Milo Historical Society

12 High Street - Milo, Maine

The Milo District Schools

The Milo District Schools was originally published in 1972.
Recently, it has been re-published in small excerpts in the Three Rivers News from March 2004 to March 2005.
A very special thanks to Gwen Bradeen for taking the time to type up the entire book.

A Note about the Author
     Lloyd J. Treworgy, the author of The Milo District Schools, has had a deep interest in schools for many years, going back to the 1920’s when he taught and coached at Brownville Junction High School and at Milo High School, and to the 1940’s and 1960’s when he served on the Milo School Board.  He also taught as a substitute teacher in the Milo Junior High School and Penquis Valley High School.
     His work on this history of the Milo Area Schools is based on careful research in both town and school records and on many interviews with former teachers, school officials, and students, and of course, incorporates his own experiences as teacher, school board member and interested citizen.


Foreword to Additional Copies – April 27, 1979
     This history of Milo schools, I wrote mostly in 1976, in an effort to take a peep into education of long ago, before the inexorable hand of time should leave us nothing byt dry statistics to draw from.
     In writing this story, I was moved also by a desire to make some comparisons, before and after, between the system of education that was, long ago, and that which is today.
     Reading my story later, after it had been put together, typed, and enclosed in Allen Monroe’s artistic covers, I realized that my conclusions had left something to be desired, in my treatment of today’s teachers, who labor in a frustrating atmosphere of low motivation and, too often, of hell-raising, and disrespectful students.
     Since the Milo Historical Society plans to have more copies of this story printed, I am taking the opportunity here to correct the impression I may have given in the body of the story, that teachers today are, relatively, less dedicated, or possess lower standards in their approach. Teachers today labor under much greater stress than at any other time in the history of the schools – teachers in Milo, teachers all over the United States
     Stated briefly, the ideal of universal education – which was NOT stressed in my early days (beyond the grades anyway) – carries, as a corollary, the obligation to spend such money as may be necessary to educated, or train, and certainly to make civicly responsible, each student, in whatever way his, or her, talents incline. But to make effective, and possible, individual instruction worth the name, this idea of universal education demands a substantial decrease in teacher-pupil ratio.
     Teachers, however, like policemen, firemen, administrators of all sorts, as well as military personnel, produce nothing that can be directly consumed. They are, therefore, in a manner of speaking, economic parasites. Their total labor goes into the minds of the young to make THEM capable, in the future, of producing consumer goods. The tax money that presently goes into education leaves taxpayers aghast. How could they be asked to spend MORE for the same purpose?
     On the other hand, educators, who are hired to teach, today find themselves so largely bound up with problems of discipline, and so frustrated by lackluster attention, that their actual job of instructing, for which they were hired, sometimes seems to assume a secondary function.
     This is NOT, as I wrote in the history of the schools, so much an indication of inability to learn, as it is one of the unwillingness to learn.
     In the educative equation, teachers are but one factor. The others are the student himself, or herself; the school administration (the superintendent and school board); the parents, the taxpayers, and the state legislature.
     In this equation, a just and effective balance can result only if the student is ready to look beyond the satisfactions of the day’ the school administration to make firm policies for discipline and for attendance; the parents to show love, maintain discipline at home, and manifest interest in their child’s progress; the taxpayer to become interested in the process of education; and the legislature to make the juvenile accountable to society – and to ponder deeply the implications of universal education (book-learning), for those who will not accept it nor drink at its fountain.


 

The Milo District Schools

By Lloyd J. Treworgy

This is the story of the district school as it operated in Milo from the early days of the town until the mid nineteen-twenties.  It is the story of a system of education far different from that which we have today.

Only a handful of our older citizens remember these primitive, one teacher, one room schools from having attended them as children and only five who taught in one or another of them are still alive in Milo.

At the height of the system, around 1880 to 1890, though before it had reached its highest efficiency, Milo had nine school districts.  Each district had its school agent, or agents.  These were authorized yearly at town meeting, and after the early 1850’s were elected by the residents of each district.  They were surprisingly autonomous, bargaining for their district, sometimes even against the town itself; hiring the teacher for their district school; and keeping an eye out for its general welfare.  It is possible that the nine or more school agents acted more or less as a body in school affairs.  They did hold a meeting of the total group shortly after the town meeting had authorized them and their district had elected them.  The records aren’t clear as to whether they were loners or a cohesive group after that.

Each district, too, had its own schoolhouse and drew its pupils (they were called “scholars” then) from an area with clearly marked boundaries.

Of these nine schoolhouses, only one is still standing and recognizable as such.

