Vera Beecroft stepped onto the leaf-covered ground on Beadle Hill and looked up at the white one-room schoolhouse where she spent her primary school years.
“It’s still standing,” she said. “My golly, it’s amazing.”
She pointed to a hole in the front yard, where the flagpole once stood. She remembers the goldenrod that used to line the property. She and her classmates would cut it down and make little houses in the brush.
She noticed the lilac bush still sitting next to the tin-roofed school.
“We used to go around that lilac bush like anything,” said Beecroft, who helped compile a series of books about the one-room schoolhouses that used to spot the rolling landscape of the town of Easton.
There were once 18 one-room schoolhouses in this very rural agricultural community in southern Washington County. At least 12 are still standing.
There were actually 21 district schoolhouse numbers, because some of the schools were rebuilt and renumbered over time.
In 1997, Beecroft and Helen Brownell, along with people from the Easton Library, initiated a grant-funded project to preserve the history of rural school education in Easton. Framed photographs of all the schools are on display at the library, accompanied by spiral-bound books about the schools.
“The purpose of that was to gather whatever we could about these schools that once dotted the countryside of our town,” Brownell said.
From 1937 through 1943, a young Vera Grinko, who started school at age 3, used to walk a half-mile from her parents’ farm in South Cambridge up Beadle Hill to get to school District No. 10 every day.
Her brothers used to take the rubbers from canning jars and attach them to the bottom of their boots for traction on the snow-covered dirt roads. Kids skied on barrel staves.
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“We used to walk on the top of the snowdrifts to walk home. We didn’t like it when we had to walk back on the roads,” Beecroft said. “Some people had to cut through fields to get to school because the road was too muddy and the fields were better.”
The school was the center of their social lives. She can still remember exactly what the inside of the schoolhouse looked like and how it was rearranged for the annual Christmas pageant.
“I do remember hiding behind my mother and father when Santa Claus came. I hated him,” Beecroft laughed. “That was the first time I saw Santa Claus.”
Groups of up to 25 kids of all different ages sat at wooden desks with ink wells and a ridge to hold a pencil. The school got electricity in 1940.
Beecroft was able to pass first grade in only three months.
“That was fairly common then,” said Brownell, whose husband also attended a one-room schoolhouse. “They didn’t have kindergarten. In most cases, and if they could pass the test, they were allowed to do two years in one.”
Because it was one big open classroom, the younger students would often overhear the older students’ lessons, which Beecroft called “double-learning.”
“It was really an interesting time of life, I’ll tell you,” Beecroft said. “We didn’t know we had hardships. We didn’t know we were poor.”
When Greenwich centralized in the 1940s, rural schools began to close. Districts No. 5 and No. 8 were the last to stay open because the centralized school was having difficulty handling the influx of students.
Compiling the history of the schoolhouses was a labor of love for Brownell and Beecroft, who want their grandchildren to understand what school days were like back in the day.
“We think about our grandchildren and what it’s like for them now, and the fact that they just kind of take it for granted,” Brownell said. “And they think it’s always been that way, and it hasn’t always been that way. And we want the old way to be remembered.”