EARLY EDUCATION IN CONNECTICUT
The earliest constitution of Connecticut mentioned that children should receive “a good education. By 1700 a law was passed that towns of 70 families or more must maintain an English school for the entire year, and smaller towns for a half year.
By 1717 each parish was required to raise taxes to support its own school district. Wintonbury Parish, established about 1735, maintained, one or more schools from its earliest beginning. This site had a log schoolhouse, used also for community activities, before this brick building replaced it in 1796. The log building was used for church services in 1734, during the period when winter privileges were granted. The old log schoolhouse was sold in November, 1815 for $3.43.
In this early period, school records were kept with the records of the Ecclesiastical Society of the Church. Schools were in fact under the control of this society during the Federal period, (until about 1795).
A document in Windsor’s records assured that the triangle of land on which the school was built would remain forever dedicated to community use.
FARM SCHOOL BUILT
In 1795 land in Ohio which had been owned by the State of Connecticut was sold for $1,200,000 and with this money a trust fund was established with proceeds to be used to support the schools of the state. In 1965 the principal had grown to $2,151,000 and it was the oldest trust fund administered by the state treasurer. In recent years the fund has been dissolved.
By 1795 Wintonbury Parish consisted of seven school districts, each with its own building and its own school committee, which was empowered to, levy taxes within the district for the support of the school.
Each school committee would hire teachers, furnish fuel and supplies, and enumerate the children of school age. A “Committee of one” and a clerk were elected to serve for a year, responsibility rotating among the men of the district. (Incidentally, I couldn’t find the names of any women on Bloomfield’s school committees until Mrs. L. H. Barnard was elected in 1923.
The money for teachers’ pay was furnished by the state school fund. This school fund could not be used for building or maintaining the building.
In May, 1796 the following ad appeared in the Connecticut:
“The subscribers wish to contract for the building of a brick school in Wintonbury 35′ by 22′. Any person wishing to contract to furnish materials and complete the building is desired to call on, the subscribers before the 30th of May who will pay them money for the work.
Wintonbury, April 20, 1796
The school was completed before the end of the year, with Miss Hannah Latimer the first teacher.
This very symmetrical building may have been a Christopher Wren design, the plan purchased from his collection. The building was made of brick and was two stories high although the upstairs was not used in 1796. The entrance door was in the center of the building and there was a fireplace at each end. If you look carefully at the outside you can see in the bricks the outline of a door which was later replaced by a window. Also, you will find that the bricklayers used two patterns of bricks on the exterior walls. The back and front of the school are Flemish bond and the ends are common bond.
The building was heated by fires in each of the two fireplaces, with wood contributed by the students, each with a quota of about 3/8 of a cord of wood. Scholars sat on benches facing the center of the room, boys on one side, girls on the other.
If you could climb to the belfry you might find the date which was carved on the bell, 1796. The bell was contributed by Frederic Bull, a public spirited man who lived on Blue Hills Avenue. This was the first bell in town and it was rung to announce the public functions, church services and funerals. By coincidence, it was first rung to toll the funeral knell of the donor, Mr. Bull.
A school account book for 1803 showed: “Pay Wealthy Thrall $25 for teaching 25 weeks.
The school clerk’s book dated Nov. 1, 1804 named Desetheus Hubbard treasurer. It was voted in 1804 that school should continue four months from the start.
In 1809 it was voted that each scholar bring in 3 ft. of wood, delivered within one week after the beginning of the school year or the “child shall be debarred of the common use of the fire. “In 1812 it was voted that “maple wood not be accepted.”
One finds progress everywhere. In 1815 a brick stove was installed and one fireplace was eliminated. The brick stove was paid for in 1819 by computing the number of days each family sent children to school. The assessment was about 6 mills per scholar per day.
In 1824 a lock was purchased for the door. (There was only one door during the time the building was used as a school.) In 1826 the door was moved from the center to the location where it is now. At that time a partition was built to create a vestibule cloak room and a wood bin.
Not until 1839 was the school referred to as the “Farm School” rather than just the “brick school.”
In 1805 Nabby Eggleston received $l.00 per week teaching the summer session. In 1814 Augustus Allyn received $20.00 per month for the winter session, and he boarded himself as opposed to ”boarding around.”)
At one time the stairway to the second floor was located outside the building. When you go outside you can look at the side wall and see where the original door to the second floor has been bricked over. The inside staircase was built about 1843.
In 1829 it was voted to finish off the upper room for the older “scholars”. (Students, (pupils) were referred to consistently as “scholars”.) As you look around the room you will note that the desks and seats were built right into the floor. These desks that you see today are the original desks. Note where some of them have been removed, leaving holes in the floor.
The next year, 1830, the two teachers were Miss Griswold and Elizabeth Clark: Of course, earlier there were sometimes two, teachers listed, often, one teaching the summer session and one the winter session, each session lasting, about four months.
About :l867 use of the second floor classroom was discontinued. One note suggested that the flooring had become unsafe but some who attended the school just before it was closed mentioned that the upstairs was again used as a classroom as recently as 1919.
