From the Bellows Falls Times, Thursday, January 3, 1935.
Construction on Vilas High School began in 1934, and was scheduled to open in the fall of that year, but delays resulted in students using the Alstead Town Hall until the building could be completed in January 1935.
Prior to 1935, area students had attended high school in Bellows Falls, Walpole or Keene. The building was made possible by a bequest to the town of Alstead of $175,000 from local philanthropist, Charles N. Vilas, who died suddenly at his home in Alstead in 1931. Mr. Vilas’ wife, Jesse Ford Vilas worked closely with town officials, architects and contractors during the planning and construction of the building, in an effort to ensure the vision for the future she shared with her late husband was fulfilled. Additionally, a trust fund in the amount of $125,000 was established to provide for the proper long-term care of the facility as a part of the same bequest. The school was built to provide for the educational needs of high school age students from Alstead, Acworth, Langdon, and Marlow, although it accepted students from many other surrounding towns over the course of its 32 year history.
The General Contractor for construction was Glenroy W. Scott of Keene, and Herbert W. Hathaway of Starrett and Van Vleck of New York was the chief architect. Plumbing and heating was installed by the George B. Allbee Co. of Bellows, and L.M. Willard and Son of Keene were the electrical contractors. The slate roof was installed by L.H. Ufford of Bellows Falls.
The Alstead 1935 Annual Report breaks down construction and related expenses in this manner; land - $7600, contractor - $117,000, architects fee - $5800, well - $863, sewer - $562. Subsequent expenditures for equipment and supplies are not itemized. The school was built with the best materials available, and maintained over the years with meticulous care by a series of custodians including Pete Metcalf, Hazel and Willard Kelly, Edith and Harry Spooner, Earl Simmons, James Relihan Sr., William Mikelonis and Harold Laird. Three tons of steel were used during construction just for the ventilation system. The school also contains four thousand feet of cast iron radiant heating and 800 feet of concealed brass for heating. The electrician’s notes indicate 8300 feet of conduit pipe and 29,000 feet of wiring were used in the building’s construction. The quality and attention to detail can still be seen in the building as it stands today.
Reports of the school opening in the January 3, 1935 issue of the Bellows Falls Times describe the facility as containing a magnificent entrance framed in marble leading to a hallway with a bronze memorial tablet dedicated to Mr. Vilas. The article also describes an “attractive” library, motion picture booth, an auditorium that holds 250 people and can be used as a gymnasium, boys and girls locker rooms, a cafeteria, manual training workshop, chemistry/science lab, school nurse room, teacher’s conference room, principal’s office, an outside waiting area, domestic science and sewing rooms, and six classrooms.
On January 10, 1935, the Bellows Falls Times reported on the dedication ceremony for the new Vilas High School. The ceremony opened before a packed auditorium of 250 attendees with the passing of the keys from the Contractor to the Architect to Mrs. Jessie Ford Vilas, representing the executors of the Charles N. Vilas will, to Chauncey Newell representing the Town of Alstead, to George Buss who spoke for the town and finally to Dr. P.D. Stevens, Chairman of the School Board. Prof. James A. Tufts of Exeter delivered the dedication, followed by James A. Pringle, Commissioner of Education for the State of NH, School Superintendent Charles D. Dalzell, Headmaster Paul J. Fenton and Major Kingsbury of Keene. The article describes the close of the ceremonies in this manner;
"Mrs. Vilas stood at the main entrance for some time saying farewell to departing guests. The impressiveness of the occasion and the friendly spirit that existed was at all times enhanced by her gracious presence, making it an event that will linger long in the memories of those who attended."
The curriculum was initially organized around four disciplines; General Academics, Agriculture, Home Economics and Commercial. When the doors opened in 1935, 113 students in grades 7 through 12 were enrolled. Superintendent of Schools Charles D. Dalzell chose Paul J. Fenton of Derry NH as Vilas’ first Headmaster. Mr. Fenton was a graduate of the University of NH, and had done graduate studies in Agriculture at Cornell University. He taught in Derry for five years before moving to Alstead with his wife and two sons.
The following year, 1936, Daniel M. Metcalf joined the staff as Athletic Director and Social Sciences teacher. Mr. Metcalf was a graduate of the University of NH and had been teaching at Pinkerton Academy for 10 years prior to his arrival in Alstead. This was the beginning of a long and productive relationship between Mr. Metcalf and the students of Vilas High School.
In 1942, with the advent of America’s involvement in the war in Europe, Mr. Fenton took a leave of absence from Vilas to serve as the Supervisor for the Out-of-School Youth Defense Training Program. He named Dan Metcalf to replace him as acting Headmaster. By this time, Mr. Metcalf had completed the necessary requirements and had been awarded a Masters in Education, showing great skill as a teacher, administrator, motivator, and a leader. Mr. Fenton returned at the start of the school year in 1943, but resigned permanently at the end of the year. Mr. Metcalf was named Headmaster, and remained so until the close of the high school program in 1966. Mr. Metcalf also continued as the school’s athletic director for several more years, and in 1944 and 1945 the boys basketball team won consecutive NH Class C Basketball Championships. A notation in the 1945 Alstead Town Report reflects the entire community’s pride, when a $60 donation was announced to purchase an electronic scoreboard for the gymnasium. In 1951, the boys won their last NH Class S Basketball Championship.
In 1946 Vilas marked one of many academic milestones when Martin Mitchell (Class of 1938) returned to Vilas following his graduation from the University of NH, to teach agriculture and shop courses.
In 1966 the inevitable trend toward consolidation in education resulted in the closure of Vilas High School, and underclass students were transferred to the newly created Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon to complete their education. Vilas High School became Vilas Junior High School, and continues to provide a high level of quality education to area students today.