Baby Boomer Memories | Reflections on Pittsfield schools after World War II
One of my grade school classmates and I were recently reminiscing about how we went to four elementary schools in Pittsfield in the 1950s and never moved from our houses.
We remember how new houses and streets popped up in our neighborhood. After World War II, all the new housing meant Pittsfield would soon have a great need for more elementary schools. Also, many of the city's existing schools were more than 100 years old and badly in need of modernization or replacement.
I lived in the southeast section of Pittsfield, which experienced one of the biggest surges in population after the war. I began grade school at Hibbard and then went to Dawes School. Egremont School opened in 1951, and I was fortunate to begin second grade there, just a few blocks from home. Allendale and Highland also opened in 1951, and these three were the city's first schools built since 1924.
Compared to other city schools, these new schools were modern, single-story buildings with big windows, movable desks and chairs, fluorescent lighting, cafeterias and auditorium/gyms.
Within one year of its opening, Egremont reached its maximum capacity, and by the time I was in the sixth grade, all fifth- and sixth-graders had to transfer to Plunkett School.
Students from three or four other elementary schools joined us as well.
Soon, the city planned an addition for Egremont to be built after 1954, and also, Williams School was to open in 1957 to better serve the southeast. As boomers graduated sixth grade, we were welcomed into two new junior high schools that had been built in 1953, North Junior High and South Junior High.
Pittsfield reached its peak population of 57,879 in 1960, and several more schools were planned and opened in the next decade or so, including Crosby Junior High (now an elementary school), Silvio Conte School and Morningside Community. As these schools opened, all the aged elementary schools built before 1951 were closed.
It was not long after I graduated high school that Pittsfield High became so overcrowded that split sessions were instituted, with half the class going in the mornings and half in the afternoons. (My Class of 1962 had about 500 graduates, and three years later, the graduating class had over 900.) Thus, the city's need for a second public high school was inevitable and Taconic High School was added.
Having two high schools in the 1970s enabled Pittsfield to move from the model of junior high schools with grades seven through nine to "middle schools" grades six through eight. South Junior High was renamed the Theodore Herberg Middle School and North Junior High was named the John T. Reid Middle School. (Both men were respected educators in the city during the baby boom school years.) The two high schools then held grades nine through 12.
Since 1960, Pittsfield's population dropped significantly — it was 42,591 in 2017. Other than the recent replacement of and re-engineering of Taconic High School, no new school buildings have been built in years.
The old decaying schools attended by baby boomers have long been gone. The newest elementary school when I was a youngster was Egremont School, and now it is the oldest operating elementary school in the city. During the early baby boomer years, Pittsfield also had five parochial schools that prepared students for St. Joseph Central High School — and all have closed.
Many of the schools that baby boomers attended as children are still standing and have been "recycled." Mercer became the school administrative offices, while Hibbard was used for storage.
Bartlett, Briggs, Crane, Pomeroy and Redfield became apartments, condominiums or housing. Pontoosuc and Nugent are used by businesses, and Abby Lodge and Morewood are private homes. Russell was vacant on my last visit to Pittsfield, and a number of others that were over 100 years old were razed, including Dawes, Plunkett, Read, Rice and Tucker.
All in all in Pittsfield, there were as many as 20 public elementary schools, three junior highs and two high schools that baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 could have attended.
Today, there are eight public elementary schools, two public middle schools and two public high schools in Pittsfield.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark, business or event and photos you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at email@example.com.
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