I didn’t have to use my RV for this journey or drive hundreds of miles. For this one, I just hopped in my car and drove a few minutes down the road to an old little white building. But it was a journey back in time. This post is about some local history. And since it was a very familiar place, I decided to write about it to preserve the memory.
When I was into long distance bike riding, my daily 15 mile training ride took me past this little white building. I knew it was an old one room school-house, but I never gave it a second thought as I pedaled by. I never knew anything about the building. For the past 30 years, it had no sign, no occupants, and was never open. Just an aging small white building, with peeling paint, on a lonely country road about 3 miles from my house.
But then I read in the local paper that this little white school-house was recently restored and just got placed on the US National Register of Historic Places. The local town was celebrating this accomplishment with an open house and ceremony. Well now. Being somewhat of a neighbor and a history nut, that sparked my interest to go and learn more about this little old building.
One Room School Houses
In rural New England, old one room school houses still dot some of the back roads. They were used throughout rural parts of the US in the 1800’s. Back then, kids didn’t get bused to big central or regional schools. When the only means of transportation was walking or maybe a horse, in the rural areas the schools came to the people.
These little one room buildings were built near where the people lived. All the kids regardless of age and grade were taught together in a single room of a small building by one teacher. Student populations ranged from 5 to 20 students. Usually, just the elementary grades were taught.
In the little rural town of Petersham, MA, where the population never has been much more than 1,000 people, there where 13 of these little one room school houses. In the town next door, where I live, there were 17 of these schools during the 1800’s.
District No. 4 School
The little white building that I so often biked by was the school in District No. 4 of Petersham, Mass. It was called the Ledgeville School because of the large granite outcroppings on the property. There were a total of 13 Districts beginning in the 1840’s. The original District No. 4 School House was first built in 1803, just about 50 years after the town was incorporated. The original building was replaced in 1846 with the one that is currently on site. Back then, it cost the town $437 to build the school.
This little building was used as a school from 1846 until 1943. That’s an incredible time frame. But if you look at the area within a few miles around the school, it’s not much different now than it was back in the 1800’s. It’s still mostly farm land and open fields. There are still some residents of Petersham who went to the Ledgeville School as a child.
After the school closed, it was used as a community center and was later purchased by some former students. It is currently owned and managed by the non-profit Ledgeville Association. Inside, there are a collection of school desks, old pictures, and artifacts.
Preserving the Past
I live in a very rural area of central Massachusetts. There are 4 of these one room school houses still standing within a 5 mile radius of my home. Petersham has two of the original one room school-house still standing. With a grant of $75,000 from the State of Massachusetts, restorations projects were recently completed on both buildings. In my town, the No. 4 School House was restored last year at a cost of $80,000.
I never attended a one room school. I went to large central schools in medium-sized towns in Maine. But in prior generations, lots of folks in rural American got their initial schooling in these one room schools.
These buildings are now a part of our history. I’m glad that the efforts were made to preserve them.
I’m glad that I was able to visit the District No. 4 School. It was a nice short trip back in time where I got to learn something about the little white building that I rode by so often.
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