The First School District in Granby Center Part 4 – The 1823 First District School

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This house, now at 281 Salmon Brook Street, was built in 1823 as the Granby Center School and was moved from the northwest corner of Rtes. 20 and 10-202 when a new school was built in 1859.

The parsimonious building committee for the new school may have skimped on quality, because only two years after opening in 1823, the school needed repairs. If enough money could be raised, the lower room would also be plastered. Aralzia Phelps was hired to do the plastering job for $7.25.

Dissension, suspicion and threats of a lawsuit against tax collector James H. Smith over the cost of the new school continued through 1826. Evidently most of the problem was in deciding how much the lower story cost, which the School District would pay; and how much the upper story cost, which was to be paid for by private funding. After much discussion and many adjourned meetings, it was decided that the upper story cost $132.65.

In 1826, the frustrated school committee temporarily gave up on the wood tuition and bought eight cords of “good wood” from Alonzo Phelps for $1.75 per cord. That year a tax was levied on each pupil proportional to the number of days he or she attended school. Evidently Thomas Holcomb and Judah Hayes did not pay, so the teacher was requested not to teach their children. The committee later reverted to either wood or cash tuition.

The reliance on public money to support the schools was obvious in the 1830 vote to “hire a teacher to teach our school as long as our publick Money lasts.”

However, the pattern of hiring a man to teach winter school and a woman to teach summer school, was changing. The schools could be kept open longer by hiring women, since women teachers were paid less. Men were getting $14 a month, while women were paid $1.25 a week plus board.

There was a surplus in the federal government in 1836 and the money was returned to the states to be divided among the towns. The money was invested and half the income used for education. This was called the Town Deposit Fund. Connecticut received $760,000.

Granby lent out its share to local people and collected the interest. The share given for education was used to repair the school, build a woodshed and paint both buildings.

School conditions in Connecticut were investigated in 1838, and it was found that the citizens lacked interest, the school visitors were neglectful and the teachers were inefficient. The report also found that 6,000 school aged children were not in school. As a result, the innovative educator Henry Barnard was named the first state superintendent of schools, and he instituted a series of reforms.

Perhaps, not coincidentally, Granby made some cosmetic improvements the following year. They raised $35 to buy a school bell and planted $12 worth of “Suitable Shade trees” around the school.

In 1840, the District voted “to repair the School room by removing the desks and building new (desks) on the Barnard Plan, viz: Single desks with end to the wall on the east and west sides of the room and double desks on the South side.” Henry Gillette won the bid to build eight double and 16 single desks for $20, to be completed in 24 days.

The district also voted that “whenever any desk or bench is cut or damaged, the Parent, Master or Guardian of the scholar doing it shall be compelled to furnish a new one.”

There were more arguments the following year about the desk arrangement. A new committee came up with an arrangement that used all of the old desks and only required six new ones. The desks along the side walls would be faced to the center and the rest of the seats were moved to the middle of the room, facing the teacher.

This was followed by several weeks of quickly adjourned meetings (which usually indicated extreme differences of opinion) concerning payment of the $12 bill for the shade trees. Eventually, it was paid.

The First District in Granby instituted a major change in the fall of 1842. It was decided to divide the school into two departments, upper and lower. This was the first step towards graded classes. A man would teach the children over age 11 in the upper department, and a woman would be hired for the younger children in the lower department. The “scholars in the upper department” had to furnish their own seats.

It is not clear whether the first floor room was partitioned or if the second floor was used for the older children. The divided school changed from year to year depending on the money available to pay one or two teachers.

The amount of public money received was based on the number of students in the district. For example, in 1856, there were 403 students in Granby’s 12 school districts. The total sum of public money given to Granby amounted to $248.65—less than 62 cents per pupil. That year there were 71 students in the First District School and their share was $43.81. Even considering the low teacher’s salary at the time, that amount was barely sufficient. The income from the Town Deposit Fund completed the school budget.

By 1854, the district was considering finding a permanent place for the teacher to board, rather than constantly moving from family to family. They also had to repair the old school or build a new one.

Four years later, the same discussions were still going on.

However, the condition of the school was evidently so bad, that the School Visitors were recommending that the public money be withheld from the town unless something was done.

There was a unanimous vote in 1859 to build a new school on the same site as the old one. The old school was sold to the highest bidder for $63. The school stove, curtains, table, chair and desks were also sold at auction. The old “Academy” was moved a short distance to the north and is now the house at 281 Salmon Brook Street.

Next–Part 5 The 1859 First District School