Built in 1872, the old North Canton Schoolhouse really brings us back to how life was like in the 19th century. The saying “when I was a kid, we would have to walk to and from school in the snow, uphill both ways” comes to mind when I think of how students would have to walk long distances to attend rural schools. The school was originally built at a nearby fork in the road, but moved in the 1920s when the street was widened. The building was used as a school until 1942, when a newer, central school was built in the center of town.
Canton, Connecticut, the only town in the state named after a city in China! The land which we now know as Canton had long been inhabited, specifically by the Wappingers, a group in the larger Algonquin speaking tribes. Canton was incorporated out of Simsbury in 1806, and named after the City of Canton in China (now known as Guangzhou), though I am not sure why. The town quickly developed two main villages. Collinsville sits on the Farmington River and its power was harvested for industry; while the center village grew differently as an agricultural village of farms. At the center of town sat a green for civic and town functions and gatherings. The town constructed a school here as far back as 1759, when the rural village was still a part of Simsbury. This is the fourth building on the green and it was built in 1872, and can be classified as Italianate in style. The building was occupied as a school until 1949, and it was used for other city uses until 1971, when the building was rented to the Canton Artist’s Guild and the building was renamed Gallery on the Green. The building remains community-focused and holds exhibits of local artists! Much of the rest of Canton Center lost all of its bucolic charm when the main road became commercialized, prioritizing speeding cars over a walkable village.
Situated on the iconic Town Green of Lancaster, MA, this gorgeous Colonial Revival school building elegantly fits into the surrounding context of stately civic buildings in the small town. The Center School, (now known as the Prescott Building), was designed by architect Herbert Dudley Hale of Boston, and built in 1904 for use as the Town of Lancaster’s first high school. The building committee formed to oversee proposals and funding of the school settled quickly on the desire to see it built in the Colonial Revival style to compliment the other Town Green buildings at the time, most importantly the Charles Bulfinch-designed church at the northern end (more on that tomorrow). The Center School had been used continuously as a public school until 2001, when it outlived its utility as a modern and codified school facility. The building stood vacant for a number of years until it was restored and re-utilized as town offices next to the town hall.
Perched high on a hill, next to the Stone Church (featured previously), the old Stone School in Newmarket is one of a handful of iconic stone buildings in the town. Built in 1841, its stonework executed by William and Robert Channel, local farmers and stonemasons, who likely got their skill from building stone walls on farms. The building was used continuously as a school until 1966, when it was given to the Newmarket Historical Society, which now operates it as a local history museum.
This beautiful Italianate building was constructed around 1880 for the newly established Tabor Academy, which was founded in Marion, Massachusetts by Ms. Elizabeth Taber in 1876. After Ms. Taber funded the constructed of a town library and museum and oversaw construction of the new academic building for her school, she endowed money for Tabor Hall, which was to house the school’s Principal, some boarding students, and most importantly, herself. The structure was located on Spring Street, just north of the library, until 1937, when the “Tabor Swap” was finalized. The swap was a deal between the academy and the Town of Marion, who exchanged properties in 1937. The town received the library building, the academic building (soon after converted to Town Hall) and land where this building once sat. The town erected Sippican Elementary, a public school on the land, and Tabor Academy moved this building a block over.
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.
The history of the Old Jamaica Plain High School (originally West Roxbury High School) goes back to the year 1842, when the Town of Roxbury (which at the time, included Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, and West Roxbury) established “Eliot High School,”. The school was named after Reverend John Eliot of Roxbury, who in 1689, gave 75 acres of land to the town for the maintenance, support, and encouragement of a school and school master at Jamaica or Pond Plain “in order to prevent the inconveniences of ignorance.” In 1855, the newly independent Town of West Roxbury took control of the high school until the town was annexed to Boston in 1873. During this time, the school became known as “West Roxbury High,” a name that appeared on this building, constructed in 1898. In July of 1923, the school’s name was changed to Jamaica Plain High School, to reflect its neighborhood. The building was designed by the firm Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul and is an exemplary example of the Tudor style in an academic building. The school department sold the building in the 1980s and built a larger, modern school in the area. This building was converted to apartments not long after, a use that remains to this day. Would you live in this old school building?
Waterford was once part of New London, but it separated in 1801 as the area desired its own town government which took agricultural interests more seriously. In the 19th century, much of the town’s economy was centered around agriculture, with many residents running sheep farms. During the 20th century, sheep farms were replaced by dairy farms. Between 1920 and 1960, there were about 100 dairy farms in Waterford. After WWII, suburbanization occurred and many wealthy residents of nearby New London moved to Waterford for more space. The oldest surviving public building in Waterford, Connecticut is this Colonial-era schoolhouse which was likely built in the 1730s. The Jordan Schoolhouse was built as a rural schoolhouse as farmers wanted their children to be taught writing, reading, arithmetic, and religion, even if they followed their parent’s footsteps in farming. The gambrel-roofed Georgian building was used as a school until the mid-19th century and it was converted to a private home for Asa and Eliza Gallup and their family. The schoolhouse was eventually moved to its current site on Jordan Green in 1972 and is operated as a museum space for the Waterford Historical Society.
When the first floor of the Old Town Hall was deemed too cramped for the students of Newington, NH, to receive their education, the town worked out a solution, build a new school. Town revenue from timber-cutting in the Town Forest (the oldest Town Forest in the United States) helped finance construction of the school. Additionally, many landowners and farmers were asked to gather and donate stones on their properties and in stone walls for the material of the new building, which many contributed. The school closed in 1959, not long after the Pease Air Force Base was expanded and destroyed much of the southern edge of town. The U.S. Government acquired many parcels of land in Newington and Portsmouth and redeveloped the site over time in the mid 20th century. In Newington, the government leveled 26 local homesteads an action that left a deep scar on the town’s collective memory. The town has used the building for years, but only recently acquired the property from the Federal Government when they de-accessioned some of their properties here. Hopefully this building will be restored and serve as an educational tool for the town’s later generations.
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!