The First School District in Granby Center

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This house located near the firehouse may have been Granby’s first school house built in the early 18th century. Submitted photo.

Part 1 of a series on early Granby education.

A small house nestled on Salmon Brook Street near the firehouse was originally a one-room school. It may have been Granby’s first school, built early in the 18th century. It is of plank construction and may date from before 1750.

Under Connecticut law, public schooling was required as early as 1644, depending on the size of the town. Simsbury, which then included present day Granby, in 1704 “agreed that there shall be four school dames” including “one at Salmon Brooke.” It is not known whether a school was built in Salmon Brook at that time, probably the “school dame” taught in her home.

In most Connecticut settlements, the administration of the town, the church and the school was all intertwined. The First School District usually had the same boundaries as the Ecclesiastical Society. As the town population grew, it was divided into small school districts.

The School Society (or Ecclesiastical Society) had the power to levy taxes to build and operate schools. Money to pay for education came from taxes, tuition fees and income from invested funds. Some public money came from the sale of land in northwestern Connecticut. Additional school funds came from excise taxes on liquor, tea and other items.

The first mention of Granby schools is found in the records of the First Congregational Church. In 1741, the Society voted to give a share of the public school money to the people who lived in Turkey Hills (now East Granby) near the falls, to build their own school.

Other entries in the church record list a school committee of three men who were chosen yearly to hire a teacher and manage the school. In 1753, it was “voted that ye Commtte Shall cawl in ye scool Money and Let it out to ye Higest bidor.” In other words, they would lend the public money to whoever would pay the highest rate of interest. That year, Rene Cossitt, Joseph Gillet and Peter Rice were the school committee.

In 1790, a meeting of the Ecclesiastical Society was called “for the Porpos of Deviding said Society into Destinct and Separate Destricts and to Rais mony to Support Schools.” A lengthy description of boundaries followed, dividing the Salmon Brook section of Granby into seven school districts.

This action was followed by a hasty adjournment and several other quickly adjourned meetings, a sure sign of trouble and disagreement in the annals of Granby. Finally, the situation resulted in a vote to NOT raise any money to support the schools.

Everything changed, however, in 1795. Connecticut claimed land in the west, based on the 1662 Charter from Charles II. There were problems with the Pennsylvania land, which Connecticut lost, but the claim to the Ohio land was recognized. It was impossible for the state to manage this, so Connecticut granted the Ohio land (called New Connecticut or the Western Reserve) to the United States government.

Money from the sale of Ohio land was put into a permanent fund called the School Fund. Interest was to accumulate for several years and then the income from the fund was to be distributed to the local school societies.

With money due to come in from the state, Granby got serious about education. Officers were chosen in 1796 to “take care of the money belonging to said Society for the Benefit of Scolling, the avails of our Western Land.” A committee was also selected to examine the school districts and make any necessary alterations. The committee created two more school districts and nine men were chosen for the school committee, one from each district.

In 1798, the Connecticut Assembly transferred control of the schools from the Ecclesiastical Society to the School Society, a new unit of government. The interest on the School Fund, which had been allowed to accumulate until 1799, was then distributed to each society, based on the Town Grand List. Dividends were paid twice a year in March and October.

The Granby School Society appointed a committee in 1799 to choose places to build school houses. A tenth district was also added to the town. In 1805, another committee was still trying to decide “places to Set School Houses.” These probably were school buildings for the new districts.

There already was a school in Granby Center. The house mentioned in the beginning of this article was then located between 8 and 18 East Granby Road (18 was taken down when the medical building was constructed). The Salmon Brook Historical Society has the school records from 1807 to 1900, but the school had been in operation long before that. The book mentions that in 1825, a committee was appointed to “search for the former Record Book (supposed to be lost).”

What did an 18th century school look like? A pamphlet written by Albert Carlos Bates of East Granby in 1903 described an early school. The building was small with high windows. There was a raised platform on three sides of the room. The older pupils sat on this platform on long benches with their desks attached to the wall. Thus the students had their backs to the teacher and their faces to the wall. At times, they were allowed to turn around and face the middle of the room.

The younger children sat on the steps of the platform, facing the center of the room. They had no desks. The children sitting on the steps had the advantage of a back rest, “but this arrangement also had one disadvantage for them. When the larger scholars sat facing the middle of the room, each one was afforded ample opportunity to poke his toes into the back of the luckless child seated just in front of him.”

The fourth wall of the room had the door, the fireplace, the shared water bucket and the teacher’s high desk. The teacher had to either stand or sit on a high stool. The slanted desk lid could be locked “to preserve its contents from inquisitive eyes and fingers.”

Next month – Part 2: Funding schools and reluctant Granby taxpayers.