Hawthorne School

By Brooke Conner

photo provided

photo provided

“Still sits the school-house by the road,
A ragged beggar sunning;
Around it still the sumachs grow,
And blackberry-vines are running.”
- John Greenleaf Whittier, In School-days, 1869

    One-room schoolhouses have been a visual record of rural life in Vermont for many years.  The few that remain have been an integral part of our landscape and are living memories of many of our senior Vermonters. They often speak of their experiences within the walls of their schoolhouses not only as a place for teaching children, but as a community center, where neighbors gathered for dances, concerts, lectures, debates, political caucuses and worship.  As you can see by the picture below these lively places began attracting older family members in search of knowledge. It is here that the roots of today’s adult literacy programs began.

    The Hawthorne Schoolhouse, one of the last standing one-room schoolhouses, was built in the 1800’s and is owned by my parents, Marian and Paul Connor.  This historical building is located in Bridport, Vermont and is situated 3 miles from the New York /Vermont borders, on the corner of Route 125 and Basin Harbor Road.  Our family is committed to its restoration and preservation so that people can enjoy this building as they leave or enter our state.  The building is open to the public for its enjoyment.

     Schoolhouses in the 1800’s were built by people in the neighborhood or district .They were called “common schools”. Our schoolhouse was first called Bridport District Schoolhouse #1.

      In the mid 1800’s, Henry Hawthorne was a very large landowner in Bridport, Vermont. It was customary during this period in history to name schoolhouses after the neighboring families.  So, the Bridport District Schoolhouse #1 became Hawthorne School. Later, the spelling changed to Hawthorn School which was recorded as the Hawthorne School. In looking at the manuscript styles of the people who recorded the information, I feel the name changed due to the letter interpretation of the writing styles.

     An 1857 map of Addison County, which is owned by Beth and Roy Wilkinson, shows the location of Bridport District Schoolhouse #1 on the opposite side of its present location on the Northwest corner of Route 125.  The Schoolhouse was moved across the road to accommodate more children.  In the 1860’s one-room schoolhouses were often located at road junctions.

     Natalie D. Peters, in her thesis The American One-Room schoolhouse: a Descriptive Analytic Study of a Vernacular Community Building Artifact in Addison County, Vermont 1790-1858, states that “The 1777 Constitution of Vermont was the first in what became the United States to include provision for education at all levels. It stated, ‘A school or schools shall be established in each town, by the legislature, for the convenient instruction of youth …’  ” So when Vermont became a state in 1791, there was a system already in place for education.  The students of the Vermont One-Room Schoolhouse ranged in age from three year olds to over twenty years of age.  When the pupils learned to read, write and do arithmetic, they were able to graduate.  

     Our schoolhouse is a wood frame design, sitting on a stone foundation with two flat stone step entrances - one for boys and one for girls. It has a belfry, which holds a #2 cast iron bell; it has a brick chimney on the back wall. The schoolhouse has wooden plank floors, wainscoting on the walls, and large windows. It was heated by wood using a large “belly stove” which stood in the front of the room. It has two original blackboards, and   four wooden shelves for books. There was a shelf, which held the students lunch pails. Neighbors and the older boys from the school would maintain the wood for the stove. The students who attended our school sat on wooden benches.   The teacher’s desk sat on a wooden platform in front of the class for two reasons:  to establish height over the students and to keep her/his feet warm on a raised platform.

     Our schoolhouse boasts the history of Vermont education; it meant so much to the families that built them, to the teachers who worked in them and to the students who attended them.   For the last five years a generous person has hung a Christmas wreath on the front of our Schoolhouse. To this day we do not know who that person is, but we do know they appreciate the preservation of some of Vermont’s history.

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