Built soon after 1850, the primary school, across the street from Chase’s Hall (it was always written like that: Chase’s) is the last relic of the long vanished district school system.  It was the only district school building of the nine with more than one room, for population after 1850 was more dense in the village than in the outskirts.  Strictly speaking, the Derby or Milo Junction School − as it was called until nearly 1917 − was a district school and, of course, it had more than one room.  The Derby School though, was built in 1907, when “rural” was beginning to be used in place of “district”, and consolidation had lost its status as a nasty word.

For years the primary school has stood abandoned, a sleeping ruin between the Episcopal Church and the residence of Mrs. Gertrude Kittredge.  It is not the first time the primary school was abandoned, as we shall see.  With equal certainty, it is destined to be restored again from its present outcast status, and from its decay and loneliness of recent years.  Within the past few months it, along with the old grammar school and high school buildings, has been taken over by Basketville, to be repaired and to begin a new life as a factory.

This year of 1976, therefore, seems an appropriate time to write an obituary of the district school; to praise its virtues; note frankly its shortcomings; and to listen again,  for a moment, to echoes that come down to us from the happy shouts, and dolorous groans, of the last of these long-ago pupils − who are now our senior citizens.

I am Lloyd J. Treworgy, a resident of Milo for the past forty-five years, and a member of the Milo Historical Society, for which this account is being prepared.  The statements that appear in this story are the result of a careful perusal of the town records back to 1823; of conversations with forty or fifty older citizens of the town over a period of several months; and of a study of old, extant copies of the Milo High School Breeze.

Mention of Milo’s nine district schoolhouses demands, as a first priority, that they be located.  And this can be done.  Information from the town records, together with the assistance of a number of Milo citizens, have painted out “where”, at least closely enough for all practical purposes.
 
The following persons assisted a great deal in this pinpointing:  Mrs. Nora Hamlin, Mrs. Mary Tyler, Mr. And Mrs. Arthur Carey, Sr., Mrs. Alice Chase, John Rowe, Mrs. Edith Perry, Mr. And Mrs. Maurice Richardson, Mr. And Mrs. Clarence West, Mrs. Helen Livermore, Mrs. Edna Hanscom, Roy Monroe, Mrs. Agnes Hobbs and, posthumously, Mrs. Linnie Dick, through an article “The Haunted House,” which she wrote in a time-frame around 1906.  Mrs. Dick was herself a former district schoolteacher − one who brooked no nonsense from her pupils, as a good district schoolteacher had to do to be successful.

District 1, or Sargent Hill, schoolhouse occupied the site on which Vernon Willinski’s residence now stands, a little more than a hundred yards beyond the summit of Sargent Hill − right side going toward Dover-Foxcroft. 

The Goodrich, Lovejoy, or Intervale school, center of District 2, stood on the Medford road, a short distance on the Milo village side of what we used to know as the Brockway dairy farm − and on the same side of the road.  For better identification by a younger generation, the farm has been successively the Ticker dairy farm, and now, in 1978 the Merle Wyman dairy farm.  A trailer stood, until very recently, about on the site of the old schoolhouse.

The 3rd District or Hobbstown, schoolhouse was nearly three miles in on the Hobbstown road.  This road takes off from the Brownville road at a point nearly across from Merle Philbrook’s house, not far from the foot of Swett hill.  The entrance into this long-unused Hobbstown road is still visible.  (Curator’s note:  The museum does not have a picture of this school in our files.)

The Stanchfield Ridge, or District 4, schoolhouse (see picture) stood on a road, grown up to bushes these past forty years, which began at the back Brownville road.  It was called the Ryder road until the point where it intersected the Ramsdell road.  From that point until it made terminus with the Ridge road, it was called merely “Schoolhouse road”.  Its junction with the Ridge road was nearly a mile up from the Lakeview road.  I interject these details because the markings have long been erased by the passage of years.

It was at a point on the Schoolhouse road between the Ramsdell road and the Ridge road that the Stanchfield Ridge schoolhouse stood.

The primary school, mentioned earlier, was the 5th district schoolhouse.

The District 6, or Murray schoolhouse stood on the back Brownville. Road.  Residents of those early days would have seethed with anger at hearing it called “the back Brownville road”.  To them it was the MAIN road between the villages of Brownville and Milo.  It was, as Linnie Dick pointed out in her article “The Haunted House”, the through route for the iron of Katahdin Iron Works and the slate of Brownville to Howland and points beyond.

The site of the Murray district schoolhouse was on the Pleasant river side of the road.  It was the next building above and on the opposite side of the road from Linnie Dick’s residence.  Her residence was just above the Ryder road as it took off from the Brownville road.  (We won’t use “back” again − for ghosts may be stirring angrily even now from the previous use of the word).
 
