakes School District, many other changes have occurred. Inter-Lakes High School was built in the 1950s, and the old Meredith High (Humiston) School was used for upper elementary grades. Later, the old brick high school was closed when the new Inter-Lakes Elementary School was built in the early 1970s.
With additions to Inter-Lakes Elementary School completed in 1991, the last of Meredith’s village schools rang its dismissal bell one last time that June as the cheers of kindergartners and first graders left for summer vacation and mingled with nostalgia from the generations who attended their first school classes at the venerable Lang Street School. A few members of the first classes at Lang Street School were on hand for the school’s final closing, including Lloyd Sprague, Mary Woodman, and former Meredith Postmaster Raymond Hutchins.
Some time after the school’s closing, the building was purchased and converted into a popular children’s museum for many years.