A New School for the Second School District and Harrison Hall: 1840

    Nathan R. George Jr.'s donation to the Mendon Town Hall's renovation fund in 1929 was extremely
    generous and meaningful. It helped to remodel and modernize the interior of the building and to
    restore the exterior to its original architectural design. He was a professor of mathematics at MIT, and
    he was a summer resident of the town. He was from a family of prominent lawyers, educators, and
    businessmen who were from the village center, 28 Main Street and 14 Maple Street. His contribution
    to the restoration of the historic building was quiet and low key. This was in complete contrast to the
    building's early history, which was divisive, contentious, and controversial.

    In 1840, Mendon was divided into several autonomous school districts. Voters in the second district
    voted unanimously at a January meeting to build a new school house. It was voted at a meeting on
    February 1 to form a building committee of Silas Dudley, David Davenport, and B.D. Williams. The
    committee was to propose a plan, estimate a cost, and to recommend a site location.

    Voters approved a plan by local builder, William T. Metcalf, on March 12, for a bid of $1,550. The
    proposal was accompanied by a plan designed by his brother, Dr. John Metcalf, town physician and
    amateur architect. The meeting was adjourned to May 27. However, not everyone was in agreement
    with the plan, because only two days later, on March 14, several residents petitioned the school
    district's prudential committee to call a meeting for a different plan. Silas Dudley stepped down from
    the building committee so that he could submit an alternative proposal that included a school house
    with a hall above it. It was a partnership offering, where Mr. Dudley would own the hall on the second
    floor and the land on which it was built. The town would own the school on the first floor. The district
    would be able to use the hall free of charge for lectures, meetings, and other educational purposes.  
    Mr. Dudley's plan was accepted after he agreed to lower his proposal from $1,700 to $1,550. The
    meeting was adjourned to April 4. Construction began, and the building was finished by the
    contracted date of October 4, 1840. Mr. Dudley named his upper floor Harrison Hall after President
    William Henry Harrison, who died after serving only one month in office.

    Supporters of the opposing plans were not pleased with the proceedings. There was much bickering
    and controversy. Questions were raised about the legal rights of the school districts in comparison
    with the financial responsibilities of the entire town. One voter expressed his displeasure by refusing
    to pay the school construction part of his tax bill. This act of civil disobedience created further
    controversy, because the town took the gentleman to court. The case was not settled until there was a
    final ruling by the state supreme court.

    The man who refused to pay a segment of his bill argued that several legal procedures were not
    followed. He said that meeting warrants were not properly posted, that adjournments overlapped,  
    that  illegal reconsiderations negated previously voted articles, and that the sandwich layers of
    ownership for the building were not a good idea. He claimed that if the school had an issue with the
    roof, it would have to trespass in order to go up there to fix it. He also pointed out that one of the
    assessors resigned in 1841, making the legality of the assessments questionable. After much
    litigation, Chief Justice Shaw sided with the town, stating that, in his opinion, the intent of the voters
    was clear to construct the school under the Silas Dudley plan. It is assumed that the tax withholder
    paid off his bill soon after the case was closed.

    The first town meeting was held in Harrison Hall in 1844, and in 1849, voters authorized the
    selectmen to begin the process of purchasing the building from Mr. Dudley. The town owned it in 1850
    and renamed it Mendon Town Hall. The town's first high school opened in the upper floor in 1868 and
    operated in conjunction with the lower floor elementary school until January 1904.

    The donation by Nathan R. George Jr. in 1929 helped to pay for the removal of the front outside
    staircase and have it brought inside. Issues with the back staircase were corrected, and the interior
    was improved and modernized. It is likely that he felt gratified in knowing that he was instrumental in
    upgrading the historic building that endured so much controversy in the early 1840's. Perhaps, in his
    own way, he made up for, to some degree, the turmoil created by the rebellious  tax delinquent, who  
    fought to prevent the existence of the building, his grandfather, Attorney  Nathan George.

    (Information for this article was obtained from "Mendon Town Hall," a narrative by Paul Williams who
    read it to the Mendon Historical Society in 1932.)

    Richard Grady
    June 14, 2013

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