Historical society to hold reunion at Schoolhouse #8 Sunday

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POWNAL — Schoolhouse #8 is coming back to life.

On Sunday, Aug. 25, the Pownal Historical Society plans to host a "mini class reunion" and open house from 1-3 p.m. at the schoolhouse at 2758 North Pownal Road, in an effort to provide a space to share memories and open the building to interested people before it becomes part of an anticipated new town hall project.

"We called it a class reunion because people have been going to that school from 1813 to [about] 1960," said Joyce Held, treasurer of the historical society. "I thought it would be kind of fun to invite anybody anybody that has connections to the school to come back and see it."

Attendance at the event is drop-in. "We want it to be a fluid event," Held said. "It's just going to be a just kind of come and mingle [event]."

People will be welcome to share stories of their memories of the school, Held said.

"It's going to be more of a spur-of-the-moment type thing," she said. "We hope that people will be coming in and out, or staying the whole time, and sharing their stories."

"That school had so many children go through it," she said. "Two hundred and six years old, it certainly was a school to a lot of people."

The historical society wants the people of Pownal to feel free to come in and "look at the beginning," she said.

"If you don't see it, and you hear, oh, it's 206 years old, the first thing you think of is, oh, it's decrepit," she said. But that's not true.

"It's one sturdy, beautiful building," Held said. "It was very, very well-maintained over the years."

The building is 782 square feet, with an open room and an attached bathroom, which was added after it was first built.

The school is set to become part of a new town hall project, if voters approve a plan that involves using modular construction for core town offices and attaching the old schoolhouse, which would be used for Select Board meetings and a Pownal History Center.

The Select Board approved that plan in June.

Held is excited about creating a history center in the schoolhouse.

"We've been collecting and storing things in our studio and all over the place," she said. "It'll be so great to have a home of our own that we can actually put things on display."

The historical society is also excited to offer genealogy classes there, she said.

"It's time for us to share our knowledge, and what we have, and collect more," she said.

The school has been kept from deteriorating over the years; in the 1930s, officials lifted the school and put a full foundation under it, preventing it from rotting from the ground up, she said.

The school was deeded to the school trustees from the builder, Asgill Gibbs, on Feb. 17, 1813, Held said.

He turned over all rights to the trustees — for $5, Held said.

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The school, which housed grades 1 through 8, opened to students in 1813, and stayed in use in that capacity until the early 1960s. Some people say 1961, while some say 1962, she said.

"It's a beautiful school, has a tin ceiling, beautiful hardwood floors," she said.

And the thing Held doesn't find beautiful?

The color.

"The inside, for some reason, somewhere along the line, they painted it — it's a bright green," Held said. "Maybe somebody loves it. I don't love it."

But when asked what strikes her most about the school, Held didn't think of the color of the walls.

"The history," she said. "And the fact that it's in perfect condition. It's just absolutely amazing. It's just like taking a step back in time."

The Pownal School District owned the school, and previously gave it to the local senior citizens' group for their use.

When that group disbanded, it was turned back over to the school board, Held said.

When the Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury and Woodford school districts were ordered by the state to merge under Act 46, the state's merger law, the historical society knew they had to do something to save the school, she said.

"With the school merger, the fate of the school was unknown," Held said. "The historical society said, we just can't let it [rot]. We have to save it."

The historical society took ownership of the historic schoolhouse earlier this summer, ensuring the property remains under local control. The move was complete days before school district property was set to become part of the new, merged school district.

Pownal currently has only one elementary school in operation, but there were previously something like 14 school districts in Pownal, each serving different areas of the town, Held said.

"And somebody who owned land would donate a piece of land to have a school built," she said. "That's how it all started. All of these one little room schoolhouses. You had to have a school where the children were."

Held's own living room was also previously a one-room schoolhouse.

"They all started with that one room. East Pownal had theirs, North Pownal had theirs," she said.

Schoolhouse #8 served Pownal Center.

"Of course, that was very close to the church. That was a little community there," she said. "You had your church, the union church, you had the old cemetery, you had the old inn. You had the old country store. You had the old blacksmith's shop. And the school was actually part of the community too."

Held said she's impressed that the people of the town knew the need for schools, and were willing to give up their property to accomplish that goal.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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