After Easton and Weston were divided into two separate towns in 1845, Easton established thirteen separate school districts. Eight were served by schools built within the confines of Easton, four were served by schools in Fairfield and Weston, and one sat in an area that never became populated enough to build a school to serve that district.
Schools were built and maintained by the towns in which they stood. Although several area districts were considered split between adjoining communities there is no clear evidence that the towns shared the expense of running each of those split districts. Some students in the Little Egypt section of Easton attended the nearby Forge district school in Weston, while several Weston students in the southwestern section of that community attended classes at the Aspetuck School at the foot of Well’s Hill Road where it intersects with Redding Road. Other split districts saw some Redding students attending the Rock House district school on the corner of Sport Hill and Rock House Roads, while some Easton children attended class at Fairfield’s Deerfield School at the corner of Burr and North Streets in that town, as well as at the Wilson’s Mill School on Hoyden Hill. Children at the foot of Sport Hill in the Plattsville section, attended the Plattsville school on Jefferson Street along with students from Fairfield, Trumbull, and even Bridgeport where the towns merge near Sacred Heart University today.
In addition to the privately funded Staples Free Academy that still stands as the Congregational Church’s community room at the corner of Center and Westport Roads, Easton build eight other schools during the middle part of the 19th century to educate its children. In addition to the aforementioned Rock House and Aspetuck schoolhouses, the Wilson School sat on the Black Rock Turnpike near the intersection with Silver Hill Road. Later called the Yellow School, the Everett School sat on Everett Road just south of its intersection with Stepney Road. The North Street School was located on northern side of North Street just west of the intersection with Judd Road. The Narrows, also known as the Dugway School, sat in an area that has since been flooded as part of the Easton Reservoir, less than a half mile north of where the current South Park Avenue and Flat Rock Road intersect today. The Center schoolhouse sat almost directly opposite of where the Historical Society of Easton presently maintains the Adams schoolhouse. That same Adams School originally sat on the northeast corner of Adams Road where it intersects Sport Hill Road.
Most people will probably ask why so many schoolhouses to accommodate less than 200 school age children in the entire community. The answer is simple: logistics. Children had to walk to school. Making districts small enough where the majority of students could walk a mile or less to attend class was a prudent way of providing an education to all the children who resided in Easton. In an era when roads saw little maintenance and absolutely no removal of snow during the winter months, most children could make it from their home to class in less than 30 minutes, about the same amount of time many kids spend on a bus today.
Records of exactly how much Easton residents spent on educating their children prior to the mid-1890’s are sparse. The town didn’t begin publishing an annual report until the late 1800’s and the state wasn’t involved in the overseeing of town schools until the very early 1890’s.
One of the first state reports that details the condition of the public education system in Fairfield County was published in 1895 using data collected from 1893 and 1894. It is an eye-opening publication to say the least.
Out of the twenty-three towns in the county, there were a total of 518 teachers employed in public education, only 133 of whom had graduated from a state ‘Normal School’ (a two-year institution operated by the state of Connecticut that specifically provided a program to train students to become teachers), or some other advanced degree facility that would have provided some training for the profession. Of those 133 qualified teachers, 121 of them worked in only two towns – Bridgeport and Stamford. 175 employed teachers in Fairfield County had absolutely no training what-so-ever, including all eight of Easton’s educators. Those teachers had only achieved the same level of education that they were now charged with providing the students they were educating.
In essence, in 1894 there were only two qualifications needed to become a public-school teacher – a pulse and the ability to convince the town selectmen that you could teach their children to read and write. That second qualification came with no universally accepted way of proving you had the skillset needed to accomplish the task. In Easton, there were no skilled supervisors who judged the ability of the teachers there to perform. Once hired, they were on their own to either succeed or fail miserably with their students paying the price of receiving a subpar education.
By law, children were required to attend school between the ages of six and twelve. Upon reaching the age of thirteen, children were allowed to join the workforce. 19th century census reports show many teens were employed in factories. In towns such as Easton that had several shoe factories, as many as half the employees were under the age of eighteen. Families with large numbers of children needed the income that teens could generate in order to survive.
Prior to the 1890’s, children taught in the proverbial one-room schoolhouses that dominated most of New England were not divided into grades. They learned at their own pace and when they either reached the age where they could leave, or they achieved the level of education they and their teacher felt was sufficient, that was it. In 1894 there was only a single student in Easton who was still receiving a public education at the age of sixteen, and only a handful who were still in school past the age of fourteen.
In Easton, the eight schools in operation within the town in 1870 had an average attendance of 152. Twenty years later that figure had dropped to 81, a decrease of 46.7%. Only the town of Sherman fared worse than Easton when it came to attendance.
Schools operated both summer and winter terms with the attendance during both sessions being about the same. Schools in different districts, even within the same town, varied between 150 and 180 days of operation. This meant that of two children who attended class for the six required years in different districts, one might receive the equivalent of an extra year’s worth of teaching by the time he reached the age of twelve. Classes were generally not held during both the spring planting season and the fall harvest as farming families needed all-hands-on-deck during those crucial months of the year.
