NORTH ADAMS -- The former Silvio O. Conte Middle School, the subject of an impending $30 million renovation, will carry a new name when it reopens in the fall of 2015.
The School Committee voted unanimously this week to rename the 97-year-old building Colegrove Park Elementary School, a nod to the open space just west of the property. It's the building's third name since it was first constructed as Drury High School in 1917.
"I believe it gives the school a new identity and ties it forever back to a historic site in the city, a place that in my mind will forever be a green space," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said Thursday.
The park, named after city resident Jeremiah Colegrove, was established in 1905 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Four ornate staircases leading up to the school are slated to be removed during the building project, as officials stated rehabilitation was not financially feasible.
A school naming committee was formed this winter, Superintendent James E. Montepare said, and included himself and Alcombright, as well as Diane Ryczek, the final principal of Conte Middle School before it closed in 2010; First Baptist Church Pastor David Anderson; current and former School Committee members John Hockridge and Ron Superneau; Historical Commissioners Justyna Carlson and Paul W. Marino; and resident Steve Green.
School committee policy listed guidelines for naming a school, Montepare said.
"It states if it were named after people, they should be affiliated with education and goodwill, and it suggests staying away from flavors of the day," he explained.
Public outreach to residents and school employees followed and a list of roughly two dozen potential names was generated by late March, he said.
Other names recommended to the School Committee where Drury Elementary or Drury Academy; J. Stanley Sullivan Elementary, referring to the Kemp Avenue elementary school; or maintaining Conte, named after the Republican member of the United States Representatives for 16 terms.
Colegrove owned the grist mill on West Main Street near the present-day City Hall, Marino said, where in 1805 he purportedly hid a runaway slave.
"The story is she was running from a farm in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., as slavery was legal in New York at that time," he said. "She was being chased by a pair of bounty hunters ... when she got to North Adams, everyone she spoke with referred her to [Colegrove.]"
Colegrove was buried on the slope below the former Drury Academy after his death in 1837, Marino said. His wife Lydia later deeded the land to the deacons of the First Baptist Church as a cemetery. More than 100 graves were exhumed from the North Church Street Cemetery in the early 20th century after the land was transferred to the city for use as a park, he said.
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Who was Capt. Jeremiah Colegrove?
Capt. Jeremiah Colegrove, who was originally from Providence, R.I., arrived in North Adams in 1793 during an influx of Rhode Island Baptist manufacturers.
In 1793, Colegrove and Baptist Elder Amos Brownson organized a moving bee of 50 men and 50 yoke of oxen to move the Baptist Church's unfinished meeting house. The teams cleared trees from Church Street, which were then used to roll the meeting house from the corner of Church and Pleasant streets down to the corner of Main and Eagle streets.
In 1794, Colegrove and his brother-in-law, Elisha Brown, purchased several mills and 75 acres. They built a two-story brick grist mill on the banks of the south branch of the Hoosic River and owned three lumber mills. The first wool carding machine would be installed in Colegrove's grist mill.
By 1795, Colegrove, now a farmer and industrialist, was listed as one of the city's largest landowners. It was at this time he donated a portion of his land, known as Colegrove's Hill, to the Baptist Church for a burial ground. The burial ground would be known as both Colegrove Cemetery and the North Church Street Cemetery.
In 1835, Colegrove was one of three County Commissioners who entertained Nathaniel Hawthorne at the Black Tavern. It is believed that Hawthorne based the character of Captain Gavitt on Colegrove.
According to local histories, a runaway slave from New York begged Colegrove for sanctuary. Colegrove hid the woman in the machinery of his grist mill until a band of headhunters searching for the woman was scared off. The woman is said to have lived with his wife's family in Williamstown, working as a servant until her death three years later.
Colegrove died in 1837.
In 1900, the state Legislature approved a special act, allowing the city to take the North Church Street Cemetery by eminent domain. The act also designated the newly granted park be named Colegrove Park, as well as laying out how the 162 individuals buried in the cemetery were to be relocated to the city-owned Southview Cemetery.
In 1915, Colegrove Park was redesigned to include four grand staircases for the newly built Drury High School (currently being renovated into the newly named Colegrove Park Elementary School.)
Sources: A History of North Adams, Mass., 1749-1885 by W.F. Spear; The Hoosac Valley: Its History and Its Legends by Grace Greylock Niles; North Adams Transcript archives
-- Jennifer Huberdeau