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History of Norwich Vermont Education
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From the town records it appears that the first attempt to divide the town into school districts, was at a town meeting held November 19, 1782, when John Slafter, Elijah Brownson, Ithamar Bartlett, Joseph Loveland, Paul Bingham, Joseph Hatch, Daniel Baldwin, Abel Wilder and Samuel Brown, Jr., were made a committee for that purpose. Soon thereafter the committee reported that they “could effect nothing on the business of their appointment,” and were discharged. No further move in town meeting towards districting the town for school purposes appears to have been made until March 30, 1785, when, on petition of persons residing in the southeastern part of the town, the territory, to be described, was embraced in a district designated as the “First School District: Beginning at the southeast bound of Norwich; thence running on the line between Hartford and Norwich, two miles; thence northerly so wide as to include Benjamin Hatch and Benjamin Burton and Mr. John Knight; thence easterly so as to take into s’d district Nathaniel Brown, Esq., Esquire Elisha Partridge and the Rev. Lyman Potter; thence due east to Connecticut River.”
At a town meeting held March 14, 1791, districts Nos. 1 to 12, both inclusive, were established; March 13, 1798, district No. 13 was organized; No. 14 (from the consolidation of districts 9 and 10) in 1818; No. 15 (Bicknell), in 1827; No. 16, March, 1828; No. 17, June, 1828; No. 19, March, 1834; No. 20, Oct. 20, 1834; No. 18 (Podunk), 1841.
At a town meeting held in May, 1834, it was “voted to set off Ira Baxter, Isaac Partridge, Cyrus Partridge, and Calvin P. Newton‘s Cushman farm, and the Widow Bissell and the Olcott house she lives in, to District No. 4.”
In March, 1836, No. 19 District (established in March, 1834) having, it is supposed, become extinct, another district of like designation was established on the territory now called No. 5 (Upper River). In September following the district was renumbered 21.
At the annual meeting held in March, 1824, the town “voted to choose a committee to visit the several schools in Norwich the year ensuing, and to report according to their improvement, and to distribute such donations as they may receive from individuals, to the schools which, in their opinion, have made the best progress in learning during the term, and make return to the next March meeting.” The following named persons constituted this committee: “Rev. Samuel Goddard, John Brown, Elijah Boardman, Rev. Jas. W. Woodward, Sewall Gleason, Asa Lord, Horace Hatch, Col. Alba Stimson, John Wright, Esq.”
At the March meeting in 1825, it was “voted to appropriate $32.00 to the several districts in Norwich, to be divided as follows: $2.00 to each district, to be divided by the teachers, with the advice of the committee, to those scholars in each school who, in their opinion, have made the best progress, and the remaining $4.00 to the school or schools that in the opinion of the committee have made the best progress in learning during the winter.”
“Voted, further, that the Committee appointed to visit the several School districts, be requested to examine the teachers in each School district, and if they consider that they are not qualified to keep school, to make report to the Committee of that district or districts, and if such teachers shall not then be dismissed and others procured who are qualified, such district shall receive no share of the money so appropriated.”1
It was also “Voted that the Treasurer be directed to pay Rev. Samuel Goddard $14, for the services he performed in visiting the several school districts in Norwich the past winter.”
We have no knowledge of Prudential Committees for Schools earlier than 1828, in which year Rev. Sam’l Goddard, Alba Stimson, John Wright, Dr. Horace Hatch, and Eleazer J. Boardman served in that capacity. The committees for later years were: 1829, Rev. Sam’l Goddard, Rev. J. W. Woodward, Col. Alba Stimson. A. Loveland, Cyril Pennock: 1830, Rev. S. Goddard, Rev. J. W. Woodward. Alba Stimson. Dr. Ira Davis, Dr. Horace Hatch; 1831, Rev. Samuel Goddard, Ira Davis, Rev. J. H. Woodward, Paul W. Brigham, Col. Alba Stimson; 1832 and 1833, Thos. Hall, Alba Stimson, Ira Davis. From 1846 to 1857, the office of School Superintendent (under a new law) was filled by Dr. Shubael Converse, who served four years; Col. Alba Stimson, who served three years; Dr. Ira Davis, whose term was two years; and M. M. Davis, E. B. Emerson, and Prof. J. D. Butler, each of whom served one year.
The number of scholars in the several school districts in Norwich, as returned by the District Clerks in March, 1826, was 635, of which number 136 were in District No. 1. In 1779, as per returns made that year, the number was 552. In 1886, fifteen districts supported schools, with 220 scholars in attendance.
