“For The Common Good” : What Noble and Greenough School and the Charles River Basin Project have in Common

The Charles River Bank, where the Esplanade would be built

The Charles River Bank, where the Esplanade would be built
Photo Credit: bostongeology.com 

There are many aspects of my job that delight me, but none as much as coming across an unexpected connection to our graduates and the history of the school.

Perusing through some old Nobleman, I came across an article written by Allen W. Clark (Class of 1913) in the winter of December 1911.

“At Christmas time we are naturally looking ahead and wondering what changes will take place in the coming year, as we do this we cannot help thinking of the suggested improvements of the Basin.” He described the Basin before work started, with water beating against the wall at high tide and how, at low tide, “...the water went out and left dirty, disgusting mud-flats.” But now work had started on the river banks and Clark referred to  “… the possibility of constructing an island in the Basin,” with a wishful tone.

The article got me wondering how familiar the sight described had been for a student of Noble’s Classical School, probably while he walked from 417 Beacon St, where he lived, to 40 Winter Street where the school was located, at that time.

James Storrow is possibly the third student from the left in the back row

James Storrow is possibly the third student from the left in the back row

Out of New England, James Jackson Storrow, a graduate of the Class of 1881, is probably best known for being a successful banker who was instrumental in forming General Motors and became its third president. Later on, he was associated with Chrysler and Nash Motors.  In our region, his name is associated mainly with the development  of the Charles River Basin.

In “The Charles River Esplanade – Our Boston Treasure”, Linda M. Cox (founder of the Esplanade Association) dedicated a section to him “James J. Storrow: For The Common Good.” I could not help smiling, thinking that “the common good” has been a recurring theme in the life of the Noble and Greenough School, clearly exemplified by so many graduates.

picture from "Son of New England" by Henry Greenleaf Person, 1932

picture from “Son of New England” by Henry Greenleaf Person, 1932

After leaving Noble’s, young James entered Harvard, where he graduated in 1885. Right after, he enrolled in Harvard Law School. He shared accommodations at 10 Appian Way, in Cambridge, with five other Law students, including a Noble’s classmate: Grafton D. Cushing, who would later become Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts under Governor Walsh.

The Charles River Basin was the vision of Charles Eliot, a pioneer in the field of landscape architecture. He was the son of Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard whose name appears, in 1866, among the sponsors of the newly founded Noble’s Classical School. Charles Eliot accomplished a great deal in developing the plan to preserve a green space along the water, a park in the heart of the city. The creation of a dam across the river to keep out the tides was pivotal to the realization of his concept. When he died of meningitis, in 1897,  his vision for the Charles River Basin was still unfulfilled.

In the following years, the task to bring the vision  to reality was picked up by James J. Storrow.

Storrow lived on Beacon Street, where the most vehement opponents of the plan lived also: the property owners on the water side had been successful in blocking the project for years. Storrow’s efforts made him unpopular among his neighbors, but, as his biographer Henry Pearson pointed out, he wanted “to create a broad basin for the joy and refreshment of the city’s millions.” He started a letter writing campaign that got the support of many leading Bostonians.  Later on, he introduced bills to the legislation, carefully crafted and rewritten to circumvent the obstacles that arose from opponents. All through this, Storrow held steadfast in his support. In 1903, the Legislature approved the project. It would take seven years for the dam to be completed. In 1910, the Charles became an almost tideless, freshwater basin.

James Storrow’s contributions to public projects for the City of Boston were numerous, indeed too many to list in this venue. When he died, in 1926, his dream of park along the water for the people of Boston was still only partially realized. His wife Helen, who shared his ideas and as public-minded, offered to donate a $1,000,000 in his name to enlarge and beautify the Boston shores of the Charles River with parks, playgrounds and boating facilities. By 1929, with additional funds from the State of Massachusetts and the City of Boston, the project was approved. Arthur Shurcliff, who had been mentored by Charles Eliot, was chosen as the architect. His son Sidney had graduated from Noble and Greenough School, in 1923.

The connection between the school and the project continued. In 1950, construction began for a major crosstown parkway running south and west along the Charles River. The plan was controversial. Helen Storrow led a victorious opposition to a similar plan, in 1929. But, in 1949, the Legislature approved the highway. To placate the strong and vocal opposition, additional funds were approved to replace what was lost to the highway.

