EIGHT YEARS IN A ONE ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE
April 6, 1996
By Harry J. Lounsbury
b.January 10, 1923
d. August 23, 2013
Up the street from where we lived was a one room schoolhouse where I spent eight years receiving my elementary education .
This school house was called Columbia Hill School District II (or 12?). This was the second building on this small parcel of land, approximately 60′ x 130.’ The building size was 20′ x 30,’ with a small combination wood and coal shed, and two outhouses in the rear of the school–one for girls and one for boys. In front of the building was one entrance, with no exit in the rear in case of fire. There was a small hall at the entrance, 6′ x 20,’ where we hung our clothes and stored our boots. In bad weather , this was used for recess time twice a day. In nice weather we enjoyed our activities in a large hay field adjoining the school property. There the teacher was always in command with help of the older kids. It was like one large family, each one taking care of the other. When you walked through the hall there was another door that lead into the classroom. On the left was a shelf with a pail and dipper where we had our water to drink. Later on this was replaced with a large earthen jug with a spigot with paper cups. Us kids thought this was big time stuff.
Up front was the teacher’s big oak desk loaded with books of all sorts, one large brass bell, a large globe of the world and one huge ruler used for punishment . She also had a large oak chair, which many times we would place thumb tacks on before she sat down. Also once in a while , the desk would have a small snake in one of the drawers. Usually the teacher took all this in stride. In front of her desk was a large recitation bench about eight feet long. This is where each class came up and had their lesson. In early years we did not have electricity. But I can remember when they installed six small fixtures in the ceiling. In the middle of the room was a large wood and coal stove, usually wood during the day and coal at night . The older boys and teacher kept the fires going . The stove pipe ran up the back of the stove and hung on wires all the way to the front of the school where there was a half chimney. Talk about a fire hazard! Usually the younger kids sat up front and the older ones to the back. Those who sat near the stove roasted to death and those in the back froze. There were three windows on each side with blackboards in between. The walls and the ceiling were wainscotting, with siding on the outside and no insulation. You can imagine in the winter how that wind blew through . There was a foundation under the building with a single floor. This floor was yellow pine and oiled twice a year. One black board had a large crack in it, and it was said that years before, a teacher had smashed an older kid’s head against it. This boy was one of the Drucker boys, which later on was part of “murder incorporated.”
In the rear of the school was a small library which hung from the wall. these books were very old with nothing new added. Every desk seated two people, always girls and boys separated.
The desks were sloped with grooves to hold pencils , crayons and the old bladder type fountain pen , ink bottle with hole to hold same. Beneath the top was a shelf to hold books and lunches . The frame was ornamental iron with a folding seat. The walls and ceilings were seldom painted, leaving the school not too attractive .
During my eight years at the school there were three teachers. My first was Ethel Ryan , who I remember so well for her love and concern for us little kids. Every morning we all received our hugs and she always carried such a great smile. She taught for many many years after in different schools and every student she taught had so much praise for her.
Next was Donald Moore , who didn’t seem to be much older than some of the big boys. Mr. Moore was a very stern teacher, not very compassionate. I remember doing something wrong and Mr. Moore asked me to come up to his desk. When he asked me to hold out my hand, I knew what was coming. Immediately my sister, a few years older, came forward and said, “Don’t you dare hit my brother.” She had fire in her eyes and Mr. Moore backed down. My sister and I talk about this quite often.
Then came Everesta Rourke who saw me through most of my grades. She was very young, real attractive , and of course, the older boys were on their best behavior. She gave her very best and was very patient with the herd. My older sister and brother always protected me, and I was so fortunate to have them, especially in times of trouble . I believe school started at 8:30, always with the clanging of the bell, and lasted until 4:00 p.m., with one hour lunch period and two recess periods , mid -morning and afternoon.
When the weather was nice, we usually ate outside, later playing games of all sorts, main one being baseball for the older kids , and simple games for the smaller kids. I often wondered how one teacher could keep all the activity without losing her mind. The teacher always chose a different student to ring the bell, and that was a great honor . Once back into that room there was absolute quiet.
Classes always started with the first graders and continued up to the eighth. Classes were not too long, approximately 15 to 20 minutes because of time. There was always much movement with the kids changing classes. The main subjects were the 3 R’s. The teacher always made sure that the pupils had things to do while not at the recitation bench. Much was learned by the smaller children at what went on up front. We did receive a good education for that period of time. Looking back it is hard to understand how these teachers accomplished what they did under those conditions. Modern teachers could never handle this type of educating their pupils. They had to have the patience of Job and a very strong desire to teach. Of course us kids had great respect for our teachers and usually fear of what would happen if we acted up. There was no such thing as mouthing off or speaking out of turn. The fear of the teacher and of your parents was what kept each child in line.
I went through the eight grades and believe I was the only one to graduate from the eighth grade and ready myself for the big high school in Hurleyville. I still remember the pep talk Miss Rourke gave me at the last day of school in June. She reminded me that in high school I would be on my own and that I could no longer lean on her shoulder. She wished me luck with tears in her eyes, and I the same.
Other items of interest:
Miss Rourke boarded across the street at the Crosby house . I believe at one time one of the earlier teachers boarded with my family. The other teachers drove their cars to school. Speaking of the Crosby house , this is where two kids went twice a day to bring water in a pail for drinking purposes. This was also a great honor to be picked by the teacher to carry out an the important task. You must remember there was no running water and no place to wash your hands after going to the bathroom . In those days we didn’t think it was necessary to wash or worry about germs.
Twice a year we would put on a play or sing along and all the parents would cone to see our big production . We always had a Christmas party and an exchange of a small gift . Each spring we looked forward to our annual picnic, at which time everyone would bring a special lunch and the teacher would take us to some hill not too far from the school. Each spring we would have an arbor day where we would clean up the school yard and most generally planted a few trees. Today kids would think all this was very childish , but to us it was a big part of our lives and we didn’t need too much to make us happy .
One incident I’ll never forget was one of the girls, a thirteen year old, became pregnant and us kids watched her belly get bigger and bigger each week. This was big juicy stuff for us kids to talk about. Finally the teacher went to my Dad (a trustee) and said “Mr. Lounsbury, you just have to do something about this situation because the kids are really having a great time over this. Finally my Dad went to the parents and told them to keep her home. My Dad once a month wrote out a check for the teacher’s wages and I would take it to school for her. The total sum was ninety dollars and she was so happy to receive that. Us Lounsbury kids always received all the news of the school because of our Dad’s position. After I left the school, my younger sister Joan attended there until the school centralized with another district .
Just when this school district was formed, I do not know. We do have the records from the early 1800’s when there was a Lounsbury as a trustee. We have a group picture taken with Donald Moore and about twenty kids and I was in the early grades. We also have a group picture taken of the old school and my Dad looked to be in the first grade . The school teacher sure looked like a real witch, with a bun in the back of her hair and a long dress. I would say the average attendance was about eighteen or twenty kids.
These teachers from the one room school houses had to be saints, to be able to handle all the classes, keep order and to see that each pupil received their education. Many times she would have to go out to the outhouse and help out one of the little ones in trouble and hope that everyone behaved while she was gone. We knew the price we would pay if anything went wrong. They were all very dedicated people and very happy to have a job, especially during the depression. Most of the kids walked to school when the weather was nice and in bad weather it was horse and wagon or cars. Some kids lived two to three miles away.
I’ll never forget the eight years I spent in a one room school, and how tough we had to be.