Teachers were mostly female. They were almost without exception single and most boarded with a family within the district where they taught. If a female teacher were to marry and become pregnant, her job was automatically terminated. It was not at all unusual for a female educator to begin teaching by the age of fifteen.
Of the twenty-three towns in Fairfield County, Easton offered the lowest pay to its educators. In 1894, the town paid $1,919.05, or $239 per year for each of its eight teachers. That amounted to only $22 per month for the ten months that each of them taught. Easton employed one male and seven female teachers that year and every teacher was paid the same amount, a rarity, as in most communities, male teachers out earned their female counterparts by nearly double. Bridgeport educators that year were paid $78 per month for males and $42.50 per month for females.
As a gauge for how little the denizens of Easton were willing to expend on the education of their children, the town spent $2,078 on repairing its roads and bridges, and $1,137 on caring for its poor. The total outlay per student was $27.65 for the entire year.
While the amount of money spent on education might not have correlated directly with the performance of the town’s students, it was probably a factor. The state board of education sent school visitors to each school in all the towns in the county. The visitors not only observed how the teachers performed, they gave a short set of questions to every twelve-year old attending public school in Fairfield County. One of the questions to gauge the students’ propensity with mathematics was: “Henry had 40 cents. His sister had 4/5 as many. How many did his sister have?” Four out of the nine students tested in Easton gave the incorrect answer. The same students faired about the same when answering questions about reading and writing. In all, the visitors determined that less than half of the twelve-year-old students could write clearly and legibly. Certainly not a rousing endorsement of the town’s education system.
Easton’s eight schools had three “libraries”, a library consisting of a few books that students could choose to read. Together, these three libraries consisted of only fifty books. Easton wouldn’t have a public library until 1937 when one was established in the basement of the new town hall. Each school had one textbook each for reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, grammar, and geography. The town budgeted no money for schoolbooks. None of Easton’s public schools was equipped with a globe, a popular instrument that taught children the relative position of countries and continents on the earth. Most had a few roll-up maps and charts.
In 1897, the Dugway school was replaced by the Sport Hill School on Flat Rock Road after the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company built Easton Number Two Dam and expanded the size of the original reservoir in the Narrows. The new schoolhouse was the first publicly owned one in Easton with two floors, each with its own classroom and wood stove for heat. The total cost of the building including land, furniture, and two stoves was $1,009.
With additions added to both the Yellow School and the Aspetuck School, Easton had three schools by the early 1900’s that had two classrooms. When the town took over the old Academy building, it then had four. But even as late as 1910, Easton still had no teachers who had been certified or trained in their profession.
Perhaps the first teacher who graduated from a state normal school was Redding native, Grace Bulkley Banks who attended the Danbury State Normal School between 1913 and 1915. In the fall of 1915, she began teaching at the Wilson School on Black Rock Turnpike. In 1918, she married Easton selectman Wakeman Wheeler who lived on Silver Hill Road. Grace was the daughter of Deputy Sheriff George Sanford Banks of Redding, the same deputy who caught the two burglars who robbed the Mark Twain Estate at Stormfield in September of 1908. Imagine Grace telling her father’s story when some of her students read Tom Sawyer for the first time.
One by one, Easton’s one room schoolhouses closed during the first quarter of the 20th century. By 1931, Easton’s outlying schools had all been consolidated and the entire student body was housed at the new Samuel Staples School on Morehouse Road.
Five of those original schools still stand. Wilson was given to the Historical Society of Easton before they found someone who would save it and move it to a new location. It is now part of a residence on Kachele Street. Sport Hill was sold in the 1930’s and turned into a house on Flat Rock Road. Rock House was sold and moved across the street where it is now part of a larger home. The Yellow School also became part of a larger home on the same property where it was built. The Adams School was first sold to Samuel Senior, and he moved it to his farm on lower Sport Hill Road. A subsequent buyer of that farm offered it to the town, and after the town declined, the Historical Society of Easton was formed in 1968. Its main focus was saving the schoolhouse, and a year later it was moved to its present location on Westport Road and then renovated.
This Saturday, August 13, 2022, the Historical Society of Easton is proud to open the Adams Schoolhouse to the public for the first time since Covid-19 struck. We will be there to discuss the school and early education in Easton. Times are 10 AM until 2 PM. Parking is very limited. Please pull onto the grass in front of the schoolhouse. Please do not park across the street, that is a private residence. If there is no room in front of the Adams Schoolhouse, you may park at the corner of Westport Road, and Center Road in the Congregational Church lot.
We will also have the barn at the Bradley Hubbell site on Black Rock Turnpike open from 10 AM until 2 PM on the 13th. There, antique farming implements will be on display. The BHH barn is currently undergoing additional renovations, so please excuse us if it’s not a pristine example of a 19th century barn. Donations towards its continuing restoration can be made at Donations and Patrons – Historical Society of Easton Connecticut (historicalsocietyofeastonct.org).
Hope to see there!