In 1816, the turnpike to Manchester, Vermont was completed and ran through the small town of Peru. As a result, inns and taverns were built, and the young village of Peru began to grow, with farming and lumber businesses being the most common employment in town. A village school was built here and in the town’s other school districts. By the end of the 19th century, the lure of moving to the Western U.S. and cities for industrial work caused some population decline in Peru, and a larger, consolidated school was built in the town village. This schoolhouse on the hill was constructed in 1864, replacing the former one-room schoolhouse on the lot. The school consolidated again in the mid-20th century when further population decline necessitated a school district encompassing Peru and nearby towns. This building was later converted to town offices, a use that remains to this day.
The good news is that the town’s population is seeing a resurgence, led by both tourism and the Bromley Mountain Ski Resort as an anchor.
Before driving down the winding dirt roads of Landgrove, Vermont, I had never even heard of the town, let alone what I would find. It is always a treat to explore a rural Vermont town, not knowing what lies beyond each hill and bend in the road. Landgrove was chartered in 1780 and is one of the least-populated towns in New England at just 177. The town’s founding occured in the spring of 1767, when Captain William Utley (1724-1790) and his 16-year-old son Asa, traveled from Connecticut to what is now Springfield VT, across a newly created road to the frontier town of Chester. Upon arriving, they spent the rest of the year cutting a road from Chester to the West River. He thought that he arrived in the Town of Bromley, one of the New Hampshire Land Grants. After building his cabin, settling here with his family, he realized he was in unincorporated land between other grants. He petitioned for a new town and it was accepted after the Revolution. The town grew slowly with farms sprouting up along the countryside, never expanding beyond 355 people. This old schoolhouse was constructed, likely around the turn of the 20th century at the geographic center of town after the town consolidated their school districts. When the town’s population shrunk further, Landgrove’s school district merged with nearby Londonderry and Weston. This former school was converted to town offices.
Historic schoolhouses in rural New England are often one-room wood-frame buildings, but not in Brookline, Vermont! The Brookline Round Schoolhouse is constructed of brick and… you guessed it, ROUND! The iconic building sits on the same road as the Baptist Church in town (last post) and likely built from bricks made at the same brickyard. The school was built in 1822 to replace a log school house originally built nearby. The plan for the round design was apparently made by Dr. John Wilson. Wilson, known as “Thunderbolt”, was reputed to have been a robber and highway-man who came from Scotland to escape punishment. He eventually settled in Vermont and had many occupations but settled on saying he was a doctor and began practicing. He eventually took up teaching and somehow convinced the town he should design the new school building. Local legend asserts that Wilson designed the school house round so that he could see from any position, all possible intruders. At the interior, the single-room originally contained sixty oak benches and desks arranged in a circular position facing a teacher’s desk near the door. The building is capped by a conical wood shingle roof, which appears in great condition. The structure functioned as a school until 1929, when a new school was built which conformed to state codes. At this time the round school was turned over to the town for use as a Town Hall, a use it held until the 1980s.
The Peter Parley Schoolhouse (also known as the West Lane Schoolhouse) in Ridgefield, CT, is an excellent example of a well-preserved one-room school building in Fairfield County. The little red schoolhouse was originally built in 1756 and either replaced or enlarged in the early 1800s. As Ridgefield in the early days was primarily an agricultural community, many children split their time either helping family on the farm or in school, with work almost always coming before education. The school is named for its most famous student, Samuel Griswold Goodrich. Goodrich went by the alias Peter Parley and was born in Ridgefield, attending the school between 1799-1803. He was a prolific writer, with over 170 books to his credit, and is believed by many to have written the first American textbooks. Samuel wrote about his experiences as a student there, giving locals and historians a look into early life in the town. In the early 1900s, the town consolidated schools and this building was closed. The town seemed to simply close the building and it saw some neglect over time until the Ridgefield Historical Society assumed a lease of the property, recently restoring it.