Slide1Arthur Shurcliff was again chosen as the landscape architect for the project. Nearly 80 years old, he worked with his son Sidney, who had joined the firm in 1930. To replace the lost park land, the Shurcliffs created a new island connected to the original shoreline by footbridges, making a series of lagoons that now extend to the Hatch Shell.

By 1951, the wishful hopes of a young student at Noble and Greenough School had became a reality.

Charles River Basin by the Esplanade -2014

Charles River Basin by the Esplanade -2014
Photo Credit: picphotos.net



Posted in Allen Williams Clark, Arthur Shurcliff, Charles Eliot, Charles River Basin, Charles W. Eliot, James Jackson Storrow, Sidney Nichols Shurcliff, Storrow Memorial Drive | 3 Comments

Go, Nobles!

Weekends in early November can be marked by crisp and pleasant temperature, the trees still cling to the last vestiges of beautiful fall leaves and there is excitement in the air for the holiday season to come.

At Noble and Greenough School, an early November weekend translates into “Nobles-Milton Weekend.”

1938 Nobleman's cover  to celebrate Nobles-Milton Weekend

1938 Nobleman’s cover
to celebrate Nobles-Milton Weekend

A quick search of the Milton Academy web site shows a revelatory picture of the importance of the rivalry: the banner of their Athletics page displays an image of football players from the Noble and Milton teams.

On another page of the web site, the N entry in the Milton Dictionary lists:


Nobles (Noble and Greenough School)

Milton’s key rival. Each sports season culminates in Milton-Nobles Days, the most festive and rowdy athletic days of the year, when Milton and Nobles compete in almost every sport. The rivalry originated in 1886, when the two schools played their first football game, which today remains the highlight of the fall Milton-Nobles Day and the biggest athletic game of the year.

(It is interesting to note that Milton’s date of the first game predates our own records by ten years: a matter deserving further investigation)

A similar document in our Archives (“The Nobles Dictionary” – put together, with tongue in cheek, by the class of 1975) briefly describes the event as:

“MILTON GAME: the game that determines the success of the season…”

For both schools, the weekend is fraught with meaning and traditions.

How did the tradition start?

According to The Story of Noble and Greenough School (by Richard T. Flood N1923, published in 1966). Mr. Noble’s prime concern was academic even if, in 1889, the school prospectus mentioned that the proximity of the school to the “Common playground gives full opportunity for out-door sports.” For the first twenty years of the school’s existence, all the efforts to organize games and participate in competitions were borne by the students. As late as the 1880s, Mr. Noble was still unquestionably indifferent to athletics.

The football team of 1888

The football team of 1888

The arrival of Mr. Greenough, in 1892, gave impetus to school organized athletics teams.

Newspaper article 1912

Newspaper article 1912

Situated in Boston and a day school, Noble and Greenough played in the Boston Interscholastic Football League, competing with Milton most years, but not all. Through the next 20 years, the team looked upon as key rival was Volkmann.

In 1917, Volkmann School united with Nobles. A few years later the campus was moved from Boston to Dedham. It was then that the rivalry with Milton began to take shape.

Once in Dedham, the “Nobles stripes” uniform replaced the solid blue jersey that had been used during the Boston years. Mr. Wiggins himself designed the jersey because he felt that the stripes would help make the football teams look bigger to both Nobles players and opponents.

!926 Noble and Greenough School Footbal Team

!926 Noble and Greenough School Footbal Team

Gradually, through the years, the importance of the competition intensified and, by 1929, the Milton game was already scheduled as the last game, the capstone of the season.


