Friday, November 15, 2019

Before the memory fades: Surrounded (literally) by schoolhouse history as one family looks back

By Walter Lunt

This is the second in a two-part series

One-room schoolhouses of the 19th and early 20th centuries were often named after prominent families living in the neighborhood. Typical of the practice, the Bodge School was one of the earliest stand-alone schoolhouses in Windham. It was located along the southwest stretch of present-day Highland Cliff Road near Alwebber Road.

Uncovering schoolhouse history
Town records indicate Bodge School was probably closed in 1927 but fail to reveal when it was built. In her 1999 book “Memories of Windham”, historian Kay Soldier wrote that by 1798 there were eight school districts serving the settled neighborhoods of Windham, and “By 1814 there were 14 districts (serving) a growing community and its continued concern about education.” From this, we can perhaps conclude that Bodge School (a.k.a. District #9 school) began in the very early 1800s.

One researcher, however, has recently placed the build as early as 1792.

In one way, according to Windham resident Gary Plummer and his sister Becky (Plummer) Delaware, Bodge School still exists (The Windham Eagle, November 1, 2019 – “The recycling of a Windham one-room schoolhouse”). As explained in part one of this series, Gary and Becky’s father, Bill Plummer, paid $100 for the abandoned schoolhouse in 1934. He disassembled it and used the materials to build a home for his family (wife Helen and children Duane, Gary and Becky) on route 202 near Newhall Road.

Furniture from the Bodge School was recently donated to the Windham Historical Society by another Windham family, and this sparked in Gary and Becky a renewed interest in the old Bodge schoolhouse. Both began researching.

From old maps, Plummer pinpointed the old school’s location: the intersection of Highland Cliff Road and the (old) Dole Road.

Explained Plummer, “The Dole Road (now discontinued) connected River Road and Highland Cliff Road (and ran) parallel to Alwebber Road. The school served the Bodge neighborhood which encompassed the area on Highland Cliff between Montgomery Road and Canada Hill.”

Plummer also learned that the many Bodge families in the early years were farmers, cabinet makers,
Items found at the schoolhouse site that include square cut nails
Indian head penny, hammer head and more.
and a minister. “Thomas Bodge, Jr. was a teacher and regarded as ‘a fine mathematician.’”
The first Bodge, John, came here in 1742 and married Rebecca Chute, daughter of Windham’s (New Marblehead) first settler, Thomas Chute. They had seven children. Many of the Bodge family members are buried in the Chase Cemetery on Highland Cliff Road.

From old town reports and other sources, Becky Delaware came up with information that gives us a more intimate look into the history of Bodge School:

From the town report (TR), 1887 – a school official reported, “school houses should become the property of the town…so schools are more equal. Truancy laws should be put in effect. $3.80 spent per pupil for 701 pupils in Windham.”

From TR, 1903 – “Bodge teacher Mildred Brown was paid $5.00 per week for spring term and $6.00 per week for winter and fall terms (length of service varied among terms). Three and a quarter cords of hard wood supplied at $4.96 a cord. Outhouses…are a disgrace.”

From TR, 1917, “Bodge School in good repair.”

From TR, 1924, “Bodge had interior paint, paper and whiting.”

From TR, 1925, “Miss Brown left Bodge School. Effie Goodick taught for a salary of $720.00. 

Enrollment (1923-24) = 17 – Average attendance = 8.7.”

From TR, 1926, the superintendent recorded “Bodge (and several other schools) need to be improved…to meet state standards…They are very old, low, small buildings, poorly lighted and poorly located with no playgrounds (and) too few pupils in each grade to provide competition that would create best work.”

By the 1950s, Windham operated only six schools. They were J.A. Andrew (which served the needs of the former Bodge neighborhood), Newhall School, Friends School, Field-Allen School, Arlington School and a high school.

A few of the old one-room schoolhouses are still around, reconstructed and renovated into homes. Or in the case of the Plummer family, a home recycled from an old schoolhouse.

Also, on the grounds of the Windham Historical Society’s Village Green at Windham Center sits a replica of a Windham one-room schoolhouse where present-day elementary school classes are invited  to dress like “the olden days” and experience a school day much like that of the 19th century, including the use of quill pens, McGuffey Readers and good old-fashioned practice in ciphering (math skills).

All this, just so the memory doesn’t fade… too much.  

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