The Old School-house, as it used to be called, how distinctly it rises to existence anew before the eye of my mind. Here was kept the District School as it was. This was the seat of my rustic Alma Mater, to borrow a phrase from collegiate and classic use. It is now no more; and those of similar construction are passing away never to be patterned again. It may be well, therefore, to describe the edifice wherein and whereabout occurred many of the scenes about to be recorded. I would have the future generations acquainted with the accommodations, or rather dis-accommodations of their predecessors.
The Old School-house in District No. 5, stood on the top of a very high hill, on the north side of what was called the county road. The house of Capt. Clark, about ten rods off, was the only human dwelling within a quarter of a mile. The reason why this seminary of letters was perched so high in the air, and so far from the homes of those who resorted to it, was this. Here was the centre of the district, as near as surveyor's chain could designate. The people east would not permit the building to be carried one rod further west, and those of the opposite quarter were as obstinate on their side. So here it was placed, and this continued to be literally the hill of science to generation after generation of learners for fifty years.
The edifice was set half in Capt. Clark's field, and half in the road. The wood-pile lay in the corner made by the east end and the stone wall. The best roof it ever had over it was the changeful sky, which was a little too leaky to keep the fuel at all times fit for combustion, without a great deal of puffing and smoke. The door step was a broad unhewn rock, brought from the neighboring pasture. It had not a flat and even surface, but was considerably sloping from the door to the road, so that in icy times the scholars in passing out, used to snatch from the scant declivity the transitory pleasure of a slide. But look out for a slip-up, ye careless, for many a time have I seen urchin's head where his feet were but a second before. And once the most lofty and perpendicular pedagogue I ever knew, became suddenly horizontalized in his egress.
But we have lingered round this door-step long enough. Before we cross it, however, let us just glance at the outer side of the structure. It was never painted by man, but the clouds of many years had stained it with their own dark hue. The nails were starting from their fastness, and fellow clapboards were becoming less closely and warmly intimate. There were six windows, which here and there stopped and distorted the passage of light by fractures, patches, and seams of putty. There were shutters of board, like those of a store, which were of no kind of use excepting to keep the windows from harm in vacations, when they were the least liable to harm.--They might have been convenient screens against the summer sun, were it not that their shade is inconvenient darkness. Some of these from loss of buttons were fastened back by poles, which were occasionally thrown down in the heedlessness of play, and not replaced till repeated slams had broken a pane of glass, or the patience of the teacher. To crown this description of externals, I must say a word about the roof. The shingles had been battered apart by a thousand rains. And excepting where the most defective had been exchanged for new ones, they were dingy with the mold and moss of time. The bricks of the chimney-top were losing their cement, and looked as if some high wind might hurl them from their smoky vocation.
We will now go inside. First, there is an entry which the district were sometimes provident enough to store with dry pine wood as an antagonist to the greenness and wetness of the other fuel. A door on the left admits us to the school room. Here is a space about twenty feet long and ten wide, the reading and spelling parade. At the south end of it, at the left as you enter, was one seat and writing bench, making a right angle with the rest of the seats. This was occupied in the winter by two of the oldest males in the school. At the opposite end was the magisterial desk raised upon a platform a foot from the floor. The fire-place was on the right, half way between the door of entrance and another door leading into a dark closet where the girls put their outside garments and their dinner baskets. This also served as a fearful dungeon for the immuring of offenders. Directly opposite the fire-place was an aisle two feet and a half wide, running up an inclined floor to the opposite side of the room. On each side of this, were five or six long seats and writing benches for the accommodation of the school at their studies. In front of these, next to the spelling floor, were low, narrow seats for abecedarians and others near that rank. In general, the older the scholar the further from the front was his location. The windows behind the back seat were so low that the traveller could generally catch the stealthy glance of curiosity as he passed. Such was the Old School-house at the time I first entered it. Its subsequent condition and many other conveniences will be noticed hereafter.
The county road was built in about 1746, before the existence of any towns. Descending from Wicopee Hill in undulating falls and rises to the south, it at length in 1783 approached to the newly built school house that was placed in the immediate lee of another rising hill crest.