Posted in Charles WIggins, Football, James Greenough, Milton Academy, Nobles Athletics, Nobles Traditions, Nobles-Milton Weekend, Volkmann School | Tagged , | Leave a comment

School Insignia

Opening day in September 1917, had marked the beginning of the 52nd year for Noble and Greenough School. As the November 1917 issue of the Nobleman noted: “This year marks a new year for Noble’s, as Volkmann boys, who have always been our greatest and most honored rivals have now joined with us to establish Noble’s still more firmly as the leading school of Boston.”2logos

When the new year arrived, the Nobleman issue of January 1918, had an article titled, “Our School Insignia” that outlined how to show proudly which sports or activities old and new students practiced. They could resort to either a  letter (“N”) on their sweaters or hatbands on the “boaters,” a popular accessory for a fashionable young man of the times which they could purchase just a few blocks from the school.boater hat ad026

From the article, we learn that “…It is distinctive of Noble’s that all hatbands have an outer edge of white…”  and “… the hockey team has not yet decided upon a hatband…”hatbands_Noblm_Jan1918

A picture from April 1916 shows the students lined in Beacon Street, ready to march in the “Preparedness Parade”. They all sport a boater with a school hatband.APRIL1916-Parade

The children of the Lower School were just as willing to show their allegiance to the school, as seen in this picture taken in June 1909, sitting on the steps leading to 100 Beacon Street.NLS-100 beacon st020

DSCN0553Few of the hatbands still remain and can be seen in the Archives Office. More hatbands must have been added at a later time since two of the designs that have survived do not appear on the image published by the Nobleman.  Maybe one belongs to hockey?

Posted in Hatbands, Nobleman, Nobles Traditions, Uncategorized, Volkmann School | Leave a comment

Let Every Man’s Hope Be in Himself

April 25, 2013

The Nobleman issue published at the end of April 1913 opened up with a page added at the last moment: the obituary announcing the death, on April 25, 1913, of James Jay Greenough. Mr. Noble’s partner at the helm of the school had died.


When people think of the school, James Greenough is mostly forgotten, in part because our institution is often referred to by the shorter moniker of “Nobles.”

While George W. C. Noble was the original founder and the man whose vision started the school, James J. Greenough should not be overlooked. In 1892, at a time when the school’s fortunes were in decline and Mr. Noble was aging,  James Greenough offered to step in and revitalize the school.

In a letter to a friend, he wrote:

My idea is that if we get a good location and fit up a building with all that a modern school should be, with some enterprising young blood in it, we can stop this existing decline….”

On September 26, 1892, the school opened with a new name, Noble and Greenough School, and at a new location on Beacon Street.

Richard T. Flood, in his book, The Story of Noble and Greenough School, pointed out thatarchive_1 “Mr. Greenough provided the perfect complement to Mr. Noble…. (Mr. Noble) loved his boys and loved his teaching… but was not a great disciplinarian nor a great administrator…. Mr. Greenough was both. He was a bundle of forceful energy. The boys compared him to a Boston terrier and called him ‘Black Jim’ because of his dark complexion, black hair and bushy mustache.”

James Greenough was an excellent and demanding mathematics and physics teacher. Under his leadership, the curriculum expanded to offer more sciences. By 1897, the faculty included a new chemistry professor, while Mr. Greenough made physics a more challenging course and continued to teach mathematics. German was introduced, in addition to the French courses offered in previous years. Mr. Noble taught his beloved Latin and Greek. English, history and literature completed the curriculum. Faculty 1896

James Greenough encouraged sports and soon the newly organized teams began to win competitions against more experiences school teams. In 1907, Mr. Greenough suggested awarding prizes to the winners of events in the intramural track meet. While considering several sketches, he proposed that a motto be added: Spes Sibi Quisque (“Let every man’s hope be in himself”) from Virgil’s Aeneid.

The motto is used to this day.

shieldJames Greenough was eclectic in his interests that ranged from writing articles on pedagogical subjects to being active in Cambridge Social Dramatic Club.

His role in the development of the school is not as well know or as often mentioned as George W.C. Noble’s, but James Greenough’s contribution to the continued operation and success of the instituiton proved to be just as important, if, unfortunately, of much shorter duration.page 47-sub

[letter as cited in The Story of Noble and Greenough School by R.T. Flood, 1966]

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An Archivist’s Chuckle

Readers perusing the Sunday Boston Globe issue of May 15, 1966 would have come across “Noble and Greenough: A Century of Excellence”: an article celebrating the centennial of the school.

globe title1

To prepare for the article, the writer must have read Richard T. Flood’s book The Story of Noble and Greenough School, since she quoted from it at length, describing the history of the school and pointing out that “The tradition of service on which Noble and Greenough was founded 100 years ago persists.”