Located across the street from the Canton Congregational Church (last post) you can find the cutest one room schoolhouse in central Connecticut. The schoolhouse, built in 1848, was one of nine one-room schoolhouses in Canton at the time. The perfectly proportioned classically designed school features two front doors, one on each side of the recessed entry, with the right door for girls and the left for boys. There were also two outhouses behind the building for students and the teacher. This building served the community as a school until 1942. In the years following, the building was used as a meeting place for women from the congregational church, a community library, and a small public space for members of town. It is owned by the Congregational Church, who maintain it to this day.
Extant one-room schoolhouses in New England are scarce, so whenever I stumble upon one, I always stop and take a photo! This little schoolhouse in Canterbury, Connecticut was built around 1850 near the village green, and provided schooling for the rural town center’s children for about 100 years until it closed after WWII. In 1947, the modern, Dr. Helen Baldwin School opened in town, forcing many smaller, outdated one-room schools to close. After this, many were either demolished or adapted to other uses. The Canterbury Green Schoolhouse was adapted to the town’s public library. The building later housed the town’s library until 2001, when a new library building was constructed. In the 2000s, the Canterbury Historical Society and town volunteers gathered funds and restored the building to her former glory and appearance. The school is now occasionally open as a small museum for the town.
Before most small New England towns had single school buildings for elementary, middle and high school, small one-room schoolhouses like this dotted the landscape, especially in rural towns. Having smaller schools spread out allowed for a greater number of students to attend school without traveling by horseback long distances, and more local school buildings was a great solution. This c.1857 school building was in use until 1949, and it didn’t even have heat, running water, or electricity until the 1930s, making smart design a necessity to get the most out of the building. Large windows would provide natural light to flood the classroom and the steep gable roof would ensure snow to slide off the roof. Sadly, many towns have lost these buildings, but some have been restored or even repurposed as homes!
Driving through the quaint village of Wilmot Center in New Hampshire, I had to pull over to snap a photo of this little library building. When I got home, I learned that the building was constructed in 1854 not as a library, but as a schoolhouse! The vernacular Greek Revival school served as one of many district schoolhouses in the region, dispersed around small towns to be within walking distance of the sparsely developed parts of the state. With population growth in the 20th century and the proliferation of the personal automobile, these small regional schools became obsolete. Many of these buildings were converted to other civic uses or as personal residences, but most were demolished. The Wilmot Public Library located in the former schoolhouse in 1972 and is now connected to the town offices next door.
Colonial-era one-room schoolhouses once dominated the landscape of New England, providing a learning space for young children. The number of these structures have plummeted due to changing development patterns and limited funding to preserve or adaptively reuse such buildings. In the town of Brookline, this c.1768 schoolhouse has been altered frequently, showing various styles and techniques in construction used during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. The original one-room school house was enlarged in 1840 by an addition to the rear to fit additional pupils. In 1847 a shed was built for storing coal or wood and providing an entry vestibule. According to town records, in 1855 the ceiling in the schoolroom was raised, the windows enlarged, and the desks and chairs repaired. The double privy was built around 1898, probably replacing an earlier single privy. There is some evidence that in 1938 the school was used temporarily as a Catholic church and at some time following World War II as a synagogue. In 1966, the school was moved from its original site on Grove Street to its present location at Larz Anderson Park for the future preservation of the building by the town and local historical society. The schoolhouse is normally open for tours at various points during the year or by appointment.
One-room schoolhouses were scattered all around small towns like Tunbridge, VT until the advent and proliferation of the personal automobile to allow students to meet in a single, larger school. The Whitney Hill Schoolhouse was one of such one-room schoolhouses that were located in town and constructed in a Vernacular Greek Revival style. The building features two doors at the gable end with transom windows, and a bank of windows at the end of the side facade, to provide light to the classroom inside. The school was apparently in use until the 1920s and appears to be used as a residence or something of the like today.