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.
The Freetown Village School was originally built in 1794 as a lawyer’s office. At that time, it was half as wide as its current configuration. Around 1800, the office became a private academy for children of sea captains and ship-builders in Assonet. In 1858, the Town of Freetown purchased the building and turned it into a public school. By 1906, the school was enlarged and given the Colonial Revival detailing we see today. Like many smaller schools in New England, this school building was outgrown after WWII, and converted to other uses for the town, with uses from committee meeting space to storage. The schoolhouse was finally abandoned at the end of the 20th century, and stood empty. The roof developed leaks and water infiltration became a serious problem. In 2011, the Town approached the Massachusetts Historical Commission for an Emergency Grant, and was granted $30,000 for the preservation and restoration of the decaying building. The roof has been replaced and structurally repaired, but more work is to be done. I can’t wait to come back and check up on this beauty.
The Everett Schoolhouse opened in 1860 as Boston’s most modern school at the time, serving students in the South End and Roxbury. The school was located on Northampton Street, just off Tremont Street, and stood four stories with lawns surrounding it. The building was architecturally beautiful, with brick walls and stone trim and basement, large double-hung windows, and a slate roof capped by a bell tower. The building was so special, the opening ceremonies were documented in the New York Times in 1860. The school was named after Edward Everett (1794-1865), a Boston-native who served as a U.S. Senator, the 15th Governor of Massachusetts, Minister to Great Britain, and United States Secretary of State. He also taught at Harvard University and served as its president. My favorite tidbit of history on Edward Everett is that he was a great orator, and was the featured speaker at the dedication ceremony of the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1863, where he spoke for over two hours—immediately before President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous two-minute Gettysburg Address! The Everett Schoolhouse in Boston saw thousands of children graduate before a fire on the top floor of the building in 1965 and subsequent water damage from fire hoses necessitated its demolition.
Welcome to Scandinavia of Maine, Oxford County! The rural county is home to towns named Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, but no Finland sadly! The land that is now known as Denmark, Maine, was once part of Pequawket, a village of the Sokokis Abenaki tribe. In 1725 during Dummer’s War, the village was attacked and the tribe abandoned the area fleeing to Canada. Settlers established a township with many settlers coming from Andover, Mass. The town was incorporated as Denmark in 1807, and named in a show of solidarity with the country of Denmark, after England attacked Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen that year. The town was mostly agricultural, with some industry along the ponds and the Saco River. The town saw a boost in popularity in the early 20th century as a location for summer camps, including Camp Wyonegonic, founded 1902, which is the oldest girls’ camp in the country.
This building in Denmark Village appears to have been constructed in the mid-19th century as the village school. The vernacular Greek Revival building has very tall, multi-paned windows, Greek Revival trim, and modest proportions which really are pleasing to look at. It shows up on an 1880 map as “Old School House”, and appears to be a private home today. Stay tuned for more on the Scandinavian towns of Maine!
In western Millbury, the Grass Hill school was constructed to provide a place of learning for children in the agricultural section of town. The district school, a remnant of the system of autonomous school districts that characterized the educational system of Massachusetts in the 19th century, this is a larger example of many of them. West Millbury had many wealthy farmers and they financed a district school here as far back as 1814. After two earlier, smaller school buildings, this two-story school was erected and was one of the most substantial. At one time, students in eight grades taught there, all at the same time, with grades 1-4 downstairs and 5-8 upstairs. As there weren’t many students, each grade only took up one or two rows. The building remained as a school for the town until 1968, and the building was leased to the Millbury Historical Society long term. They just completed a massive restoration project for the building, it looks great!
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.