Went to School and Learned Something
Barkhamsted (Google Maps location)
I don’t know how many one-room schoolhouse living museums I’ve been to in Connecticut and I don’t feel like looking. I’d guess around a dozen with probably just as many left to visit.
It can’t come as a surprise to you that they are all pretty much the same. The same set up, the same wood burning stove, the same list of teachers’ salaries from back in the day, and the same stories. After all, they all served exactly the same purpose during the same time period in the same state and were all phased out for the same reasons.
And that’s fine. I’m not complaining, as this is a journey I’ve undertaken under my own volition.
Must. Visit. Every. Museum. In. Connecticut.
Every once in a while, however, a docent is effusive, informative, and interesting enough to make my visit far more interesting than the norm. Such was the case here in Barkhamsted.
I’ve written many times of my love for the town. Everything here is pretty yet rugged; quaint yet hard-earned. Every time I drive up on either side of the Farmington River I’m transported to a place much, much further away than Barkhamsted.
And so, after a visit to the town’s historical society’s main attraction at Squire’s Tavern and a quick yet punishing hike up one of the steepest trails in Connecticut, I made the circuitous drive to the last remaining one-room schoolhouse in town. A couple was just leaving as I arrived which was a rarity. I was waved in by an effusive man and welcomed as a friend.
The 1821 schoolhouse of Barkhamsted‘s Center school district was two stories tall when it was built. Due to population decline and the building being in need of repair, it was converted to a one-story building by removing the first floor in 1880. It ceased being used as a school in the 1930s. In 1980, the schoolhouse was moved to Center Hill Road from its original location, near what is now the Barkhamsted Reservoir, by the Barkhamsted Historical Society.
Say what now? This “one-room schoolhouse” was a two-story one-room schoolhouse? I didn’t know such things existed.
The building sat on the land leased cheaply from the MDC for a few decades until the historical society cleaned it up and made it into the museum it is today. That was spearheaded by one Mr. Michael Day who I believe was my new best Barkhamsted friend for half an hour.
(If I have the wrong guy, my apologies.)
Upon entry into the vestibule, I was shown the Homer Winslow painting “Country School.” The funny thing about this is that it was mentioned as though it was authentic. Like, of course it’s not and of course anyone who knows even the slightest bit about American painters knows it’s not, but it sure sounded like, “Oh, this here’s a painting by Winslow Homer.”
Anyway… it’s a one-room schoolhouse. Desks, chairs, slate boards, old books, old maps, old class pictures that look like horror movie stills…
My guide was cool. Clearly very proud of the Society’s work on the building and the contents they’ve been able to gather for it, he was quick with a story related to anything I appeared interested in.
In a back room there were old typewriters and something I’d never seen before: blackboard paint. I was told a whole story about how blackboards became a thing and how blackboard paint was used – you can still buy and use it today, by the way – but I forget all of that. I just thought the can with the paint dripping down the sides with that old font was just so preciously Rockwellian.
Perhaps owing to the fact I showed up covered in sweat, my guide had an idea I’d been hiking before my visit. (Not a tough guess, as I’d guess every sweaty non-resident in Barkhamsted is hiking.) I had been, of course, which led to some secret intel.
I was told about a very short hike, just down the road, that doesn’t appear in any guidebooks. It takes visitors across a short ridge and out to a beautiful overlook. “The best view in town,” I was promised.
Well, now the Beach Rock Vista Trail does appear on at least one website. The very best website.
So yeah, I went to school and learned something. Imagine that.