Going to School

As I am sure I've mentioned here before, the time that I've spent living in this house, and in researching family history, often finds me living in the mid-late 1800's in my head. While things are changing around us, there remain cues to help accentuate that. In addition to the homes and barns that continue to stand, if one looks closely one can still find the remnants of the old one-room schoolhouses.

Shaw Road Schoolhouse Schoolhouse on Shaw Road, West of West Brooklyn

These are harder to find than the old homes and barns, and one suspects this is largely because their period of use ended longer ago. Many, though not all, of the old homes (like ours) continue to serve as residences, modernized to the degree felt necessary by the occupants. And while many of the old barns are now tumbling down, this is a more recent phenomenon, brought on, one suspects, by more recent changes in the types of agriculture and volume of machinery used in modern farming. When I was young there were still small livestock operations in the area - one of them literally next door to the Homestead - but these are rare now, many pastures plowed to make more cropland. And when I was young much of the farm machinery would fit into an old barn, though this was already changing then. Morton "Machine" sheds, offering large open spaces for massive equipment had already begun to pop up, often built right next to the aging barns.

Unless someone found a new or different use for an old schoolhouse - as a shed, perhaps or, in the case of the old schoolhouse down the road from us, as a home - it seems they were more likely to be abandoned earlier.

This makes me sad People lived here when I was little, albeit without all of the vehicles in the yard

Shaws Schoolhouse 3/4 View Shaws Schoolhouse from the front These two shots are from the schoolhouse at Shaws, near the intersection with Inlet Road

These relics are not only rare, but are increasingly so. When I was little - perhaps 10 or 11 years of age - I remember coming across an old schoolhouse in a tumble-down state about three miles away from our home then, and about four from our current house. This was one of a series of ever-widening bicycle rides, and when I came across the building I did not know what it was at first. Until, with all the wisdom of a pre-adolescent, I went inside.

The floor had fallen through in many places, the earth beneath clearly visible. The walls were still standing, if at something less than right angles, but none of the windows had an unbroken pane of glass in them. All of this was, of course, fascinating to the younger me, but I knew what type of building I was in when I saw the large, broken chalkboard on the back wall.

It was probably in this discovery that I first really realized that the things around us in the countryside were old, and that people really had come before us, lived here in ways that weren't the same as we did now. I'd been aware that the buildings around me were older than I was, to be certain, but everything was older than I was. Living in homes with limestone or brick basements and what we'd now think of as antique furniture (but was then simply a remnant of previous inhabitants) was simply par for the course. It wasn't perhaps until this moment that I had a sense of the history of the place, a sense that history itself was something that actually happened around us rather than in a book to other people and in other places.

I went back to that old schoolhouse multiple times, taking a friend with me at least once. It was less of a play location - the missing sections of floor making that challenging - than a spot for mediation and reflection. When we moved back to the Homestead the location was one of the first destinations for my biking forays.

The building is gone now. It's difficult to sort out where in the landscape it ever was, so complete is its erasure. This is not surprising - in addition to being an attractive nuisance, it's state of disrepair would have made it otherwise useless, and it was occupying space that could have been otherwise cultivated. What is more surprising, I suppose, is that the other examples here still remain.

I suppose I should qualify - I have no records, no historical documentation to support my contention that these are old schoolhouses. For the building down the road, I have oral history. For the others, it's a architectural recognition. I could be mistaken, but the buildings certainly look the part.