Len Emery Photo The Spencer Hollow School is located at the corner of Spencer Hollow Road and Skitchewaug Trail, (Route 143). An open house will be held Oct. 20 at the school, which was recently accepted on the National Register for Historic Places.
SPRINGFIELD — The Spencer Hollow School, dilapidated and all but abandoned a few years ago, is now on the National Register of Historic Places as a prime example of an early Vermont one-room schoolhouse.
The brick schoolhouse may or may not be the oldest surviving schoolhouse in Vermont, nudging out another Springfield schoolhouse, the Eureka School, which until now was the undisputed oldest school in the state.
Estimates of the date of the construction for the Spencer Hollow School range from 1781 to 1810, with the later date accepted by the expert hired by the state to write the nominating petition to the National Park Service. Local lore puts its construction at 1781, at least four years older than Eureka, which the state says the building process started in 1785 and completed in 1790.
Bill Mitchell of Springfield, a member of Friends of the Spencer Hollow School, said Tuesday that Eva Baker’s “Folklore of Springfield, Vermont” put the age of the schoolhouse at 1781, and he rejected theories included in the state’s nominating papers that brick in the quantity to build a school wasn’t even being made at that early date.
The two one-room schools are certainly old; the Spencer Hollow School is still in its original location at the intersection of Skitchewaug Trail and Spencer Hollow Road, on a rocky corner of land. The Eureka School, which is owned by the state and is a state historic site, was disassembled at its original location in the Eureka District and restored and reassembled in 1968 in a more public location on Route 106. That location is several miles from the Eureka District, which was the site of Springfield’s original settlement.
Mitchell, who lives in Spencer Hollow, said the Friends group had worked hard to try to answer the question of the school’s age, and was relying heavily on Baker’s book, which was published in 1922.
“We’ve checked every place we could and had people come to look at the brick. We know there was a brick mill in the valley,” he said.
“It’s very often the case that the exact date of construction is not known, but a close approximation can be made based on historic references, old maps, physical evidence in the building itself,” said Devin Colman, a historic preservation review coordinator, for the Division of Historic Preservation.
“Spencer Hollow was built circa 1810. 1782 is when school districts were established and a local committee started establishing districts in the area. Eureka School is the oldest.” Colman wrote in an email.
Brick schoolhouses weren’t common in Vermont until after 1825, according to the nominating petition.
According to the petition, Baker’s account about the Spencer Hollow School’s age relied on the papers of a Samuel Whitcomb, who only moved to Springfield in 1836, where he lived until his death in 1879.
“It is not known how Whitcomb came to believe that the Spencer Hollow School was erected in 1781, 11 years before his birth and 29 before his first visit to the town at the age of 18. However, town records indicate the building was in need of repair as of 1801 and that a debt was still owned to a John Gill for its original construction,” the petition stated.
The petition also noted that in 2007 historic brick kiln bases were discovered nearby, and that historical accounts indicate a sawmill wasn’t erected in the area until 1803.
Further research, the petition said, showed that there was an early brickmaker by the name of Lemuel Whitney Sr., who lived in Spencer Hollow between 1780 and 1813.
“Local lore places the construction of the Spencer Hollow School in 1782 and since Whitney’s property was slightly north of the schoolhouse site, it is conceivable that its bricks originated there,” the petition says, further clouding the issue.
Mitchell said the designation from the federal historic agency doesn’t come with money to help in the school’s restoration, but it should act as a big plus nonetheless in opening doors to future grants.
“A lot of work needs to be done,” said Mitchell, starting with the roof and foundation.
A local group of concerned citizens, headed by North Springfield resident Don Whitney and Mitchell, started the restoration effort around 2008, and slowly they have worked to cut the brush and trees which had grown up around the school, and restore the broken windows.
Mitchell said that the group does have several projects that volunteers have promised to do, including fixing the wooden kitchen floor. Someone has also agreed to sand the floor in the main room, and someone else has agreed to electrify the building.
“Right now we just have temporary power,” he said. “We do have a telephone hooked up in the kitchen for emergencies. But we’d like to have the Internet for genealogical research on people who went to the school.” An electric range would also be a plus, he said.
There have been problems, vandals did break out most of the windows, and even stole the school’s original pot bellied stove.
The town stopped using the school as a schoolhouse in 1926, with the advent of consolidated schools and easier transportation into the center of town. A community group called the Spencer Hollow Club then took over the building, Mitchell said, holding everything from wedding receptions to birthday parties, 4-H meetings and community suppers. But that club finally stopped using the building in 1972.
Mitchell said Friends of the Spencer Hollow School will hold an all-day open house on Oct. 20. The schoolhouse is located about three miles out of the center of Springfield, just off Route 143 (Skitchewaug Trail).
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