From the Archives: Rivers School Application Form for the 1916-1917 School Year
This is one of the few documents that survives from the school’s first two years. It is an application form sent by Robert Rivers on June 26, 1916 to Howard and Helen Blackwell of Cambridge, who were contemplating sending their seven-year-old son George to Rivers in the 1916-1917 school year. The Blackwells toured the school, but George was eventually enrolled at Browne and Nichols School, which was much closer to home. While George Blackwell did not attend Rivers, he would come to Rivers in 1953 and serve as Headmaster from 1953-1968. George’s younger brother John was later enrolled at Rivers, and he graduated in the class of 1927, in the school’s fifth graduating class. He would later serve as a consultant to the Board concerning the purchase of the current campus in Weston.
The Blackwell family has a quite prominent place in the histories of medicine, abolition, and women’s rights in the United States. This application, and the letters between Rivers and the Blackwells, is part of the Blackwell Family Papers in the Harvard University Archives.
From the Archives: The Move to Dean Road
One very frustrating fact that faces anyone interested in Rivers history is that very few documents survive from the school’s first two years. Robert Rivers was busy teaching, taking care of all administrative business, and trying to grow the enrollment of the school during those years. These many demands on his time did not allow him a lot of time for consistent record keeping. Luckily, this situation did not last long; many more records survive beginning with the school’s third year. Still, there are a few very valuable documents that do survive from the school’s first two years. One of the earliest is a letter Mr. Rivers wrote to the parent body after purchasing a property on Fisher Hill in the summer of 1917 that announced his intent to move the school from Marion Street to Dean Road.
Enrollment at the school had more than doubled during the 1916-1917 school year, the school’s second year. Interest in the school was very high in the spring of 1917, and it looked like the enrollment would more than double for the fall of 1917. Mr. Rivers needed a new property that could better accommodate the growing school than the Hill Estate, which served as the school’s campus for its first two years. When a large tract of land on Fisher Hill became available in the spring of 1917, a spot adjacent to the sanitarium run by Robert Rivers’s father in law Walter Channing, Mr. Rivers leapt at the opportunity to purchase the property and move his school. The Boston Globe reported the sale of the property under the headline: “Sale of Valuable Tract in Brookline.” The article described the property as “… one of the finest undeveloped tracts in Brookline, having a magnificent situation, the total area being about 338,000 square feet. It is almost level, and there are two large houses and large barn, with other outbuildings. The property has a total assessed value of $35,000.” At the time, Fisher Hill had a few large homes and lots of open space. Development of the Fisher Hill area had been carefully controlled by its owners, dating back to the 1880s, when they had jointly engaged Frederick Law Olmstead to create a development plan for the area. Jacob Pierce was one of those owners, and he controlled about 69 acres of land on Fisher Hill. After his death in March 1917, Mr. Robert Rivers was able to purchase about an 8-acre tract—and the buildings on it--from his estate. The school would remain at Dean Road until 1942 when it moved to the Adie Estate in Chestnut Hill.