COUNTRY SCHOOLERS FOR A DAY
A Lyme, New Hampshire Adventure
by Dale and Joan Prouty
Eighty-nine year old Eunice Beach had often mentioned her days at Lyme Center School in New Hampshire with fond memories. She mentioned to us that Lyme Center was having a schoolhouse program on September 8th, but she didn’t think she would be able to attend. We tried to encourage her otherwise. Revisiting Lyme would be three hour drive for her, and with a recent health issue we knew it was pretty doubtful she would go.
We were welcomed on the lawn of the beautifully restored 1839 Lyme Center school by dedicated Lyme Historians members. While waiting for the day’s program to begin, Sallie Ramsden showed us through the two former first floor classrooms. The Lyme Historians maintain a wonderful museum of Lyme history in the back classroom and have recreated the front classroom.
Then it was upstairs to the 2nd floor. The large open community room faced a stage across the front with doors for entering each side of the stage. The highlight of the upstairs was being able to see an original early 1900’s painted stage curtain. Interestingly, it was a painting of Boston Harbor titled “Off Boston Light,” painted by Musical Bailey of Cavendish, VT, and for some reason had no advertising on it. The Lyme Historians had it restored sometime around 2004. Other area curtains by Bailey have local scenes, so the historians suggested it may have been less expensive to purchase a more generic scene.
Our “school day” began with a presentation on the Lyme schoolhouses by Adair Mulligan who has compiled a booklet “Historic Schoolhouses of Lyme, New Hampshire,” available from the Lyme Historians for $5. Elizabeth Killmarx and Sallie beamed with pride as they watched from the side of the room.
Our next “lessons” were presented by former students Brian Rich, Bob Sanborn, Alfred Balch, & Scarlett Dube as they told of their experiences when they were students at the Lyme Schools.
And then came lunch time! We feasted on rich cornbread, ham, cheese, raspberry jam, ginger molasses cookies and an apple, all presented in tin lunch pails lined with red checkered napkins and prepared by Linda Southworth. Our Dixie cups were filled with cool water dipped from a bucket of ice water. We sat on the side steps in the shade of trees as we remembered such things as playing on stonewalls, in hedgerows, with alleys or marbles, and what we took and exchanged for lunch. Then it was time to embark on the driving tour. We were off with map in hand down old back roads lined by stone walls and trees following the routes traveled by the students of Lyme for well over a century.
For our second program we drove up a long grade on an old country road to a surviving one- room schoolhouse. The 1824 Chesley Schoolhouse had been moved twice, being placed at its present location in 1876. A grandmother, Jane Palmer, purchased the schoolhouse sixteen years ago and keeping it in immaculate condition, she provided a real step back in time for her grandchildren. So endeared with her treasure, she couldn’t bear to erase the notes left by grandchildren to each other. She left that job to the Lyme Historians who took pictures of the blackboard so they could recreate it following the day’s events.
While at Chesley we sat in on a wonderful little vignette written by Laurie Wadsworth that portrayed what a school day might have been like in the 1830’s. Jeff Valence the present day principal at Lyme’s only operating school portrayed the schoolmaster.
The day started with the day’s water being brought to the school by the father of a student, as remembered by one of the two former students in attendance. Part of the water was poured into the canning kettle on the stove that held Mason jar lunches brought by the students to be warmed for lunch time. The remainder of the water was put in the water crock to be used for the day’s drinking water.
Children marched in at the bell with ladies taking seats on the right and gentlemen on the left. The students recited together from blackboard work, did mental ciphering, and read passages for their schoolmaster. One older boy very accurately portrayed a young man that probably wasn’t there all of the school year and really didn’t want to be there now. A quiet tension built until finally with the boy’s lack of a book andnecessary materials the disgruntled schoolmaster called him up for a quick tongue lashing. His punishment? He was made to wear one of the girls’ bonnets and was then required to sit on the girls’ side. When the students were excused for recess two former students told of their days at the schoolhouse.
The remainder of our day was spent following the detailed Town of Lyme map prepared by Elizabeth Kilmarx where all schoolhouse sites were well marked to match a number on a stake placed at the schoolhouse sites by committee members. And what a beautiful scenic drive it was on the back roads of New Hampshire as schools awaited our arrival.
One of our highlights of the tour was seeing where the District #2 Acorn Hill School had sat in a small triangle of land where two roads intersected. Although the schoolhouse had been sold and moved up the road to become a home around 1934 it was easy to visualize the school at this tiny location as the sturdy concrete foundation and a crabapple tree remain in the center of the two dirt roads. One could certainly imagine school children playing here in the roadways during the school’s heydays.
We had a wonderful day and are very glad we made the trip. As CSAA members we appreciate the Lyme Historians' efforts in preserving this history for their communities. And through the Lyme schoolhouse booklet, our photos, and the story of the day’s events, our friend Eunice was able to take the schoolhouse tour!