The First School District in Granby Center Part 2 – Funding Schools and Reluctant Granby Taxpayers

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The First District school records provide a fascinating glimpse of education in early Granby. The opening entry is dated December 14, 1807. The school meeting was held at the home of Joshua R. Jewett, who lived at 8 East Granby Road.

It was voted to “set up a school.” Evidently, the School District had to vote every year to have school in session. In the early 1800s, school seemed to be held only in winter. There was no set length of the school term, it varied from three to five months.

The records do not show what Granby was doing with the school fund money from the state. Granby continued to levy taxes and charge tuition to pay for the schools. The tuition consisted of a quota of wood for each pupil to heat the school. Collecting this wood was a constant struggle.

In 1809, the school meeting was held at the home of John Hillyer, who lived at 2 Park Place. It was voted to hold school for four months and that the “School Master be Directed to Withhold instruction in the School to the Children of Such Persons who fail to Furnish their quota of Wood.”

The nostalgic view of early schools is one of a strict school master and polite, obedient scholars. In reality, children were not much different than children today. Our ancestors were plagued with school vandalism even in 1810.

“14 Day of November, 1810 voted that Joshua R. Jewett be Requested to Call on the Parents, Masters or Guardians of those Children Who Committed tresspass on the School House the Last Winter. Such as braking the Windows, Benches, etc. For Satisfaction of Such Damages and for information Respecting Such tresspass, said Jewett is Refered to the Instructor of the School for the Last Season.”

The school again needed repair in 1811 and the wood quota was further defined as “one quarter of a cord of Good Wood, cut and Piled up at the School” within two weeks of school opening.

The first mention of the School Fund payments was in 1812, when it was voted to set up a “woman’s school” for five months “to be supported from the public money.” This was a summer session taught by a woman and probably attended mostly by the younger children.

The older boys usually went to school in the winter when they could be spared from the farm work. The school mistress was paid $4 a month, plus room and board worth another $4 a month. She stayed at the homes of her pupils “in proportion to the number of schollars” in each family.

Winter and summer sessions of varying lengths continued, supported by public funds. Wood for tuition in winter was still required, although provision was made for “poor and Indigent persons.”

In 1814, the First District voted to build a new brick school house, no larger than 24 by 34 feet, and also voted a rather high tax to pay for it. This was so controversial that they voted to reconsider the proposal at the next meeting. The following year, the district decided to repair the old school. The brick school house was never mentioned again.

During the winter of 1816, the district rented a stove from Almanzor Denslow to heat the school. This modern innovation must have been a vast improvement over the rather inefficient school fireplace. The following five years indicated a continual need to repair the aging school in Granby Center.

In retrospect, the wonderful scheme to finance education with “public money” worked very badly. The towns used it to avoid taxation. The School Fund from the Ohio land sale, unfortunately led to a decrease in local interest in education and to a decline in the quality of education in Connecticut. School Societies stopped collecting taxes to support the schools and just relied on public money. They offered a short winter and summer term of school, and when the public money was gone, the school closed.

Granby voters followed the trend in Connecticut. They occasionally voted a tax to repair the school, but then rescinded the vote. One year, a tax was voted because there was not enough public money to pay for the winter term. However, at the next meeting, it was voted to use summer term money to cover the deficit.

In 1821, the School Committee issued several stern decrees. They insisted on hard wood as tuition payment and called a meeting to build a new school in the center. The also voted “that there be a committee to examine the scholars with respect to the itch and to direct the parents of such as are infested to retire from the school until they shall be cured.”

In November 1821, the decision was finally made to build a new Center School, and a site was chosen “between Captain Ozias Pettibone’s house (4 East Granby Road) and the burying ground” (the NW corner of Routes 10-202 and 20). 

The Building Committee planned “A school house 30 feet long, 18 feet wide, with 10 foot posts, with a chimney at one end and a stove with pipe at the other, the house to be painted, the whole expense estimated at 400 dollars.”

It was also voted to sell the old school at auction for the benefit of the district, “reserving the hewn underpinning and the use of the house until the 1st day of April next (1822).” The school house was sold to Gift W. Adams for $41.

Building new schools in Granby was never easy. Some people said the previous meeting was illegal, so they had to reconvene and do everything all over again in January 1822.

This time they voted a lower tax to pay for it, and named all different people to the building committee and this committee was to choose the site. But the new committee to pitch the stake chose the same location “where there now stands a stake.”

Late in January 1822, the district voted that the building committee could enlarge the school if it didn’t raise taxes, and that a second floor for meetings could be built with funds raised by public subscription. The lower floor would belong to the School District and the upper floor to the “proprietors.”

A stove was purchased in December 1822, and the new school was ready to open. The District passed several resolutions for the new building. First, another “itch committee” (for lice) was appointed and directed to “turn out” affected students and reprimand their parents.

Secondly, they felt $12 a month and board was “fair compensation for a good school teacher.” Third, they again made parents, masters and guardians responsible for damage done by their children. And finally, the District hired Frederick W. Jewett to teach in the new school.

Next month – Part 3  School Curriculum in the early 19th century