Again, these details are explicit because all the District 6 landmarks vanished long, long ago.

The District 7, Morse, Tollbridge, or Little Red schoolhouse stood on the right side of lower Elm St., going toward Bangor. The site was about halfway between the bridge and hte turn into the Lyford road.

District 8’s schoolhouse, called the Drake school, stood on the Milo fillage side of the corner made by the Brownville and Hobbstown roads.

And the Holbrook schoolhouse, in District 9, stood on the corner of the Billington road just where it makes a left turn into the River road, leading toward Derby – or Milo Junction to senior citizens. The Holbrook farm, by the way, from which the school too its name, was across the road from the school – where Carl Ricker lives today.

For something over a century, this district school system gave Milo boys and girls their education.

The first faint scent of change − a mere breath of things to come − could have been detected by the keen-nosed of the town, in the 1880’s.  Shifting population patterns, economic pressures, too many untrained teachers, and perhaps the beginning of the slightly more stringent state requirements, began to turn glances of disapproval toward the smaller, outlying schools.  There was a whisper, faint at first that it might be to the advantage of scholars and town alike if some of the punier districts merged.  For a decade, it was only a whisper, for the tradition of the district school had a firm hold that only very persuasive reasoning could break.  Gradually, however, and years later the voices calling for bigger schools with better-trained teachers prevailed.
 
The Murray school on the-uh-(back) Brownville road, was the first to go, about 1895.  With its closing, the few scholars in District 6 were sent trundling off up the Ryder road to the Stanchfield Ridge school.  And Linnie Dick’s story “The Haunted House”, as of about 1906, pictures this old, abandoned schoolhouse “with staring windows, and door asag.”
     
The Drake and Hobbstown schools merged, temporarily at least, a few years later; and the Sargent Hill and Holbrook schools became one before the end of the century.  These mergers weren’t always lasting, it must be stated.  From time to time, both schools that had been joined would pop up again as separate entities.
     
These changes, uniting the smaller schools, didn’t seem to affect the efficacy of the system as a whole.  The district schools continued to operate for two decades longer.  The last four closed for good in 1923, after which the centralized, or consolidated school system took over.  Thereafter, pupils (still “scholars” in common usage) from all districts were transported to one or the other of the two population centers of the town − Derby (still by some called Milo Junction), and Milo village.
     
The consolidated school system lasted until, roughly, fifteen years ago when the super-consolidated school system, or School Administrative District, succeeded it.  Under the S.A.D., upper grade and high school students from the several towns that have consented in this educational group marriage, are transported smoothly, in warm weather and cold weather alike − what with heated buses, surfaced roads, and giant snow plows − into new, expensive, centralized schools.  Hot noon lunches delivered throughout the system add to the comfort and convenience the School Administrative District had contributed to modern education.  And over all, the hand of the state looms larger and larger.
     
In writing this final word on the antiquated district school system, we shouldn’t fail to give deserved praise to its desperately underpaid teachers, particularly after the drastic changes in sequence and study content, beginning in 1984.  For, working under the most primitive of conditions, they achieved, nevertheless, some astonishing results.
     
We must admit, of course, that life was simpler and less hurried in their day than it is in ours.  The sum of knowledge was much less; anxiety and tension hadn’t appeared in any widespread influence on leisurely living; economic, social, and racial complexities were decades in the future; and the all-seeing eye of television was still unthought-of.  It would be two or more generations, depending on the time we date from, before that commercial-haunted eye would turn the world into a goldfish bowl − and a whole generation of young people into uncritical and docile viewers of the passing scene sandwiched in between the laff show, and violent western, and the murder-motivated detective film.
     
However we may look at the times by way of comparison, though, the pupils (all right, “scholars”) coming out of these district schools from the mid-90’s on, could read, could write with reasonable clarity, and could figure with sufficient accuracy to meet their needs as active citizens.
     
In writing thus, I am not seeking to make any comparisons of intelligence, then and now.  It seems self-evident that the protoplasm out of which homo sapiens has his, or her, being doesn’t change appreciably for better or worse.  It is more than likely that native intelligence, in its potential for development, has remained about the same in all ages since man, and woman, became man and woman.
     
The great mass of humanity is, and always has been, the matrix out of which the relatively few great thinkers and doers emerge as the race’s good fortune, and those pitiable, mindless ones that come forth in every generation are a genetic casualty − to be grieved at, but to be blamed on no one − only Nature’s rule of exceptions.
     
The great percentage of human beings, with whom we must align ourselves, do not change materially in intelligence with the times.  They change only in conduct and motivation, in accordance with their conditioning, the changing pattern of their education, the strict or permissive home, parental love and interest in them as children, and the confusing beckonings scientific ferment and upheaval display to them from generation to generation.
     