The article continued on the next page with an impressive list of graduates who have distinguished themselves in various fields, from A. Lawrence Lowell (N1873), who went on to become President of Harvard University, to Leverett Saltonstall (N1910), who, at the time, was serving as one of the two senators from Massachusetts.

globe title2

The list (and the article itself) is definitely impressive, but I couldn’t suppress an amused smile when I noticed that Percival Lowell (N1872) was described as “internationally known,” but he had been transformed from an astronomer to an astrologer!

The smile turned to a roaring laugh when I examined the caption under the picture of our founder.blooper-GWCN

It is amusing to realize that, in 1966, W. Davis Taylor (N1927) was the owner of the Boston Globe and President of the Board of Noble and Greenough School.  I wonder how many hasty justifications were offered to him on the following day.

Posted in A. Lawrence Lowell, George W. C. Noble, James Greenough, Leverett Saltonstall, Nobles Presidents of the Board, Percival Lowell, W. Davis Taylor | Leave a comment

Reaching Out Near and Far

ShattuckThe year for the celebration was going to be 1966. September 24, 1966, was the 100th anniversary of the day when George Washington Copp Noble, then a young man of 30 years of age, opened the door of Noble’s Classical School (the original proper name of the school) to 10 boys. Since that day, the school had grown, evolved, improved, and become an established and respected institution.  Starting in the summer of 1960, the Nobles community began to organize for the coming celebration.

The Centennial Committee, headed by Richard T. Flood (Nobles 1923), developed a vision to strengthen the school’s reach into the future, while celebrating the accomplishments of the past.  One of the main ideas stated by the Committee was that “consideration should be given to adding another dimension to a Nobles education… specifically this new dimension should stimulate a student’s interest in becoming an active participant in the community affairs… in various levels of government and in the arts and sciences.”Slide06 copy

Thus the seeds of the Community Service/Service Learning Program were planted. Nobles intended to face the new “dimension” seriously and thoroughly.

WLC-VWMThe Committee had hoped to start the program in conjunction with the 1966 celebration but it took until the fall of 1971 for the plan to come to fruition. Mr. Gleason, then a newly appointed headmaster, hired Bill Chamberlin to be the first Community Involvement Program Director. Eventually, a department was set up, in the fall of 1978, run by Virginia Miller; by 1985, 80 hours of Community Service became a requirement for graduation.

The program started small, but developed steadily. It has grown and flourished, led by dedicated directors and peopled with students who find themselves swept by the enthusiasm of the tasks, even if some of them might have joined “because they had to.”army of volunteers

Now the program is indeed local and global.

Slide07 copyDuring the academic year 2011-12, Nobles sponsored 79 service-related events; the students involved in the Service Learning program worked with 46 local partnerships and agencies; Nobles visited and/or contributed to 55 national and international sites during the year. The Nobles Community gave 18,448 hours to service events.

The vision of the Centennial Celebration has become a reality.

Community Service-3

Posted in Nobles Academic Departments, Nobles Faculty, Service Learning, Virginia W. Miller, William L. Chamberlin | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Nobles of a Hundred Years Ago

One hundred years ago, at 100 Beacon Street, the Glee Club had a special meeting at 2PM. They were probably preparing for the Christmas Exercises on December 20th, the last day of school of the first term of the 47th year of the school.

school calendarThe Nobleman published a school calendar that allows us to get a glimpse of the many activities of the seventy students who were enrolled for the 1912-13 academic year.

Looking closely to the jolly Santa on the cover of the Nobleman, it is possible to see that it is offering, on a tray, a championship football.cover and team

On Nov 15th, the football team played “the annual clash between Noble’s and Volkmann for the Private School Championship of Greater Boston.” The sport writer chronicles: “we defeated our old rivals in an intensely exciting game by the close score of 7 to 0.”

The article goes on to describe the game at great length for five pages, even if, incongruously, the pictures shown is of the game with Roxbury Latin which the “N” men had won by 35 to 0.Rox latin game

school notesThe School Notes section informs the community that “the end of the large football field at Dexter’s * will be flooded… and there should be fine skating.” Later on, we learn that “an independent hockey team will probably be formed this year…”

The Athletic Program was still being organized. Mr. Greenough was the Head-coach and his presence and the inspiration he provided to the players are felt all over the Nobleman’s articles.

