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The Legacy of Henry T. Wing

By Joan Osgood

The air of excitement around town was unmistakable. As you’d imagine. It’s 1926 in Sandwich and a new school will soon be built on Water Street. A handsome, substantial structure that will accommodate all grades, one through twelve, under one roof for the first time in the history of the town.

It had been apparent to the selectmen and school officials for years that consolidation of our schools was necessary. The situation of providing education within the villages’ separate schools was becoming increasingly problematic. But times were hard. How could the town afford the cost to build a new school? It couldn’t. Plans were put aside.

That being the case, how did the Henry T. Wing School get built? A quirk of fate, really. The explanation and story lie in Sandwich native Henry Thomas Wing. So I’ll begin there.

Henry Thomas Wing, the son of Henry Wing and Nancy Tobey, was born May 3, 1842 in the Wing family home located near Scorton Creek in East Sandwich. At some point the family moved to the colonial home on 24 Water Street that was built in 1724 by Thomas Tobey, an ancestor of Nancy Tobey Wing. This house in more recent years has been known as Quail Hollow and home to the Peter Cook family.

Henry T_edited.jpg

Henry was educated at the Paul Wing School, a private school located in the Spring Hill section of our 

Henry T. Wing  - 1922/1927 artist C.E. Bannieter

Credit:  Kelsey Cronin, Assistant Curator

Wing Family of America - Wing Fort House & History Museum

 

town. He went

on to enroll at prestigious institutes - Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Harvard College (class of

1864), and Harvard Law School (class of 1867).

24 Water St., once the home of Henry T. Wing

 

Beginning his practice as a lawyer in New York, he eventually began specializing in maritime law. In 1874 he married Clementina Swain of Nantucket and established a law firm known as Wing, Putnam and Burlingame. His firm came to be acknowledged as the largest admiralty law firm in the country. It dealt mainly with maritime insurance claims, ship collisions, and salvage rights.

 

As prominent as he became in New York, I found that Henry T. Wing never forgot his hometown. He left his busy practice every summer to come back to his family home on Water Street. He would often stay for months at a time.

In fact, he stated that his yearly visits back to his hometown and friends were essential to keeping him in good health. During his visits, he and Clementina were fully engaged in the community. They reconnected with friends and family, entertained at their home, and supported the Sandwich Public Library, Sandwich Historical Society, and town fundraising efforts. They entered their flowers and vegetables in the popular Agricultural Fair held in the Casino Field on School Street and often won ribbons—Henry for his lima beans and King apples and Clementa for her flower arrangements. In short, it appears they loved coming home to Sandwich.

Then the news came.

Paul Wing School in East Sandwich

 

Henry Thomas Wing died on Sunday, August 17,1924. The community was “profoundly shocked” to have lost a dear friend. His service at the Federated Church on Main Street drew many townspeople to celebrate his life and mourn his death. He was buried in the Cedarville Cemetery in East Sandwich.

But that was not to be the end of the impact Henry and Clementina Wing would have on our town. Not by a long shot.

Our selectmen received a letter from Clementina Wing in 1926 that she asked to be read at the April town meeting that year. In it she announced the donation to the town of $80,000 and three acres of land for the specific purpose of constructing a new school! She asked that the school be named in honor of her husband. And upon her death in 1928 she donated another $30,000. Can you imagine how amazed the selectmen must have been? Yes, the town would need to appropriate some money, but that was manageable. The school so badly needed was to be built!

Town selectmen Eugene W. Haines, James W. Freeman, and Richard A. Lathrop went right to work! A building committee was formed with Dr. Samuel Beale as chairman. I found it interesting that initially the building committee recommended that the school be built for grades one to eight. The only reason for this recommendation that I could find was that some in town did not think it wise to have the elementary and high school grades housed in one school. However, upon seeking the guidance of Jesse B. Davis, professor of education at Boston University, the committee fully backed his advice to design a school for grades one to twelve. This was resoundingly approved at a special town meeting on November 15, 1926. 

Richard Derby, a prominent architect from Winchester, was commissioned to design the building, and town native Tom Kelleher was hired to construct it. 

 

Jesse P. Davis, Professor, Boston University

The school was designed and built to the most modern standards of the day—classrooms, offices, bathrooms, a science laboratory, home economics and woodworking room, a combined auditorium and gymnasium, boiler room, and cafeteria. However, as it happened, there was a significant omission. At least that’s what Town Nurse Eva Westover thought and she was not going to stand for it!   

 

The cafeteria, as in the past, was just a room where students sat at noon to eat their lunches brought from home. No provision was made for a kitchen where “balanced, nourishing hot meals” could be provided for the students.  So Ms. Westover gathered the support of our townspeople and various organizations in town. Kitchen appliances, utensils, dishes, trays, oilcloths,  kettles, as well as money, were donated. Two Sandwich natives, Mrs. Ira Austin and Miss Delia Mullaly, were hired to prepare the meals. A fully operational cafeteria was born!  

The school doors opened on Monday, September 10, 1928. In walked a total of 266 students greeted by twelve classroom teachers, both a music and a drawing teacher, Principal Mr. C. J. Persons, and Superintendent Mr. James Peebles. In those days the superintendent had oversight of Sandwich, Mashpee and Bourne schools.

Henry T. Wing School

James Peebles, Superintendent

Everything I was able to read told of a busy school year filled with academic achievement, girls’ and boys’ basketball games, baseball games, student concerts and plays, field trips, and science fairs.

Finally, the day came. The senior class of nineteen students were to be the first class to graduate from the Henry T. Wing School. And I daresay their graduating ceremony was something each would never forget.  

 

Best laid plans…

As it happened, a heavy thunderstorm ripped through the Cape lasting the whole day, knocking out transformers in Sandwich and leaving the town in a total blackout! You’d think that the graduation ceremony might be postponed. Nope. The senior class, school administration, and townspeople rose to the challenge and Yankee ingenuity kicked in. A temporary light was somehow installed that threw its beams onto the beautifully decorated auditorium stage. The doors to the auditorium were thrown open and three cars aimed their headlights into the room. Flashlights were handed out.

 

Friends and family were then seated, and the graduates marched down the center aisle to the stage as the chorus sang. Speeches were read with flashlights held. Diplomas and scholarships were presented. The program was “carried out with great success.”

At the ceremony’s end a loud cheer rang out—wouldn’t you know it—the lights had suddenly come back on! Of course many graduation ceremonies followed the first class to graduate from the Henry T. Wing School in 1929, but probably none as notable.

Grade 8 Teacher  - Grace Mullaly_edited_

Grade 8 teacher Grace Mullaly

Grade 4 teacher Lillian Haines Tangney

Grade 6 Teacher - James Tangney_edited.j

Grade 6 teacher James Tangney

George Brennan, journalist from the Cape Cod Times, penned a wonderful story about the emotional farewell upon the closing of the Henry T. Wing School in 2015.  Yes, there were plenty of tears and sadness shared among teachers, students, and past graduates. An important era in Sandwich’s history had ended.

 

As my sister, Barbara, often said as we watched the town grow and change over the past 70 years, “We’ll always have our memories—that can’t be taken from us.” She was right. And so those of us who were fortunate to attend the Henry T. Wing School thank Henry and Clementina for the memories it stirs…and that can’t be taken from us.

Joan Osgood is a member of the Friends of the Sandwich Town Archives 

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