It’s amazing to think there was a time when almost every American child learned in a one-room school. In fact, as late as 1913, half of the country’s schoolchildren were enrolled in the country’s 200,000 one-room schools.
In Vermont, there were more than 2,000 school districts in the mid-19th century, and at least as many one-room schoolhouses at that time. The buildings were built, owned, and operated by each individual town without state oversight, and the schools were practically everywhere.
The small town of Thetford, for example, had 15 school districts and therefore 15 school houses, according to Devin Coleman, a State Architectural Historian at the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. He explains that the district model was discontinued in 1892, and towns began to consolidate the one-room schoolhouses into larger, more centrally-located facilities. As a result, the old one-room schoolhouses were abandoned, sold, relocated, and converted for other uses.
I grew up just down the road from a one-room schoolhouse on River Road in Manchester. The school was built around 1832 on land owned by the Walker family was eventually owned by Robert Todd Lincoln and Hildene, according to the Manchester Historical Society.
Though left in its original location, the building fell into disrepair over the decades and restored in the 1980s by Friends of Hildene and the historical society. It’s used today for educational programs.
Where to Find One-Room School Houses in Vermont
Coleman says there is no official tally of how many one-room schoolhouses remain standing in the state.
Still, you can find one-room schoolhouses in many Vermont towns, from Addison to Norwich. There’s a rare round schoolhouse in Brookline. In Springfield, the 1790 Eureka Schoolhouse is owned by the state, and the Elmore School is the last operating one-room school in Vermont.
Even though one-room schoolhouses are from a bygone era, they are still very much part of our world here in Vermont. Like covered bridges, they are a treasured part of our landscape that can certainly teach us a thing or two about history.