Individual lives, of course, can be gauged by no rule of thumb.  They often run counter to their conditioning as drive, persistence, dedication, and a great dream propel some otherwise mediocre mind into greatness.
     
So, in those long-past times, neither teacher nor pupil was critical of the meager facilities afforded by the schools.  So far as they knew, schoolhouses and conditions had always been like that; probably always would be.
     
There were hooks to hang up coats and caps, or hats (few hats), in the entry, and space to leave rubbers (if any), lunch boxes and pails, by the wall.  Inside was a rather large. Rectangular stove, cavernous and unadorned, standing on legs.  It was spoken of as “ramdown” − the name possibly coming from the way the wood was put into it.  The stovepipe rose straight up from the stove to within a foot or two of the high ceiling, then ran back, the length of the room, to join with the chimney.
     
From time to time, in cold weather, teacher, or some strong-armed scholar, lifted the cover by its wire handle, and thrust a couple of two-foot chunks of wood into the stove’s juggernaut maw.
     
Beside teacher’s desk, on a stool or on a shelf, stood the water-pail, with a long-handled, common dipper swaying gently inside − its swaying sensitized by the constant scuffing of pupil feet on the way to sharpen a pencil, get a drink, or “leave the room” − a euphemism for going to the outdoor toilet.
     
Thirsty lips of generations of pupils had kissed the edge of the dipper, round and round, in a fruitless effort to avoid residue from the mouth of previous quaffers.  And those who guessed wrong on their own thirst, and dipped up too much water, were wont to empty back the unconsumed remainder to mix with the original fluid, in a somewhat modified assuager of the next pupil’s thirst.

The floor was usually of unpainted spruce planks − the knots, harder than the clear wood, projecting smoothly, after years of scuffing feet had thinned the wood around them.

Desks carried a small, round ink-well, near the edge of the back of the desk, farthest from the pupil sitting at it.  From this ink-well, penny steel pens, thrust into the cork end of wooden penstocks, dipped a word or two of ink at a time, to be written, with painful, blotted effort, into the writing book.  A groove next to the ink-well ran across the desk top, to hold pencils and penstocks from rolling.

The once smooth surface of the desks bore, indelibly carved, the doodlings of generations of daydreaming scholars − doodlings idly inked over for permanence.

Outside, and usually attached to the woodshed, were the privies − “his” and “hers”, separated only by a partition, with a tiny aperture, as likely as not knifed through it.  They weren’t marked “his” and “hers”. Of course, for those were times long before such courteous niceties.  Pupils knew, however, from the very first day, which one to here toward, when the call came and they cleared with the teacher their need “to leave the room”.
 
The privies had no modern toilet to flush, nor any washbowl to swing toward for a cleansing of the hands afterward.  There was no sink at the schoolhouse either, nor any water except what was drunk from, perhaps emptied back, and re-drunk from the water-pail.  Any further contamination of that, for washing purposes, would have been one straw too many!
     
It might be noted here that toilets, like desks, were carved with more fevor than art.  Some imperfectly imagined sex carvings were essayed, as might be expected.  There was, as I recall at my school (quite a distance from Milo), few graffiti of an obscene nature.  Not that pupils minds weren’t a fertile seed-bed for vulgarity.  What kept the school grounds relatively free of four-letter words was a recollection of the leather strap that lay, coiled up, in a drawer of the teacher’s desk.  Teacher was invariably a realist.  She knew, almost from the first day school opened, in which pupils minds dirty words lay nearest the surface, struggling to get out.  And in the district school, there was no reading of rights to the accused, nor any trial by jury
     
Schoolroom lighting rarely resorted to, was symbolically represented by three oil lamps on each side wall.  They were set into brackets high enough to be out of reach of mischievous pupil hands, as casual breakables.  For an occasional evening program, they might be lighted.  The six lamps together gave probably no more light than a 40-watt bulb would give today.

Almost at the end of the district school era, in 1923, Superintendent Foster L. Higgins spoke of the poor lighting in the rural schools − “lighted from both sides; giving a cross light, which is the worst kind for study.”  What the improvement-minded superintendent didn’t know was that this cross-lighting was rarely bothersome because the lamps were rarely lighted.

There WAS a little variety in lighting, from school to school, but none of it was up to helping a pupil do his sums on a dark day.  One school, Stanchfield Ridge, I think, had hanging-lamps.  Another had only one lamp (most likely the Hobbstown school), and that on the teacher’s desk.
     
Maurice Richardson told me that in his school, on dark days, pupils were permitted to approach the window with their book, when they read, during recitation.
     
