From The Durfee Hilltop, v. CXX, no. 2, October 28, 2002 and no. 4, November 25, 2002
Bradford Matthew Chaloner Durfee was born in Fall River on June 15, 1843 to Mary B. Young and her husband, Major Bradford Durfee. Sadly, Major Durfee died shortly after the birth of his son, leaving his wife and child his estate.
Because of their considerable wealth, Mary was able to give her son a life filled with care and opportunity. Durfee attended Yale University but was forced to drop out when he was stricken with illness. Although he was unable to attend, Durfee was very generous toward the University, and donated a dormitory known as Durfee Hall.
At the young age of 29, Durfee died. A true philanthropist, Durfee left a portion of his estate to Fall River, which he hoped would provide students with a well rounded education in the sciences.
In 1883, it became apparent that both of Fall River's high schools, the George B. Stone private school and Fall River High School, would soon be overcrowded. The school committee decided that a new high school was needed. On February 5, 1883, Mary B. Young proposed to the school committee a plan to build a high school in memory of her son. The committee accepted.
Construction on the school began on August 13, 1883 and the school was officially dedicated on June 15, 1887, the 44th anniversary of Durfee's birth.
William Lambert became the first principal of B.M.C. Durfee High School. The class of 1887 was the first to graduate with their diplomas reading, “Fall River High School.” Diplomas did not read “B.M.C. Durfee High School” until the commencement of the class of 1888.
Throughout the 20th century, education was greatly expanded in Fall River. The technical high school was built in 1913 and merged with Durfee in 1918. This provided students with the skills necessary for industrial jobs.
During this time, sports and extracurricular activities became an important aspect of student life. The Durfee Hilltop, a tabloid size newspaper, was created in 1921 and drama and debate courses were introduced.
In 1927, the technical high school was destroyed in a fire and the high school's name was changed to Fall River High. A year later, the school's name was changed back to Durfee and three years later, the technical school was rebuilt.
The 1930s was a time of renewal. The Alumni Field was greatly improved and John Mann painted several murals in the auditorium of the technical building. John Watkinson wrote the Durfee Alma Mater with the tune from Cornell's Anthem.
The 1940s was a time of war and legends. Durfee athletics flourished under the direction of Luke Urban and after holding the position for 27 years, Charles Caroll became the longest serving principal. In 1947, graduates wore the cap and gown for the first time.
The 1960s marked the end of the old Durfee. Protests called for the end of dress codes and the Englehardt Report required that Fall River build a modern high school. This marked the beginning of a new era of Durfee history.
In the 1960s the Englehardt Report concluded that it was necessary for Fall River to build a modernized high school. The task to build the 27.5 million building on Elshree Street went underway in the 1970s, under the supervision of Superintendent Robert J. Nagle.
The new high school opened for all students and staff in the late fall of 1978. Opening had been delayed due to the teacher's strike of that year. James S. Panos was named principal and over 3,000 students matriculated under his direction.
The new building was designed as four interlocking buildings, separated into wings according to subjects taught.
Off of Elshree Street lie the Luke Urban Field House. Karen Jarabek Memorial Pool, Malcolm P. Aldrich Football Field and Thomas Hammond Track. During the late 1970s and 1980s, Durfee sports flourished under the direction of legendary basketball coach Thomas “Skip” Karem.
Across the school, near Ray Street, lies the Robert J. Nagle Auditorium which contains classes in art and music. The Fred Budda Room and the Joseph Raposo Room are named for two of Durfee's musical alumni and in this area Durfee's band, orchestral, and drama classes continue to flourish.
Located near the auditorium is the Arthur Frank Industrial Art Wing. These classes provide students with skills ranging from woodworking to graphic arts.
For students who would be going straight to a career after high school, the Vocational Department was opened near the Weetamoe Street entrance of the school. Classes in this department now include cosmetology, culinary arts, sewing machine repair and childcare, among many things. Over the years, the Tradewinds Restaurant and Hilltop Bake Shop have continued to provide the community with delicious meals and treats.
In the area of communications, Durfee was equipped with a television studio and publications room. F.R.E.D T.V., a local channel. is currently based out of the Morton Dean T.V. Studio in the Ambrose F. Keeley Library. The Durfee Hilltop, a bimonthly publication, continues to allow student journalists to write for, layout, and produce a newspaper. Durfee Publications also include the annual Record Book and the Phoenix Nest, a literary magazine of student poetry, drawings and essays.
The new, modern high school included “open” areas of four classes each, which were eventually enclosed by walls because they proved to be disruptive to the learning process. The science classes were built with new laboratories, a planetarium and the Robert Violate Observatory. The observatory was given the telescope from the old high school, mixing the old building with the new one.
The centennial celebration of Durfee High School was held on May l. 1987. Activities included a rededication of the school, which incorporated parts of the original dedication, and a carnival organized by student government.
William J. Pelton's booklet, “Durfee Quo Vadis: Biography of a High School” describes Durfee's prominence in the community over the century. The history of Durfee is a part of the history of Fall River and all of its citizens. Durfee remains a place where people can learn, grow, and prepare for life after high school. Durfee will forever be a part of all who have entered its doors.