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!
Built in 1934 as the fourth high school for the town of Tewksbury, this Neo-Classical school building has seen better days. The Center School was designed by Miller and Beal architects of Portland, Maine, and likely funded with assistance of New Deal program funding during the Great Depression. The next year, Tewksbury Stadium was dedicated in 1938, which was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The Tewksbury Center School retains many of the details that characterize its Neo-Classical Style including: the front gable entry portico supported by two-story Corinthian columns and pilasters, the wide frieze band with the band of dentil molding, the decoratively clad end bays framed by Corinthian pilasters, the broken pediment of the door surround, and keystones in the brick lintels. The town needed to expand at the end of the 20th century, and hired Architectural Resources Cambridge to design the John F. Ryan Elementary School, located behind this building. The Ryan Elemetary School is a pleasing design which is Post-Modern in style. The Center School has been used as offices for the School Department and was recently proposed to be demolished for surface parking, and a new school constructed elsewhere on the site. This seems very wasteful, and epitomizes the lack of regard for environmental or historical conservation in many cities and towns.
Continuing with the snecked ashlar buildings of Reading, Vermont, this schoolhouse is possibly the oldest extant such building in the state. Built in 1834, the South Reading Schoolhouse is located in a very rural village in Vermont, yet is very well preserved, showing the building much as it looked nearly 200 years ago. “Snecked Ashlar” describes a certain type of stonemasonry, brought over from Ireland and Scotland, in which a relatively thick rubblestone wall is veneered with large flat slabs of stone laid on edge. The slabs are tied, or “snecked”, to the rubblestone wall with “snecks”, small flat stones laid across the top edge of the slabs to tie them back into the rubblestone and produce a stable wall facing. It is particularly interesting to see such a large, two-story rural schoolhouse in the area, a testament to the importance of education, even for Vermont’s farming residents. The South Reading Schoolhouse was last used as a school in 1970. It is presently used as a community center for the village of South Reading and as a meeting hall for the South Reading Meeting House Association. A natural spring fountain can be found in the foreground of the schoolhouse today.
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.
This two-story brick schoolhouse was built in 1907 for town growing along the river in Richmond, Vermont. The town’s history goes back thousands of years ago when indigenous people lived here during the Archaic period from 9,500 to 3,000 years ago. The Winooski River, which runs through the town today, was also a common highway for the Abenaki Tribe after 1,000 A.D. between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River. European settlement of Vermont did not begin until the Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War in 1763. Richmond was eventually granted township status in 1794 when the Vermont Legislature combined parts of nearby towns to form the new town. The town grew mostly as an agricultural village until the 19th century, when the Winooski River was harnessed for power. The town grew over the years, surviving large town center fires and floods over the years. As was the case with many small Vermont towns, Richmond’s population began a steady decline during the Great Depression. The trend was reversed in the 1960s as a result of new regional employers coming into the area. The school here was outgrown and built a new school in town in that period of growth and converted to the Town Hall, showing a great example of adaptive reuse in small town New England.
Adjacent to the Washington Meeting House, the Washington Center Schoolhouse perfectly compliments the Georgian building, despite being constructed 100 years later. Constructed in 1883, this building served as the principal school house in Washington, and was known as the Center School. There had been an earlier school house near this site, a small brick structure, but by the 1880s it was both worn out and too small and replaced. Eventually, it was decided to build a new school in the general style of the other town buildings, and place its facade flush with the Church (next post). The building now appears to be home to the town’s police department.
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.
I’m starting to see a trend in Easton, almost everything is named after the Ames Family! In 1893, Oliver Ames (1831-1895), a grandson of shovel company founder Oliver Ames and son of Oakes Ames, offered to fund the construction of a new high school building if the town would pay the cost of building its foundation and grading the site. While governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1887-90), Ames had hired Boston architect Carl Fehmer as consulting architect to the State for the extension to the Massachusetts State House, and it was Fehmer who secured the design contract for the new school in Easton. The refined Colonial Revival school building features a central pavilion with an entrance set within an ornate stone architrave with a Classical entablature with central pediment. The school was outgrown in 1957 and became the town’s middle school, outgrown again in the 1990s. The town sold the school to a developer with preservation restrictions and it is now used as apartments!
Located in Agawam Center this interesting architectural example of a late-Tudor Revival school building really caught my eye. The building replaced a 1870s town hall and two-room schoolhouse which were both outgrown as Agawam’s population increased due to the proximity of nearby Springfield. The architect was Paul B. Johnson, who was based out of West Springfield and ran a small architectural office there. He attended Cornell and MIT for architectural training and worked primarily around Springfield. The school building is constructed of a deep red brick, laid in varied relief for a rough faced surface and a cast stone Tudor arch around the main entrance for contrast. The school was later renamed after Benjamin Phelps, the first superintendent of schools in Agawam.
The Eliot School is a descendant of the first Eliot School in the North End, which opened in 1713 on the present North Bennet Street. Aside from Boston Latin, Eliot School is the oldest public school in Boston. Originally known as the North Latin School, it was renamed in 1821 likely after the former pastor of New North Congregational Church, Rev. Andrew Eliot. Constructed as an elementary school in 1931, this building occupies the site of the former Freeman School, one of the smaller 19th-century school buildings in the North End. This school building was designed in the Art Deco style by Cambridge-based architect Charles Greco. The building features decorative use of brick with stone incised pilasters and highly ornamental lintels over each entry, incorporating the name of the school,
carved foliate designs and shields, and the 1931 construction date.