Mention of the leather strap for punishment calls to mind the entire subject of discipline, as it operated under the district system.
     
Standing in the corner, facing away from fellow pupils, or simply “standing in the floor,” face to face with schoolmates, was the mildest of disciplinary impositions.  Sitting on the floor with feet sticking straight out was a bit more irksome.
     
“They didn’t stay there more than five minutes before they were ready to behave,” Mrs. Agnes Sawyer, one of the living district schoolteachers told me.
     
For the more obdurate, the disobedient big boys, young bucks, shaking their willful heads like naughty bulls, there were more violent means of establishing authority.  There was the ruler.  It could hurt a good deal without injuring.
     
When a teacher called a pupil to her desk and commanded “Put out your hand!” the pupil was apt to wish he hadn’t done what he had done, for the whacks on the palm of the hand were painful.  For the incorrigibly disobedient, I have seen a teacher turn her ruler on its edge, not its flat side, to whack with.
     
The pointer, too, a thick bludgeon at the base, tapering gracefully to a point, was handy to admonish the outlaw heavyweights.  It was kept on the teacher’s desk for pinpointing places on the map, but it wasn’t inappropriate to lay on the back on the biggest boys, big end to, if necessary.  Some schoolboys were grown up physically before they were responsible mentally, and could be quite trying.  On occasion, they had to be expelled on the spot- at least for the day.  “Turned out of school,” this categorical manner of discipline was called.
     
Let me interpose here that Superintendent I.G. Mayo’s report in 1896 noted a school census of 325 persons in Milo “between the ages of 4 and 21.”
     
These, apparently, were the then extreme ages, young and old, for those called scholars.  The report did note that of these 325, 263 had attended school at some time during the year.  The average attendance cited by the report was 234.
     
The upper age of 21 meant that probably a few just under the upper age limit sometimes attended school, maybe for study, more likely for the mischief they could devise to make life miserable for the teacher.  That meant trouble for a teacher who was at all weak or longsuffering.  Big boys were prone to take advantage of any indication of vacillation or other weakness in disciplinary readiness.  The wise and effective teacher was prepared to take stern measures at once, when mischief showed itself in the offing, before outright rebellion became an established fact.
    
 “I told my pupils, the first day, what I expected of them.” Mrs. Helen Livermore, another of the old, district schoolteachers, told me.
     
“And I stuck to it,” she added.
     
Discipline, in those days, was not only an item in the teacher’s repertory’it was expected by authorities.
     
In the superintendent’s report of 1891, I.G. Mayo gave the following admonition to school agents:  “Select teachers who have some nerve.  More teachers fail in government than in their ability to teach.  When there is whispering and playing, there can be no prosperity.  The school is worthless.”
     
A more specific reference to discipline appears in the Superintendent’s report on a certain teacher in 1895:  “This teacher worked faithfully but seemed to shrink from inflicting needed punishment on some of the unruly ones.  Words are not sufficient to keep some pupils in this school under subjection.”
     
Parents, too, for the most part, at least in the 1910-15 period, expected their children to behave in school, a fact called to mind by Mrs. Agnes Sawyer.
     
It was a stock expression then, repeated even today by former pupils:  “My father told me that if I got a licking in school, I’d get another one when I got home.”
     
“We had the cooperation of parents,”   Mrs. Eva Scripture agreed.
     
Small wonder then that the report of Super-intendent M.L. Durgin, in 1897, made the observation “Discipline has been well-nigh perfect!” with a relish that almost carried the sound of smacking lips!


In the preceding paragraphs I have alluded to the five teachers still living in Milo who once taught in the district schools.  They were Mrs. Agnes Sawyer of Clinton St., Mrs. Alice Chase of Spring St., Mrs. Helen Livermore of Park St., Mrs. Eva Scripture of Albert St., and Mrs. Martha Gould of Charles St.     
     
During the course of my conversations with them, I asked each, at a separate time, what, in her opinion, contributed most to make the district schools successful.
     
Each of the five, speaking independently and without knowing what the others had said, put the disciplined pupil first in the items necessary for successful teaching.  A close second was the dedicated teacher.
     
The most effective teaching tool, I gathered, from the totality of their statements, was “drill, drill, drill!” until the new words were sounded out clearly and correctly; until the multiplication tables became second nature to the pupil.
     
“We may not have had things to work with,” said Mrs. Eva Scripture, “but we had drill, so that at the end of the year we could tell whether a pupil was ready to go on.  In those days we had, sometimes, fifty pupils in the classroom.  We knew what was required.  We knew what we had to do and we did it.”
     
These veteran teachers shook their heads slowly when I reminded them that today an instructor may not touch a pupil to inflict punishment for infractions.
     
