The decade of the 1880's was winding down. It was a very productive ten years for Pawcatuck. Downerville, a neighborhood behind the present St. Michael School of Irish immigrants flourished. Also, several business blocks were built downtown, such as the Higgins Building in 1886, and a good sized addition was added to the site where the Pawcatuck Natl. Bank was located next door to the Higgins Building. St. Michael's built the present rectory, a three-story Victorian "mansion". Many of the prominent houses you see on W. Broad St. were built during this decade as well.
During the final years of this decade, St. Michael School realized that the student population was exceeding the size of the small house at 69 Liberty. St. and the annex on Robinson St. At this time, Rev. Ambrose Briscoe was pastor at St. Michael Church, and decided that the parish should purchase a few acres of land close to the church. Well, the land across Robinson St. from the present school was for sale, but the owners, Pendleton & Hall, weren't ready to sell to a Catholic church.
St. Michael's was desperate for a new location for the school, which was doing very well. So, local businessman Michael Higgins, an immigrant from Ireland stepped in. Michael Higgins was famous for starting a grocery market in the basement of his house at 75 Liberty St. (the house with the small double doors at the foot of Morgan St.), which would later become Higgins Pharmacy.
Michael purchased the land at 61-63 Liberty St. on April 12th, 1890 for $900. About a month later, he sold it to St. Michael Church for $900. After this key transaction in the development took place in the spring of 1890, St. Michael's was ready to build a new school.
The new school was finished in 1891. It cost roughly $5,000 to construct. It housed five classrooms. Two on the first and second floors, and a large classroom on the third floor (which no longer exists). To "crown" the top of the school was a bell tower, which housed St. Bridget, the bell which would call the kids to school each morning. This bell now sits on the lawn of the Rectory. Many confuse it with the church's bell. Actually, the church never had a real bell.
About ten years after the completion of the school, the Convent of the Sacred Heart was built and dedicated next to the school in Sept. of 1902. This beautiful building housed room for about twelve nuns, a large dining room, a chapel, parlors, sitting rooms, and verandas on each side of the building. This building was built to really impress, and impress it did, with its beautiful stained glass, chapel, and tennis courts (removed in the 1920's), and football fields for the students.
At this time, St. Michael's was really doing well for itself. So well in fact, the school once again ran out of room. Luckily, the school found a solution to its problem, but no, no addition was made to the building for another fifteen years.
The old District 16 schoolhouse (the Liberty St./Berry Hill School) also the former location of Pawcatuck's armory had gone up for sale. It was expected to be turned into a 2 family home, but instead, became the annex of St. Michael School, for the price of about $2,500.
This school served 3rd, and 4th grades for many years, until an addition was made to the main school, which was completed in 1934.
Now you know about St. Michael's in the early years, when thing started up, and took off from there! Next week, we will learn about Msgr. J.F.X. Quinn, the longest-serving pastor of St. Michael's Church, what life was like for school kids in the 40's and 50's, and changes made to the school and church during that time.
Also, The pictures included are: St. Michael School, The Convent, Fr. Ambrose Briscoe, and drawing of the Liberty St. School, and the Class of 1906; top row, 2nd from left, is Sebastian Shea, founder of Shea's News Stand which later became Shea's Office Products. He is the author's great-grandfather.
Special thank you to: St. Michael the Archangel A History and Memorial of our Parish and School.
Pictures used from pages: 10-St. Michael School
94-Fr. Ambrose Briscoe
124-The Convent of the Sacred Heart
126- The Class of 1906
202-The Liberty St. School