Dear Members of the Florence Community,
The Hill Institute began as an experimental facility to promote the healthy development of local Florence children. It was the oldest “free” kindergarten in the country and was created when there were only a few kindergartens in the country that were the exclusive property of the wealthy. This is not the case today. The local public schools are meeting and providing the needs of kindergarten students.
The Kindergarten at 83 Pine Street opened its doors in December 1876, with an average attendance of 36 children. In 1894, an additional kindergarten class of 50 students was started in the lower room of the Lilly Library building. The Lilly Kindergarten was discontinued in 1938 and was assumed by the Northampton School Department. At 83 Pine Street, more stringent regulations by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) limited the kindergarten class size to a mere thirteen students. In the spring of 2020, the kindergarten closed.
The Hill Institute has evolved over the years to become a place where adults take classes in basket making, caning, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, quilting, sewing, rug hooking, rug braiding, weaving, spinning, jewelry making, theorem painting, calligraphy, illuminated letters, painting, drawing, photography, woodworking, furniture making, and boat building. The demand for these skills has grown to over 1,000 individuals per year from the local community.
The Hill Institute is overseen by a Board of Trustees comprised of local educators, business leaders, and professionals for over one hundred and twenty five years. The Trustees have not taken the closing of the kindergarten lightly, and have in fact, sought legal counsel to ensure that the integrity and longevity of The Hill Institute remain intact through this time of change. The Hill Institute continues to follow the goal of education for young children and parents in an inclusive setting. We are exploring new ways to meet the needs of children and families in our community.
The Board of Trustees have acted with diligence in preserving and growing the original endowment that funds the programs and activities for the community. Yes, in 1876, the Florence Kindergarten was born, but the needs of the community, as a whole, are no longer best served by the Kindergarten. The Hill Institute will continue to offer and expand the classes that remain in popular demand which “promote the well-being and elevation of humanity” and best serve the entire community, which is the broader focus of Samuel Hill’s vision.
The Hill Institute Board of Trustees