“Do you think this prohibition is wrong?” I asked.
     
“Of course it is wrong!” was the answer.
     
The story’s momentary swelling on the sternness of discipline is not meant to portray district schoolteachers as tigresses or witches.  They weren’t sadistic; they didn’t punish because they loved to inflict pain.  They were hired to do a job’to introduce young minds, in a meaningful way, to the tools of learning.  To achieve their goal they were conscientious in trying to discourage whatever stood in its way.

Now, practice necessary to gaining proficiency with these tools of learning is sometimes dull and prosaic, even to the keenest and most zealous learners.  And to those who love the physical acquirements gained from free roving, fishing, fighting, and sports, the burden of learning to read, write and figure can be intolerable.  In the main, kids don’t wish’never DID wish’to be “lifted to a higher lever”, out of any natural inclinations.  It would be more pleasant to continue in the irresponsibility of childhood, perhaps knowing how to tell time, to lace one’s shoes, to look up TV programs’things that bring the fewest “don’ts of correction.”

Dutiful learners, however, will accept the challenge, and apply themselves, in the interest of a future satisfaction’however unpleasant the process of being “lifted” may be at the time of self-discipline.  The irreconcilable ones, however, the physical buffs, will put up a resistance to the boredom of it all.  They do it now; they did it then.  They resisted regardless of the degree of their native intelligence’which was, no doubt, often high.

It was these foot-draggers, manifesting their scorn for learning by whispering, sneezing with undue loudness, humming with the similitude of innocence, dipping girl’s hair into the ink-well, talking aloud when the teacher wasn’t looking (or they thought she wasn’t)’it was these apathetic ones, ignorant and planning to remain so, who bore the brunt of disciplinary chastisement.  For teacher was no fool.  She knew very quickly who wanted and who didn’t want to learn.

No doubt it was the imposition of disciplinary punishment that fixed the symbol of “sourpuss” to the district schoolteacher.  And it was the unwilling but potentially capable learners who gave this symbol currency.

The imposition of discipline, however, varied with the degree of pupil infraction.  The weight of the chastising hand was heavy only as the offense militated against the learning process the teacher was hired to carry forward.

Light offenses were passed over when the offense was corrected.

In the early days of her teaching, Mrs. Sawyer told me that slates weren’t unknown as predecessors of pencil and paper.  Now the screeching of a slate pencil on the surface of the slate had the same shuddering effect on the nervous system that bringing one’s thumbnail across a blackboard has’or writing on the board with a piece of chalk with foreign matter in it.

It wasn’t the noise that bothered Mrs. Sawyer though.  In fact, she didn’t even mention that annoyance to me.  What bothered her was the habit the boys had of spitting on the slate as a method of washing out writing they no longer had any need of.

“The slates got taken care of pretty quickly when I saw that!” she commented.

That was all though; no disciplinary action, unless being compelled to use a quiet pencil as a writing tool could be considered discipline.  The method of erasure by the spit technique was in poor taste, but it wasn’t anti-social.  It wasn’t disruptive of studious application in the schoolroom.

Swearing was quite another thing.  THAT was an offense against a moral standard set for the schoolroom and, indeed, on the school grounds’if the swearing was within hearing of the teacher.  For swearing, the offender got the strap.  Consequently, language improved noticeably in its purity, if not in its grammatical accuracy,  within hearing of the teacher.

There was a question about this on my lips, but I didn’t ask it:  why are profanity and obscenity so much more prevalent, and acceptable, now than they were then?  I didn’t ask it because I didn’t need to.  There would have been a ready and unanimous answer’namely, that beginning each school day with Bible reading and prayer had a positive effect on the social, if not on the spiritual, level of the pupils in the district schools.

The Baptist Church gave me a Bible in 1900,” said Mrs. Sawyer.  “It went with me to school for twenty-seven years.  I continued reading it mornings in school, even after it was forbidden by law to do so.”

The point about this footnote in regard to discipline is to deny the validity of the term “sourpuss” to symbolize the district schoolteacher.  Stern she was, yes.  She had to be to do the job she was hired to do.  But she was also human.  She could be affable, even tender.  Rappport with her pupils was a virtue she recognized, and practiced, insofar as she could practice it without opening the door to familiarity.  Pupils didn’t call her by her first name as pupils often do today.  They called her “Teacher,” or “Miss So-and So”‘and I don’t mean “So-and-So” as a euphemism.

Edith White, one of the long-ago pupils, tells a story that reveals the district teacher at her tenderest.

