Then & Now – The Sport Hill Schoolhouse
Presented by the Historical Society of Easton.
After the Parish of North Fairfield was established in 1762, one of the first orders of business was to establish a school system to educate the children. On December 29th of that year, the members of the parish voted to maintain five schools that would remain open for six months each year. Each school would be overseen by a member of the parish school committee and the original districts were laid out in such a manner that they would be in close proximity to the residence of each of the overseeing committee members as well as being within reasonable walking distance for the parish’s school-aged children.
By the time Easton and Weston split in 1845, the newly incorporated town of Easton required a total of thirteen school districts to adequately cover the needs of educating all the town’s children. Several of these districts were split with the adjoining towns of Weston and Fairfield. Each district was serviced by a one-room schoolhouse that had but a single teacher in charge of educating wildly varying numbers of students depending on how many school-aged children each nearby family had residing within the household at any given time. School populations ranged from as little as five or six children to as many as thirty depending on the year. Planning was primarily based on the physical size of the district rather than the number of families residing within it. While certain sections of the town saw an increase in population density over the years, the school districts were never adjusted in area to reflect that growth.
By the mid-nineteenth century, Easton’s schools ran two yearly sessions: winter and summer. More children attended the winter sessions than the ones held during the summer months, but despite regional districts, parents could choose both when and where their children attended. Children weren’t even required to attend the same school each and every day. If it was easier to trudge through the snow to get to a school in an adjoining district, a student was free to do just that. Also, unlike later years, children weren’t technically divided into individual grades. They either remained in school until their teacher deemed their education complete or their parents were sufficiently satisfied they had learned enough to get by in life. Education often ceased between the ages of twelve and fourteen.
Education beyond what was taught in the town’s one-room schoolhouses could be obtained locally by enrollment in the Staples Academy where a greater variety of subjects were offered. The town of Easton wouldn’t begin offering a high-school education to its young residents until well into the beginning of the twentieth century when motorized transportation made it possible to transport students into towns such as Fairfield and Bridgeport where public high schools had already been established. Easton wouldn’t have their own high school until 1959 when Joel Barlow was built as part of a joint effort with Redding.
Early Easton educators needed no certification to teach. They were not even required to complete high-school or attain a university degree. Some teachers began their duties as early as their mid to late teens. Female educators often lived with families that had homes nearest the school in which they taught. Many left the profession when they married. Like many towns, Easton had more female teachers than males, most likely because the pay was so low that the average educator couldn’t have supported a family on what they took home each year.
While each district managed their own school, by the second half of the nineteenth century, the town had adopted a school visiting committee which would go to each school to observe the students’ progress and examine the teaching methods of each educator. The goal was to establish a uniform system of learning throughout the town. It wasn’t until the late 1890’s that the state became involved and established a standardized curriculum, divided the schools into eight separate grades, and began supplying the towns with financial aid and administrative support.
Beginning in 1895, Easton started abandoning some of the old one-room schoolhouses as they combined districts and moved to larger buildings such as the one seen here. A single teacher maintaining eight grades of specific subject matter had become a daunting task. It was no longer a simple matter of teaching the children to read, write, and learn to calculate. As society progressed, so did education. The Aspetuck, Rockhouse, Wilson, Adams, Center, and Judd Road schools were all closed and shuttered, and their students moved into larger quarters. For the first time in the town’s history, wagons and sleighs were commissioned to transport students to school.
The Sport Hill Schoolhouse was built in the late 1890’s. It was the last of the district schools to be built. It replaced the old Dugway, or Narrows School, that had been located at the intersection of Old Oak Road and the Line Road (today’s North Park Avenue). The area surrounding the original schoolhouse for District 3 contained a sawmill, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, and a wagon factory. It became one of the earliest casualties of the growing Bridgeport Hydraulic Company after that entity merged with the Citizen’s Water Company that had built the original dam in the narrows in the late 1880’s. A replacement dam had increased the size of the original reservoir and the BHC was already in the planning stages of building a larger reservoir in the valley around the turn of the century.
The Sport Hill School was located on southern side of Flat Rock Road just a bit west of the Jesse Lee Methodist Church. Destined to become one of Easton’s first consolidated schools, Sport Hill had two teachers rather than just one. It was the only town-built schoolhouse that was designed to have two classrooms rather than just one. It was also the only two-story school built prior to Samuel Staples Elementary. The Sport Hill School joined the Yellow School as the first of the original districts where the student body was divided into grades one through four, and five through eight, and each division taught by separate teachers. When the original Staples Academy closed its doors in 1895, the town took over that building and established its first three-room school. These three remained in operation until 1931 when the original six room Samuel Staples Elementary School on Morehouse Road was completed, and all the town’s students moved under one roof.
The Sport Hill school building still stands at 36 Flat Rock Road where it has been converted into a residence. Like so many of the other early Easton schoolhouses, the one at Sport Hill was sold and repurposed after it was no longer used by the town. Luckily, the Rockhouse school was sold and moved across Sport Hill Road where it was enlarged and made into a residence. The Yellow School on Everett Road just south of the intersection of Stepney Road has also been saved and converted into a home. The Wilson School on Black Rock Turnpike was purchased by the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company and first converted into a summer residence for retired Easton Lake Supervisor, Arthur (Turb) Bush and his wife Gladys before being donated to the Historical Society of Easton which was able to find a buyer who moved the original structure to Kachele Street. It has also became part of a private residence. The old Staples Academy building has been purchased by the Congregational Church, added to in 1962, and is now used as a church hall, conference space, church offices, and a youth center.
The Adams Schoolhouse was first purchased and then moved to his Tarsana Farm by the late Samuel Senior. In 1968, it was donated to the Historical Society of Easton and then moved to its present location on Westport Road. It has since been fully restored as an example of the early one-room schoolhouses that dotted the landscape throughout rural New England. The granite stepping stone that leads into the building was saved and moved from the old Judd Road schoolhouse.
Remarkably, only the Aspetuck, Judd Road, and Center schools that were once located within the boundaries of Easton have fallen victims to the weather and time and have disappeared completely.
Easton continues to be a community that appreciates its history and a place where historic structures are often rescued and restored. Here’s hoping that some things never change!