Mascoma Valley Regional High School, 1960s. Courtesy Donna Zani Dunkerton

A Royal is Born

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Andrew Cushing

a brief history of the Mascoma School District

This is the first of two articles that will celebrate the opening of the renovated and expanded Mascoma Valley Regional High School.

Central Five Cadets? Cardicoma Majestics?

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When voters approved the Mascoma Valley Regional School District in June 1962, the five towns that formed the cooperative district had many decisions to make before the first Mascoma Royals graduated in 1964. Namely, the name.

Pre-regional district, the towns in the Mascoma Valley each had multiple school districts. At its peak, Canaan had twenty-one. Enfield, eighteen. Grafton, thirteen. Dorchester, eight, and Orange, five. Many of these district’s schoolhouses still stand, though many have been converted into houses, town halls, or clubhouses.

Canaan High School, 1887. Courtesy of Donna Zani Dunkerton.

East Grafton School, c. 1900. Courtesy of Grafton Historical Society.

Orange School, located within the town house. Courtesy of Donna Zani Dunkerton.

Dorchester Common, with the Little Red Schoolhouse on far right. Courtesy of Dorchester Historical Society.

Enfield Village School, 1924. Courtesy of Marjorie Carr/Town of Enfield.

State mandates and shifting demographics forced towns to consolidate school districts starting in the mid-1800s. At the same time, students got the crazy idea to attend school beyond eighth grade. Canaan built a high school in 1887; Enfield built its dedicated high school in 1907 (though high school courses had been offered since 1886).

By the 1950s, though, towns were having problems attracting teachers and meeting state standards. Grafton couldn't find teachers for its two room school and half of Canaan's teenagers attended Lebanon for high school.

To combat these schooling woes, New Hampshire encouraged rural towns to consolidate school districts and create cooperative unions with neighboring towns. Enfield and Canaan started formal discussions in early 1961. Grafton joined discussions with Salisbury, Danbury, and New London.

The idea of a Mascoma district snowballed after a meeting in November 1961. Every week thereafter the Canaan Reporter and Enfield Advocate kept their readers up to date about the growing potential of a merged district. One editorial proclaimed 1962 "the year of decision" and full page ads listed the names of hundreds of residents who supported a coop.

The five towns voted overwhelmingly in favor of creating the school district on a snowy day in February 1962 (889-40). Orange voted unanimously to join; Enfield, 306-26; Canaan 414-3; Dorchester, 35-7; Grafton, 92-4.

Then the students took charge of the important stuff.

Students selected the mascot, colors, and name of the new district. In an era oblivious to the dangers of opening up naming contests to the public (remember Boaty McBoatface?), students suggested over two hundred options. This list was narrowed to five:

-Cryscoma (Crystal Lake and Mascoma Lake)

-Cardicoma (Cardigan Mountain and Mascoma River)

-Middle Grants (a reference to the district’s five towns that had just celebrated 200 year anniversaries of their 1761 charters)

-Central Five

-Masagodec (Mascoma and the first letter of the five towns)

Thankfully, someone recognized how terrible these names were. Mascoma Valley was chosen instead.

The Royals beat out the Cadets and Majestics at a meeting of high school students (the first time students from all corners of the future district came together). This same meeting resulted in purple and white as the school colors, chosen over blue and gold or red and white.

The new school board made other decisions. The site in West Canaan (known as the Young Farm) won out over ten other locations, including the Canaan Fairgrounds. The Young Farm was chosen primarily to appease the larger towns in the district, but the site's hilltop also provided prominence to the new coop. School board chair Daniel Gosselin predicted the new school site would be "breathtaking to behold."

Courtesy of SAU Office.

Construction workers throughout the winter of 1962-3 faced temperatures 30 below zero. Courtesy of SAU Office.

Mascoma opened its doors on September 9, 1963, shortly after an open house tour attracted 2,000 visitors. (From that newspaper article, we learn that the girls especially loved the bathroom mirrors and home economic classroom's appliances - thanks 1960s journalism!)

Since graduating its first class in 1964, Mascoma has sent nearly 4,500 mechanics, doctors, teachers, scientists, Navy seals, professional clowns, accountants, carpenters, and engineers into the world – the vast majority of whom would not have had such opportunities without a regional district.

With the most recent investment in the school district – the $21.5 million renovation and expansion of the high school – the community affirms its belief that even students from the most pot-holed dirt roads in the farthest corners of the five towns deserve to learn about Cezanne and centripetal force.

It's a surprisingly egalitarian idea for Royals.

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