Problems at the District School

                                                                     By Lessie Mae Drown

    Not long ago the Mendon Historical Society was presented with a very old record
    book concerning one of Mendon’s own schools.

    It was a record of the school meetings of the Seventh School District from 1812 to
    1860. The Seventh District, better known as Albeeville, was one of 14 into which the
    town was divided. Each was a little world in itself, a good example of democracy.
    School matters were settled at the district meetings, which were very similar to our
    town meetings. (Albeeville was in the Millville Road section of Mendon.)

    In 1812, the town appropriated $38.57 for the Seventh District School. The
    schoolmaster’s salary was $12.50 a month. In 1823 Ruth Staples taught a summer
    school for 75 cents a week. We read that there were 67 “scholars” in 1824 and 74
    in 1832. Incidentally, many distinguished men got their start in education in the little
    school at Albeeville. Many fine old New England families grew up in Albeeville.
    Several generations of Tafts have lived there, including the ancestors of President
    Taft.

    The Tafts were so numerous in 1832 that there were 18 Taft children in the school.
    They represented six Taft families. At the same time four Wheelock families sent 16
    children to school and five Staples families sent 12. That was the year there were
    74 pupils.

    The teacher had to board around in the district. In the 1845 record we read, “It was
    voted to have 21 means for one week’s board.” What could be back of a vote like
    that? Did someone feel something should be deducted if the teacher was invited out
    to supper? At the price usually paid for board then, one meal would be less than
    five cents.

    One amusing item appeared in each report for a number of years. In 1812 it read,
    “Johnson Legg bid off the ashes for 77 cents.” It was the custom to sell the ashes to
    the highest bidder at each annual meeting. At a meeting in 1813, Leonard Staples
    agreed to repair a chair for 33 cents. Does it seem possible that anyone ever did
    anything for 33 cents?

    The question of building a new schoolhouse came up in 1821, so we see that it is
    not a new idea with the present generation. They voted to raise $160 to build one.
    They appointed a committee “to find a spot to set the schoolhouse on,” and another
    committee to make a contract with someone according to law for building the
    schoolhouse. Before the meeting adjourned, “Simeon Wheelock took the
    schoolhouse to build for $193.” They adjourned for one week.

    At the adjourned meeting, they voted to release Simeon Wheelock from his bid and
    to contact with Arnold Taft for the same sum, $193. They voted to give Wheelock
    $1.50 for a piece of land upon which to set the schoolhouse. Arnold Taft built the
    new school, and it was finished within a year. In October of that year (1821) there
    was a meeting at which they voted to “put out to the lowest bidder the building
    necessary, leveling around the schoolhouse,” and a few other jobs. Simeon
    Wheelock agreed to finish the cellar for $2 and to build a necessary for $5.

    In 1830 they were facing what must have seemed a very serious and urgent
    problem. That was vandalism. The schoolhouse had been broken into, and property
    damaged. The extent of the damage is not given, but much or little, it must be
    stopped. They voted that the committee repair the door lock, nail down the windows,
    and close the schoolhouse against intruders. They also voted that the agent
    prosecute any person or persons “who shall break into the schoolhouse
    unnecessarily or damage the house in any way.”

    In 1845 they again needed a new schoolhouse. They were now more ambitious, or
    prices had risen, for they voted to raise $425. They also voted that the building
    committee negotiate with Varville Taft for a site and if they failed, to take legal
    measures to obtain the same. They need not have worried. Mr. Taft evidently was
    glad to sell them the desired land, one acre for $12.50. Soon the land was
    purchased and the schoolhouse was built.

    Of course they wanted a new stove for the new schoolhouse, so in October 1846
    they voted to authorize the prudential committee to buy and set up a stove. The
    year 1847 arrived and at the first meeting held they voted to buy a stove and pipe
    and instructed the prudential committee to carry the vote into effect. Apparently the
    voters’ wishes were again disregarded, for at a later meeting the same year, “the
    prudential committee is instructed to buy a stove adapted to the wants of the
    district.”

    Time went on and at another meeting they chose a committee to take up a
    subscription to obtain a stove, and buy a separate vote, they were instructed to sell
    the old stove. At a still later meeting they voted to raise $15 to buy a stove, but the
    vote was reconsidered. There is no record of the stove being bought. Why did
    anyone hesitate? Was there a feeling that stoves were “new-fangled notions” and
    fireplaces were better?

    If we should look in other old town records we would find that men then were paid 10
    cents an hour to work on the road, and 10 cents an hour for the use of a pair of
    oxen. We do not need to smile at these figures. They were wonderful dollars. One of
    them would buy a bag of groceries so big we could scarcely lift it. It would buy other
    things in the same proportion. Those dollars command our respect.

    From all this we can see something of a past life and a past pattern of thinking and
    living which was very different from our own.

                                                        
                                  
Albeeville                                        Mendon   

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The Albeeville School
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