You will note that for desks used almost 40 years, there are few carvings, as you might find in later, classrooms. If a student marked a desk: the parents had to pay a fine. Money was well respected, and students knew that parents did not always “spare the rod”.
We have an attendance book from 1867. Miss Nellie Farr taught the winter session, with 46 students listed, 26 boys and 20 girls. For the summer session, May to September, Miss Emma Phelps taught 35 students, 13 boys and 22 girls. The older boys had responsibilities on the farm and did not attend the summer session.
One of the students listed was Hattie Hoskins, age 8 in 1867. If you look carefully at the wall you can see where she wrote her name. We saved her signature when the room was restored.
Records show that some of the teachers had a custom of setting aside the small blackboard to record the first flowers of spring and the name of the student who first brought each flower to school.
In 1922, Blue Hills School on Rockwell Avenue, grades 1 through 8, was completed and the Farm School was closed. First and second graders from the Farm School joined older children who had travelled by trolley to the Center schools. Miss Beatrice Farnhm, the Farm School teacher, became the first grade teacher in the Blue Hills School.
During the time the building was used as a school it was also used for community activities, for meetings, for neighborhood gatherings, as a library.
When the Farm School was no longer used as a classroom it continued to be used by the public. The American, Legion and the Legion Auxiliary met here from 1931 to 1971. The building was still at its original site and the Legion added a small kitchen to the back of the building.
Old Windsor records show that the original triangle of land on which the school was located was deeded to be set aside forever for the use of the community. When the State wanted to, widen School Street arrangements were made to exchange this triangle for land across the street. The Wintonbury Historical Society raised money to have the building restored at the new site. Thanks to Richard Bartlett and others, the school has been placed on the Register of Historic Places.
The first step in the moving process was to repair the building. The whole front exterior wall had to be repaired before the building could be moved. Originally, the upstairs wall was two bricks thick and the downstairs three bricks thick. Only one layer was left standing. This had to be restored before the building could be moved. Bricks were loose or missing; the flooring had to be shored up, the chimney repaired and the school internally braced.
Excavating and grading work at the new site was started in September, 1976. Richard W. Bartlett, architect and then president of the Wintontbury Historical Society, planned and supervised the move. Under Mr. Bartlett’s supervision, Boy Scouts sifted through the soil at the original location. Some of the artifacts that they found are shown in the display box upstairs.
The school building was moved in October, 1976. It remained on steel beams until bricks and brownstone placed on the foundation were built up to support the building. Then the steel beams were removed. Interior renovation had to be postponed for several years until the Society raised money to continue the project.
It wasn’t until 1987 that the first floor of the school was restored and opened to the public. The Wintonbury Historical Society raised the money with contributions from community businesses and organizations, various individuals in town and from the Society itself. Matching grants were also made available. We hired Herman Marshall to complete the restoration. In 1989 we were able to complete the second floor, again with the advice and talents of Mr. Marshall, who considered the second floor classroom a real treasure.
The bricks used in the hearth were recovered from the lower section of exterior brick and displayed here. The numbers you see on some of the bricks are the count of brick in the batch. They were formed and stacked in an arch and the fireplace built underneath. The darker, harder bricks were those dried nearest the heat source, and the pale (softer) bricks were farthest from the heat.
The first teacher was Hannah Latimer, daughter of Captain George Latimer, (sometimes spelled Latimore.) She later married Jeremiah Woodford. Descendents Hannah and Jeremiah still live in Bloomfield, the Woodford family, right here on School Street.
Joseph L. Barber, who taught in 1865, became a famous lawyer and lecturer.
Some notes say that Smith W. Tolles, later a Methodist minister, was a teacher at the Farm School, but I did not find his name listed. Possibly he taught in another of the seven, later nine, school districts of Bloomfield.
Arthur L. Ulrich taught in 1880 and 1881. He graduated with the first class of Morse Business School of Hartford. He became Secretary of Colt’s Patent Firearms. Born in 1858, he died at age 83.
The last teacher in this school was Beatrice Farnham. Beatrice was listed as graduating from eighth grade in Bloomfield in 1914 and she started teaching in September, 1918. Miss Farnham later married Russell Noyes who was a Junior High teacher in town. He left the school system but she continued teaching at Blue Hills school until her retirement.
The most noted pupil was Virginia Thrall Smith. Maps of 1855 and 1869 show that the Thrall family had a farm on School Street, where the Laiuppa family now live. Mrs. Smith was a noted humanitarian, much involved with the City Mission in Hartford, later the Children’s Aid Society. She used her influence in the formation of the Home for Crippled Children, now Newington Children’s Hospital. She was the mother of Winchell Smith, playwright.
In 1988, some Farm School alumni spoke to the historical society about their remembrances of the school. You might know some of them: Margaret Fuss Bierkan, Anthony Donatelli, Albert Berch, Frances Lindquist, Jack Goldberg, Nicholas Saracino, Walter Christensen and Arthur Hube.
We have a list of the students attending the Farm school in 1867, also a fairly complete list of past teachers.