Remembering the Abercrombie School and Gen. Frederick E. Pierce

  • Gen. Frederick E. Pierce. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

For the Recorder
Published: 8/31/2020 9:28:11 AM

I recently read an article in the Greenfield Recorder about a new Center School being built across town on Bernardston Road. It caught my eye because I attended elementary school there, at its present location, from 1943 until 1950. At that time it was called Abercrombie School. The Abercrombies were prominent business people in Greenfield in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

There were actually four rooms at Abercrombie School, two downstairs and two upstairs. There were not enough students for all four rooms, and the two rooms upstairs were used for parent-teacher functions. One room was for first through third grades and the second room for grades four through six. I feel so fortunate to have attended grade school there. It was such an innocent, carefree time. We walked a half mile to and from school and even came home for lunch.

Although it was a small building, it was on a large piece of property with plenty of room to play. We even had an ice skating pond in the winter, which was the source of much enjoyment for all the neighborhood.

During the war, the region’s paper industry was hit hard by the draft. The children of America stepped up by conducting waste paper drives. We were called Paper Troopers, and in 1944, Abercrombie School participated in the effort. I received a Certificate of Merit from the War Production Board.

When I was in the fourth through six grades, our teacher, Mrs. Cook, read “Boy Captive of Old Deerfield” every year.

After sixth grade, we became “wheels” because we got to go to school “up-street” and ride the bus. We attended seventh grade at one school, eighth and ninth at another, and high school was 10th, 11th and 12th. Our old high school became the middle school when a new high school was built.

My next door neighbor was Gen. Frederick E. Pierce. During the 1936 flood, the Montague City Bridge was washed away and a new one completed in 1947. It was then named after the general.

It is with much regret that growing up I never knew much about Pierce. He was 75 years old when I was born in 1937. I have quizzed my brother and sister and we all have the same recollection of seeing him on the porch smoking his pipe. My sister and I remember him asking us to rake leaves in the fall and he gave us each a quarter, but we never sat down and had a conversation with him.

After some research I learned that Pierce was born in Iowa in 1862. He came to Greenfield with his parents when he was 5 years old. He was educated in local schools and graduated from Greenfield High School in 1881. Pierce and his second wife, Bessie, never had children. His first wife, Elsie, died three months after giving birth to their daughter in 1902.

Pierce was widely known in military circles after helping organize and becoming first lieutenant of Company L – Second Massachusetts volunteer Militia. He was sent to Lakeland, Fla. and served with the company during the Spanish American War in Cuba. He continued to serve with the company and retired with the rank of major general.

He wrote a book about his experiences in the Spanish American War titled “Company L — 2nd Regiment Spanish American War Major Frederick E. Pierce.” It can be downloaded from the Library of Congress for anyone interested.

After his return from Cuba, he became postmaster of Greenfield and served that post for 21 years. He held various positions in many organizations and gave selflessly of his time and talents to the town. It is easy to understand why he was so deserving of having a bridge named after him. “The General Frederick E. Pierce Bridge.”

General Pierce died in 1953 at the age of 91. I was in the ninth grade at the time.

Patty Prest was born in Greenfield in 1937. After graduating from Greenfield High School in 1956, she worked at the Lawler Theater in Greenfield until March of 1957 before leaving Franklin County to attend Grace Downs Airline School on Fifth Avenue in New York City. In September of 1957, she started a job as a stewardess for Capital Airlines. Prest, now 82 years old, currently live in Brooksville, Fla.

Greenfield Recorder

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Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
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