Massie School opened in 1856 as Savannah’s first free public school, ten years before there was a state charter for public education.
In 1841, Peter Massie, a Scotsman from Glynn County, Georgia, left a $5,000 bequest to the City of Savannah “for the education of the poor children.” Steamship passenger lists show that Mr. Massie was often in Savannah on the way to and from his summer home in New Jersey. He noticed many uneducated youth roaming the city’s sandy streets. City authorities invested Peter Massie’s gift in stock of the Central Railroad and the Savannah Gas Light Company “until a large enough sum should be accumulated to build a school.”
The First Day of School
On October 15, 1856, the doors of Massie School opened to admit its first pupils. Mr. Bernard Mallon was the school’s first principal, hired at an annual salary of $1,200. His faculty consisted of two assistants paid $600 each and three assistants paid $400 each. Two hundred forty pupils, approximately six to sixteen years old, enrolled that first year. Of this number, forty-two paid a small tuition and the rest attended free of charge. The school was operated by the city government.
Savannah in the Civil War
Public education continued at Massie School with few changes until the occupation of Savannah by General William T. Sherman in December 1864. When the Union army entered the city, they took possession of the Massie building to use as a hospital. At the end of the Civil War, Massie was briefly used as a Freedmen’s Bureau School for the education of newly-emancipated slaves.
Download a copy of the Freedmen’s Bureau Report from July 1865
In 1866, an Act of the Georgia General Assembly established a permanent Board of Education and a system of public education officially began in Savannah. Bernard Mallon, Massie’s first principal, became the new school system’s first superintendent.
A New Direction for Massie
Because of the deterioration of Savannah’s downtown, resulting in a dwindling student population, Massie School closed as a regular school in 1974. The school reopened in 1977 as a teaching museum for history and architecture, a mission that continues today. Massie provides educational and cultural programs for student and adult groups, the community, and visitors to the city.
For over 150 years this building, an important part of Savannah’s history, has housed primary, intermediate, grammar, high or elementary schools, educating many generations of Savannahians.
In 1977 Massie School was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.