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Education in Haddam – Part V: Three Schools

Written by Robert Herrmann-Keeling.

I am extremely grateful to Elizabeth Malloy, Executive Director of the Haddam Historical Society, for her help in finding information. I urge you to become a member. There are dinners, tours of Haddam homes, talks on Haddam History, the Thankful Arnold House, and much more.

The previous articles in the series can be found here: One, Two, Three, Four.

The earliest record of education in Haddam was in 1705, when a school committee was chosen. By 1708, it was decided to hire a schoolmaster to teach ten months out of the year. Boys between the ages of five and twelve, and girls between five and seven were to be enrolled. Inhabitants of the town were required to pay the schoolmaster, whether their children attended or not. Early lessons were held in private homes before a schoolhouse could be built, which was done (near the cemetery) in 1728. In 1732 the town voted that lessons would be taught at the schoolhouse for 3 to 5 months of the year, and for the remaining part of the year the teacher would travel to outlying districts. Lacking a schoolmaster, men taught classes in the winter and women taught in the summer. By 1814 thirteen school districts had been established in the town. Each district erected a one-room schoolhouse to serve area students, a total of 647 in 1814. Five of them were still used as schools in 1927. There were also six classes held at the Higganum Union School, and two at the Haddam Center School. Eleven are in use today, seven as private homes. The districts, students, and “fate” of the buildings are below:

Haddam                               94              Now the Tony Bondi Senior Center.

Higganum: Union              83              Gone

Higganum: Green              83              Privately owned, by Veterans Museum.

Ponset                                  40              Moved; part of St. James Church parish hall.

Shailorville                          75               Now a private home.

Candlewood Hill                35               Now a private home.

Tylerville                             67                Now a private home

Turkey Hill                         38                Now a private home

Walkley Hill                       19                 Gone

Beaver Meadow                26                 Fate not known at this time.

Little City                           30                 Now a private home.

Burr                                    42                  Now a private home.

Brainerd                            27                  Now a private home.

Haddam Neck                  72                  Now Haddam Neck UCC education building.

The map of Haddam’s school districts doesn’t come out too well, due to reducing the large map to one small enough to fit here. I hope you can make out the districts, and the words designating each one, such as “Haddam Dist.”

Map courtesy of the Haddam Historical Society

Map courtesy of the Haddam Historical Society

Several of the schools must have been pretty crowded. Haddam had 94 students. Ms. Malloy believes the building may have had as many as eight classrooms. And how did only one teacher manage 94 pupils from ages 4 to 20 or so, and in eight different rooms on two floors? We know some older students helped the younger ones, and parents volunteered to help teach as well. But as we shall see, reports of official “School Visitors” point out problems attributable to having too many students for just one teacher.

The “Board of School Visitors” was organized, perhaps as early as 1796, as a way for certain members of each town to evaluate school achievements, teacher effectiveness, student advancement, building upkeep, etc., as a way to help local communities make educational decisions. Members were drawn from the community itself, and submitted reports each year of their visits. They were specific in their reporting and recommendations, naming names of teachers and reporting school problems, including discipline of students.  One introduction says, “In presenting this [report] it is our design to show the progress of each school, style of government of each teacher, and the wants and neglects of each district.”

Brief statements from two reports for Haddam schools (1877, 1880) are included in these articles about each school.

And why were there so many districts and schools? That’s easy: there weren’t many cars or school buses in 1814! The schools had to be near enough for students to be able to walk to them. (The state would say that each school building in a district had to be within five walking miles of the farthest student.) Of course some kids got rides to and from school by parents in a horse and buggy. Even so, it was a while before roads were more than dirt with ruts; sidewalks and gravel or paved roads had to wait a while.

My cousins in North Dakota had to walk two miles to get to their one-room schoolhouse. One Fall when I was ten I visited them, and we walked to their schoolhouse over fields of recently-harvested wheat stubble. My father (and his six brothers and two sisters) had attended that school several decades before, but walking from another direction over hills and through forest. Both farms were on the Canadian border, where temperatures can get to be 20 to 30 degrees below zero for several weeks in January and February. That’s pretty cold for little kids to be walking to school, often through deep snow up to their knees.

In our next article, we will begin our look at individual schools, several at a time. If you have information about the schools, please let us know so we can share it. Email me at [email protected], with “Education” in the subject line.

In our next article we will briefly discuss the Higganum, Haddam, and Ponset school districts, with a photo of the schoolhouse and a small map showing the district.

One Response to Education in Haddam – Part V: Three Schools

  1. Susann Costa

    February 6, 2015 at 11:01 am

    This is a great series of articles.Thank you!
    Also,as the author mentioned, the Haddam Historical Society is a wonderful organization..many educational and fun, social programs happening all the time..come and check out our Museum store filled with locally made items too..
    Our Annual CT Spring Antiques Show at the Hartford Armory on Capitol Avenue is March 21 and offers high quality antiques , art,,rugs etc with a lovely lunch and beverage service offered .Free parking too…more info at