It was shortly before the turn of the century when Edith started to school in the primary building’1898, to be exact.  Her beginning teacher was Jane Jones, aunt of Rachel and Jane Prescott.  Jane Jones was reputed, in town records, and in the estimate of her peers, to be one of the finest teachers the Milo schools ever had.

At that time in her life, Edith was much afraid of thunderstorms’the snapping flash and the loud thunderclap.  And, as it happened, a shower came up one afternoon during that first school term of hers.  Edith made her fear known, clearly.

A class was in process then so Jane, in order not to disrupt the recitation, picked her up, held her in her lap, comforted her, and went on teaching the class.


 

This story, as I noted at the beginning, it intended as an account of the district school system in Milo.  It will contain a smattering of names, dates, costs, decisions and events back to 1823’of persons and things that helped shape the system and give it character.

It wlll, perforce, drag in some half-relevant items, like the high school, school authorities, etc. which, though not essentially connected with the district schools, do nevertheless, contain information pertinent to the subject.

Since the memory of most Milo residents doesn’t go back to the beginning of the present century, however, and only a handful can remember events prior to the close of the 1800’s, a second section of this account will concern itself with the period from 1910 to 1920.  The personalities, dress, routines, population patterns, anecdotes, manner of teaching, nature of recreation’can better be fleshed out in a time within memory.

As a matter-of-fact, 1910-20 probably seems about as archaic in this year of 1978 as our routine of today will seem fifty or seventy-five years in the future.  And it is pleasant to reflect in any period on a pattern of life long enough ago to be at the boundary of hazy reflections, of misty reaches of time, of warm, slanting sunsets out of whose quiet, fading light, low, half-heard voices call from then to now.

It is only with such a frame-of-reference, in that second section, that we shall be able to chuckle at stories like that of the witty, anonymous pupil who showed his, or her, articulate resentment when Levi Johnson, one of  the teachers at the Stanchfield Ridge  School, introduced Latin into its curriculum.  As a teacher, Levi may have thought that Latin would improve the culture it touched, whatever the age of the pupils mind with which it made contact.  But his intentions weren’t accepted with any degree of enthusiasm whatever!

Levi is buried, these long years, in a corner of the Brownville cemetery.  The schoolhouse where he taught vanished decades ago.  The response of one disagreeing, articulate pupil, however, lives on in this quartrain:

There was a man that lived in Rome;
His name was Julius Caesar.
And now he’s dead and gone to hell-
And I don’t care much either!

We shall be able to reflect, too, with perhaps a little sigh, a little catch in our throat, on such things as the personal, whimsical anecdote Edith West tells of the times she sat beside Belle Perkins, at the Sargent Hill School, because there weren’t enough music books to go around.

Belle Perkins (her married name is Getchell) lives on a side road between Dover-Foxcroft and Guilford.  She is a sister of Lloyd and Floyd Perkins.  The younger generation will identify her more easily as a aunt of Albert and Frank Perkins,  Mrs. Bertha Larson, and Mrs. Hazel Williams.

The soul of an artist was in Belle.  She drew beautifully, and Edith sat enthralled as the sketches took on character under her facile hand and fertile imagination − both forgetting the music lesson they were supposed to be taking part in.

Edith recalls saying later to Belle:  “I wasn’t musical because I had to watch you draw these beautiful pictures!”

Does Belle still draw beautiful pictures?  Probably not.  The aesthetic talents, unless they nag hard to fix themselves into the mind and habits of their human host, are apt to “fade into the light of common day,” as marriage and family responsibilities press in on the artistic soul.

Or, take Katie Boober.  If she is still living, she has probably forgotten that she was one of the handiest pupils with the bat, at the Toolbridge School.

“Ball,” they called it, rather than “baseball.”  And it was a pretty nearly universal recreation at recess.  If the ball had a cover, why, that was good.   If it didn’t, they still used it until hit after hit had unrolled a hundred feet or so of its winding..  Then they got another one somewhere.

No umpire, with quick, hard eye, scanned their ball for tiny cracks or evidence of slippery elm, or illegal spit.

Nor did precedence of sex weigh in the dash of players to get started at recess time.  There wouldn’t have been boys enough anyway for a good game.  As a matter of fact, the game wasn’t punctuated by innings, as we know them now.   “Three ol’ cat” was a generic name for a game with three or more players.  It just advanced the players as the batter was put out’from field to third, to second, to first base, to pitcher, to catcher, to batter.  The game was intensive, for all too soon the teacher would come to the door, and peremptory clapper bell in hand would summon to more important duties inside.  Then he, or she, who was halfway to first base changed course in a split second, and made for the door.  Promptness and obedience were virtues in those days!

