She’s a Brick… (School)House!
Coventry (Google Maps Location)
May 20, 2007
“Baby, I’m going to a museum in Coventry. Be home in a couple hours – I’ll be seein’ ya!” I would venture to guess that 99.9% of the time when someone says that to their spouse, they are on their way to the Nathan Hale homestead – one of Connecticut’s best-known museums honoring one of Connecticut’s best-known native sons. However, the CTMQ household prides itself on being that other .1%.
I had a free Sunday afternoon, the weather was clearing, and I felt the itch. I needed a reason not to get in the car and go! (The thought just occurred to me that most wives deal with husbands leaving to go fish or to play golf on warm and sunny Sunday afternoons. Hoang? Her husband leaves her to check out a rarely visited musty old one room school house 40 minutes away. Until death do us part!)
Having driven the route to Coventry many times to and from college, I was familiar with the area – or so I thought. Once I turned off of Route 44 I was transported to rural Connecticut, complete with manure wafting through the air. A few twists and turns and before I could say, “Wait. What the heck am I doing?” I was parking in the shade of a huge oak tree in front of a tiny little brick building. It actually looked more like a municipal pump house or something equally as mundane.
I gathered up my tools (pen, paper, camera) and ventured inside. “Hello and welcome,” said Coventry historian Ginney Dilk, who was sitting alone filling out some paperwork. It’s always at this point when I stumble on my words. I feel as though I need to explain why I am visiting, taking notes and taking pictures – but somehow make it sound cool and normal. It’s impossible, I know, but I try.
I took a (very uncomfortable) seat at one of the 100-year-old desks and listened to Ginney’s spiel. This little school was operational all the way up to the mid 1950’s! “Really?” I asked. Wow, Coventry sure is rural. Yes, three families sent their kids here in the early to mid 50’s and in fact, there are reunions every so often of all the living teachers and students who attended the Brick Schoolhouse, which really surprised me. I associate one room school houses with wagon trains and Donner parties, not a town within 20 miles of downtown Hartford, CT.
Most everything at the museum is original, but I never did get a firm answer on whether or not the whole structure was. There had been many modifications since it was built in 1825, so it was hard for Ginney to confirm. But we do know that the foundation and steps into it surely were from 1825. I made sure to touch them. With my lips. Twice.
Prior to 1825, a 12 foot by 14 foot wooden school had stood in the same spot since the mid 18th-century. It burned down at some point, which paved the way for the brick structure we can enjoy today. Of course after it was no longer used as a school, it fell into disrepair until some lady bought it from the town for a dollar, solicited donations, and restored it to a museum setting.
After hearing all this great stuff from Ms. Dilk, I walked around the room… old desks, old photos, old Dick and Jane books. Oooh, a real slate chalkboard! At this point, a father came in with his three kids. Wait a minute… What? I wouldn’t be alone? This development threw me for a loop, especially as I hadn’t taken my pictures yet. I stepped outside to gather myself and checked out the grounds. Hm. It’s brick and it’s one room and hey, where did they go to the bathroom? The woods?
Nope, it turns out there was a little outhouse here on the property that was destroyed by a falling tree a few years ago. The Coventry Historical Society is trying to raise money to rebuild it… Cripes, what’s that cost? Fifty bucks? If someone representing them reads this and contacts me, I’ll help them out. At the least I’ll give them more money than Clarissa Goodwin was paid to teach here back in the 1820’s… One dollar a week. And while I’m at it, perhaps I’ll also step up and help the Society out with verb tense grammar lessons since they need it, as evidenced on the sign in the picture above.
Sheesh. That sign was out in the vestibule area where I also found a little collection of children’s activities – coloring sheets and old timey lesson plans and such. But the coolest thing was a card stock little school house cut-out form, which I just had to have. I dipped back into the room and wrapped up my conversation with Ms. Dilk. We talked about how the kids had to walk all the way from the street corner from the bus. Um, that’s great, but I can assure you that I walked further every single day of my schooling aside from Pre-School and 4th through 6 grades.
We talked a little bit about local old cemeteries but I tuned that out; heck, when you have a list of 700 museums to get to, adding cemeteries to my “to-do” list just isn’t happening. She mentioned her own pet project of documenting and then attempting to restore old one room school houses around the area – even if all that remained was a crumbled foundation. I dutifully nodded and expressed my appreciation for her passion.
I then took 10 more random and arguably boring pictures of the room, bid Ginney adieu and bon chance, and got in my car to drive across town to another museum, the Strong-Porter Museum.