Mr. Chas. E. Ensworth says that he has the authority of the late Mr. Roswell Wright for stating that the first district school building in town stood on or near the site of the present “vestry”; that Mr. Wright, when a boy, attended school there, walking from his father’s home on what is now known as “Dutton Hill,” with Adriance Hatch (grandfather of the late Abel P. Hatch) whose home was further west, in a house occupied later by Neal, and still later by Pettes until it was destroyed by fire several years since.
As the following interesting petition is in close touch with the present subject, we will give it a place in this article:
“Whereas a number of the inhabitants of the town of Norwich Living on the road from James Johnson’s to Humphrey Balls and some elsewhere have been great sufferers for want of a School that would Commode us those schools that have been kept here to fore the nearest has been so far of that we have had little or no profit thereby. We therefore whose names are hereunto set beg leave to inform the good people of this town that we cannot send our children to the School house by Lieut. John Slafters without great trouble because of the length of way and also by reason of the roads not being much traveled we therefore think it very discommojeus and therefore burdensome for us to send or belong to the School at the S’d Slafters we therefore wish the Gentlemen Committee that was appointed by this town would consider our burden and remember that we want freedom and privileges with our Bretheren we think the Committee Men of
Reason and Wisdom and therefore we hope for a hearing in this matter.”
[This part of the petition is missing; the indications are that it was cut off with a sharp instrument. Probably the date and names of other petitioners were on the detached piece.]
The brick school-building at the lower end of Norwich village was built by the late Harvey Burton, Esq., in 1845, and was used for school purposes until 1888, when the two village districts were consolidated, the consolidated district having its school in the north one of the former University buildings.
By an Act of the Legislature, passed in 1892, the old district organization for caring for schools was abolished, and the present town system put in force.
The Windsor County Grammar School was granted a charter by the legislature of the State, June 17, 1785, while in session in Norwich. How soon it went into operation we are unable to say; probably very soon, although the action of the legislature in October, 1788, legalizing a lottery for the purpose of raising money to complete the school building, might indicate a later date. One Ashur Hatch was its first and only teacher until the school was removed to Royalton, Vt., in 1807, and he was also the first school teacher in town of whom we have any record. Mr. Hatch was a son of John Hatch, Jr. He graduated at Dartmouth College in 1779, married Lucy Story in 1789, removed to Brookfield, Vt., in 1791, and died there in 1826, aged seventy-three years.
Among the scholars who attended the school were John Bush, Roswell Olcott, Thomas Brigham, Stephen Burton and Mills Qlcott, afterwards men of note in town. The school building stood where the Congregational Church in Norwich village now stands, and was used for school purposes until 1838, when it was moved away and converted into a dwelling house. It is now the home of Lucius Hibbard, at the north end of the village. Previous to its removal the building had been used by both districts on the “Plain” for school purposes, the upper district using the north room and the lower, or south district, the south room. In time friction arose between the two districts, resulting in the north district engaging “Uncle” Chauncey Hunt to haul the structure away to their end of the village, which service he performed, though not to his pecuniary advantage, because of subsequent litigation growing out of that act. After the removal of the building, the school in the south district was kept in the north university building; in a building that stood in the forks of the highway near the railroad bridge, south of the depot, and at other places, until the erection of the brick schoolhouse in that district in 1845, the north, or upper, district using a building erected for that purpose.
The Norwich Classical and English Boarding School was incorporated by the legislature of Vermont November 8, 1867, and went into operation the following year. The names of the corporators were: William Sewall, Henry Blood, Henry Hutchinson, John Dutton, Sylvester Morris, William E. Lewis, Joseph L. Loveland, James Burnham, Samuel Goddard, Franklin L. Olds, and their associates and successors. The school occupied the building (North Barracks) formerly belonging to Norwich University, which had transferred to it all its right and title to the same previous to its removal to Northfield in 1866. This building was repaired and refurnished at an expense (by subscription among the townspeople, chiefly) of over $3,000.
The school was opened in December, 1867, with quite encouraging prospects; but with a frequent change of teachers the patronage steadily declined for about ten years, becoming extinct in 1877, thus sharing the fate of most of the un-endowed high schools and academies throughout the State. During its brief existence it served a useful purpose. Several young men were fitted for college, and others of both sexes prepared themselves for teaching and for active life. The principals were: W. H. Gilbert, 1868; C. P. Chase, 1869; C. E. Putney, 1870-73; E. P. Sanborn, 1874; W. W. Morrill, 1875; W. H. Ray, 1876; D. S. Brigham, 1877.
This is the earliest instance of school supervision known to the writer in Vermont, as instituted by town authority. ↩
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