Feature 5 - Wednesday, February 10, 1999
The little one-room schoolhouse is still there ... sitting quietly in the same spot it has occupied for the past one hundred years or more. Now, though, instead of sounds of children's shouts and laughter, there's the noisy rumble of gravel trucks and bulldozers. Instead of jungle gyms and swings there stands a dome shaped construction designated to house the winter's supply of sand which is used on the icy roads that bright yellow school busses once bumped over ... carrying children of all ages to a little white schoolhouse that would hold so many memories for years to come.
Why it was called the Mill's School, I have no idea, although I'm sure some of the older folk in town know. Most probably it was named after a prominent person who once lived in the area.
Attending the school were children of families who had lived in the vicinity from the time the town had been established, such as the Sinclairs, Laughtons, Bubars, Seveys and Pages. To this day offspring of the original families are still there, scattered throughout the region. Households then, in the mid 1950's were large, including my own and even though no one was wealthy, for the most part everyone was quite happy and well-adjusted. Chores were expected to be done both at home and school. Mrs. Lillian Lee, one to the teachers I remember best, would assign tasks such as sweeping the floor, cleaning the blackboard or carrying a bucket of drinking water from the Brazier farm across the road. Ken Brazier recently told me that because he was supplying water to the school, the State required a water test of his water. Evidently, the water from his kitchen faucet did not pass but the barn water did! Thus, the supply was drawn from the barn, lugged to the school and deposited into a large spigoted jug. Beside the water cooler was a stack of flat ice-cream cone shaped papers that folded open to a drinking cup.
The ringing of the large brass school bell by the teacher signaled the beginning of the school day. It was then a race to see who would be first in line to file into the classroom. Usually it was one of the older kids such as Lionel or Cecil but sometimes a lucky younger child managed to win the lead position.
The inside of the building was just one big room, hence the phrase "one-room schoolhouse". Approximately twenty-five wooden desks arranged in rows of five lined the interior of the school with the teacher's desk located in one corner. In the opposite corner stood a pot-bellied wood stove which was the only source of heat. Students who sat in the front rows were toasty warm while those who occupied the back seats sometimes complained of chilly feet. A door between the teacher's desk and the stove led out to outhouse type bathrooms. The girls bathroom located on the left and the boys' on the right were unheated and during cold weather no one dawdled when nature called.
Five grades, third through the seventh were enrolled at The Mills School with anywhere from three to seven students per class. The younger children attended another school nearby called Head of the Pond School or Pond School, for short. There were various other schools scattered throughout this small town, but at this particular time period I believe these were the only two schools operating. Grades eight through high school were bussed into the neighboring town of Dexter.
Each grade was seated together and while one group was being taught their lesson, the others had assignments to do on their own. Often if a student (myself included) finished his work early, he could "listen in" on the class currently being taught. I wonder if perhaps we country pupils faired better in this way than our peers who (attended) bigger and "better" schools.
Hot lunches were unheard of in the one- room schoolhouse although many times throughout the winter months hot cocoa would be simmering on the wood stove enticing all with the chocolate aroma. This was furnished and prepared by Mrs. Lee, which I'm sure, was not on her job description. At lunchtime everyone was treated to the delicious hot beverage and nothing today can compare to that wonderful delight. Our cold-boxed sandwiches seemed to taste so much better with the steaming chocolate to accompany them. Sometimes, too, a large pot of corn chowder or stew would be delivered by Mrs. Richardson, mother of several of the students, to be enjoyed by all.
Noon hour was the high point of the day and did not at all seem like an hour to twenty-five rambunctious kids who had been cooped up all morning. It wouldn't take long to round up a game of Red Rover or Kick - the - Can. If I listen real closely sometimes, I can still hear the faint refrain of "Red- Rover, Red Rover, send Barbara right over" in the singsong voices of long ago friends with patches on their trousers and ribbons in their pigtails. Or in my mind's eye I see a game of tag being played with Danny in pursuit of Morris, Alton, or Bruce. Then comes the clang, clang, clang of the bell announcing the end of play and the start of afternoon classes. In we trudge, Dianna, Susie, Tommy, Blaine, Peggy exhausted and flushed. The others follow and soon we've settled down to an afternoon of study. Once in a while we'd have a pleasant surprise and Mrs. Lee would read to us books such as Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson or Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. We would be enthralled with the adventures of Tom Sawyer and I'm sure every child was conjuring up scenes in his imagination. Even though t.v. sets were starting to make their appearance in some homes, nothing could take away from those memorable afternoons of story telling.
As the clock inched its way to 3:10 p.m. once again the yellow school bus could be heard making it's way to the little white schoolhouse. I know the bus driver, Vern must have had his bad days but I honestly can't remember of him ever being in a bad mood. He has long since passed away but I'll always remember him as a kindly gentleman with never a cross word for anyone.
The years have gone by. The children have grown up. Some have moved far away and others like Vernal, Ron, Getch, the Braziers, Elms, and the Seveys have remained. And then there are those like myself who moved away and in later years have returned to their roots. Today there are very few one-room schoolhouses left, if any. In 1958 the Mill School closed when a bigger and newer school was built just up the road. Almost everyday I pass the sand shed / school. Often times the memories return and once again I am taken back in time when a bright yellow school bus bumped down a dusty road delivering country kids to a little white school house.
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