Captain Henry Clark (1783-1855) and his brother Rufus held the land and the house standing two hundred feet to the southwest of the school, on the crest of the hill, after 1818. An early record indicates that on March 14, 1812 Calvin Harris received an order from the treasurer of the town of Brattleboro for the sum of $30.97, "for their proportion of School money for district No 5 as of 1811".
List of Persons in District Number 5 for December 18, 1782:
John Newton, David Polard, Samuel Bennett, Joseph Bennett, Noah Bennett, Timothy Church, William Cranny, Joseph Whipple, Stephen Bennett, Jonathan Church, Joseph Chamberlain, Richard Prouty, Timothy Whipple, Benjamin Butterfield, Junior William McCune, Doctor Dickerman, Mr. Leason, Taylor Brooks, Oliver Cook, Jonathan Herrick, Francis Prouty, Jonathan Dunklee, Joseph Dunklee, Amos Rice, Ephraim Rice, Jonathan Alexander, Ephraim Knapp, James Knapp, Benjamin Gould, John Alexander, Elijah Prouty, Israel Field, Jotham Spaulding, William McCune Junior, Isaac Kendall, Sawyer Wright, Ebenezer Knapp, Ebenezer Church, Joseph Cook, Mr. Nichols.
By one of the first pupils of the school.
In the early days of this district, and previous to its organization, Dr. Cyrus Butterfield, who then lived where Warren Hescock now lives, Dea. Oliver Carpenter, who lived on the present Oliver Carpenter place, and Ezra Barrett, who lived on the place known as the Barnabas Fitch farm, united in thinking the distance too great for their children to attend school in the districts to which they belonged and decided to hire a teacher, each one to pay their proportionate part of the expense. They secured a room in the house on the corner known now as the Warren Hescock house, so recently taken down, then owned by the widow, Sally Butterfield, mother to the late Alanson Butterfield. The term of three months' school was taught by Miss Ruth Dunklee, then a young lady of 15 years. She proved a very successful teacher. Later she married Nelson Barbour, a Congregational minister, and although her work here closed long since, her memory is cherished by her pupils who survive her.
In a short time the district had applications from others to join them in school affairs, and by paying such a part of the expense as was required they were allowed to do so. In 1833 Alfred Harris, who lived where Chas. Harris now lives; Mr. Orvis, who lived where Henry Timson now lives; Alanson Butterfield, where Oscar Leonard now lives; Dr. Cyrus Butterfield, Dea. Oliver Carpenter and Ezra Barrett built a schoolhouse at their own expense. Dea. Carpenter gave the land and in the fall it was completed, ready for the winter term. It was not a modern style building, yet many there gained all the book knowledge they had, and going out into the world have been successful in business and useful in the society in which they moved.
In 1834 there were so many applications for attendance to this school that application was made to the selectmen of Brattleboro and Dummerston that the school be organized as a joint district. This petition was granted, and in the fall of 1834 district No. 15 was organized. The winter following there was a school of 25 scholars and 30 children in the district.
For some time the expenses of the school were paid by a tax and a tuition fee. Later as the farms changed hands others came into office and no tuition charged. For many years a tax of 70 cents on a dollar was raised to defray the expenses of eight months' school--four in the summer and four in the winter.
The winter of 1864 brought some adversity to this district, the old schoolhouse being destroyed by fire. It was in a dilapidated condition at the time it was burned, but it was needed, as the winter term of school was not completed. Oliver Carpenter then furnished rooms at his home so that the term might be finished. Before it was finished, however, his house was also destroyed by fire. The following fall, that of 1865, the present schoolhouse was built.
About this time the place now occupied by George Atkinson, formerly known as the John Alexander farm, and the E. C. Dunklee and A. W. Gage farms were annexed to the district by vote of the town. The united efforts of the district made the school a success for years.
Now another system has presented itself, taking the burdens of office and responsibility from the members of the district and placing them upon the town and its officers. Still there is the same liberal feeling of respect for teachers and scholars as when the district was in full responsibility. The scholars who now have the privilege of Miss McVeigh's instruction are bright and active, being much credit to all who are trying to fit them for lives of usefulness.