As every issue of the era, the Nobleman ends with paid ads (the source of revenue that financed the publication of the magazine).ad-Nobleman Dec 1912

I admit I have some difficulties in seeing young men in the shoes shown in the advertisement, however the picture of the Mandolin Club (see previous post) shows just that style of shoes.

The times…they are a changin’!

* Dexter was the name of the owner of the field that Noble and Greenough rented in Brookline to play athletic games. The location in Boston was a constrain on their athletic program.

Posted in Football, Hockey, James Greenough, Nobleman, Nobles Class of 1913, Roxbury Latin, Volkmann School | Leave a comment

Music at Nobles: an honored tradition

This coming Thursday, the Nobles community will be delighted by a Choral Concert that will showcase the talent and the hard work of more than one hundred students. The school orchestra will also perform in the finale.

Through the years, music has been part of the fabric of the school.

The Mandolin Club - Academic year 1910-1911

The Mandolin Club – Academic year 1910-1911

As early as the academic year 1910-11, the Mandolin Club was a popular group.  The Nobleman of February 1912 reports: “the Mandolin Club holds a meeting in the school nearly every Friday night. The Glee Club sings at least once or twice a week under the supervision of Mr. Putnam.”

Hawaiian Sextet - 1919

The Hawaiian Sextet – Academic Year 1918-1919

In 1919, the Hawaiian Sextet joined the Mandolin Club, however the group did not seem to have as much success since it was gone by 1920.

In 1921, several members of the Mandolin Club decided to lighten up the atmosphere by starting the Banjo Band.

The Banjo Band- Academic Year 1920-1921

The Banjo Band- Academic Year 1920-1921

Maybe anticipating the dignified aura of the castle on the Charles, that would be the new home of Noble and Greenough School in September, the following year, the Banjo Band adopted a more sedate look.Banjo Band-1921-1922

The academic year 1923-24 saw the last performances of the Mandolin Club, while the Banjo Band remained active until 1930.

Posted in Banjo Band, Hawaiian Sextet, Mandolin Club, Nobles Musical Groups, Student Activities | 2 Comments

Before 100 Beacon

This archival photo, which dates back to 1898-1899, was taken in front of 97 Beacon Street, one of the school’s earliest city locations. Noble and Greenough would eventually move just a few doors down to 100 Beacon Street, before ultimately leaving the city for its current Dedham campus.


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Lasting Impressions

100 Beacon Street where the school was located from 1901 to 1922

It was a different time and a different place.

In September 1913, the school, located at 100 Beacon Street, was still a downtown, urban school. Mr. George W.C. Noble, its founder and first Headmaster, was still teaching. After 47 years at the helm of the school, he was a beloved and revered figure. Mr. James Greenough, the younger partner, was preparing to face the new academic year with his usual energy. Thirty young men were getting ready to start their final year at a place that has seen them grow and flourish.

The Class of 1913 is remembered for the indomitable will to make students’ voice be heard.  From the creation of the first student led and student produced magazine (“The 1913 Bulletin”) to the more ambitious Nobleman, the students of the Class of 1913 left their mark on the culture of the school.

In the spring of 1913, Bostonians crowded Fenway Park, which had opened the previous year, to watch the Red Sox, at the time the defending World Champions. In May, the doors of the ballpark were opened to local high school teams. It was May 7th, when the 1913 Noble and Greenough baseball team beat the Volkmann School team 1-0 “in a very exciting private school game” (http://mlb.mlb.com/bos/fenwaypark100/timeline.jsp?year=1913)

Before graduation, the Class of 1913 published the first Class Book, the progenitor of the current Yearbook. Since 1913, the Nobleman and the Yearbook have become essential sources in documenting the history of Noble and Greenough School.

The contribution of the Class of 1913 to the culture of the school still looms large.

Posted in 1913 Bulletin, Baseball, Class Book, Fenway Park, George W. C. Noble, James Greenough, Nobleman, Nobles Class of 1913, Yearbook | Tagged | Leave a comment