At the Stanchfield Ridge School, Edna Smart was recognized as a hitter par excellence.  She could poke a ball, according to Nora Hamlin,  “Way down into the cow pasture.”

First base at Stanchfield Ridge was a cedar tree; second base, a rock; third base, the doorstep; and home plate, a Cedar slab.

Recollections are not always happy ones;  they are sometimes very sad.

Edith Perry, who now lives in Florida most of the year, still remembers the trauma in her school at the Tollbridge, when two of her schoolmates died.

Their names don’t mean a great deal to us now, but when Lee Wiley died of flu, in the terrible 1918 epidemic, there was sadness among his schoolmates, and when Arthur Hughes  (his family lived in the house we know as Frank Bowley’s, nearly across from the Drive-in) went down to the river after school one winter night to try the ice, instead of going directly home, he was drowned.  Sure, Arthur had raised the dickens in school quite a lot, but that fact didn’t make the tragedy any easier to bear.  Memory of the double loss lingered on for a long time at that school.


 

I have always like the smell of a classroom.  It is not, I suppose, a fragrant smell.  There is nothing suggestive of perfume in it.  The odor, in the composite form in which it reaches the nose, is predominantly a mixture of chalk and perspiration.  A bit of underarm permeates it, too’and effusion from those who don’t use Arrid, or something similar.  And there may be a slight taint of body odor mingling its individual offering to the whole.

The smell, to me, suggests the purpose of the schoolroom’a gathering place for learning.  And learning has always given me a thrill.  Perhaps that is why my nose finds pleasure in such unfragrant inhalations.

In all the years since I went to school, I haven’t noticed any characteristic change in the smell.  Chalk and perspiration still dominate it.  Even in the college classroom the composite is still that.  It has probably been so from the beginning.  Oh, we may give, or take, a small change in proportions, here and there.  One factor may, from time to time, change the composite to a degree that might raise eyebrows.  Body odor, no doubt, was more noticeable than chalk in the ripe old days before bathtubs became common.  I think, however, that it I had gone blindfolded into a district schoolhouse, in the early 1800’s I would have recognized the locale and like what I smelled.

It is a long trek back to the early days of Milo’s school districts.  For our edification, however, we should take it.

Milo became an incorporated town by act of the state legislature January 27, 1823, according to the town records.  Legislators at the time must have been poor spellers, for the spelling in the act of incorporation is awful, but the historical fact is attested by Luther Keen, Milo’s first town clerk.  “A true copy of the Act of Incorporation” was inserted into the town records as their first page.

The first town meeting took place March 3, 1823, “at the dwelling house of Theophilus Sargent”.  It was  devoted solely to the election of “able and discreet”, “suitable”, and “meet” persons as town officials.

Our first contact with Milo’s earliest public schools, after it became a town, comes at the second of the six town meetings held in 1823.  This meeting took place April 7.

At that meeting the town raised $100 for the support of schools, chose members of a superintending school committee, separated the town into two school districts, with the Sebec River as the dividing line, and elected a school agent for each district − Benjamin Sargent for the western district, and Moses Snow for the eastern district.

For the superintending school committee, voters elected Aaron Hill, Elisha Johnson and Luther Keen.

At the third town meeting, three weeks later, the two school districts were divided more explicitly.

The wording of this division was as follows:  “Beginning at the north line of the town, at the corner of lot No. 57, on the west side of Pleasant River, and following said river to the south line of lot No. 66, thence westerly on said line till it strikes lot No. 63.  Thence on the south line of lot No. 63 until it strikes Sebec River.  Thence by said river to Piscataquis River, thence by said river to the town line.”

Provisions for the functioning of the school districts − building of schoolhouses, hiring teachers, providing textbooks, fuel, etc., must already have been in the making, for the voters, at this third official gathering, voted “that notification for school district meetings may be posted up in some public place in said district.”

What differing functions the superintending school committee and the school agents played in school operation eludes us.   Their duties are not specified in the records.  However the duties may have been divided, these two parallel agencies functioned side by side until 1891.  After that date, there is no further mention of school agents.  The superintending school committee continued on until the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, when the name was changed to “Directors of School Administrative District, No. 41”

 From 1823 until seventy years later, in 1893, we know little or nothing about the nature of the learning process that went on inside those district schoolhouses.  Such grim songs as “Readin’ and ritin’ and ‘rithmetic − all to the tune of a hickory stick’ was about all that seeped out under the door of the schoolroom to tell us how teachers taught and how avid scholars were to learn.

In 1894, there would be an overhauling of the curriculum of “common schools” and high school alike, and the mystery would be dispelled.  Likewise, there would be an article in the High School Breeze of 1898, written by one who had attended the old district school.  And that article would be very enlightening.  We will consider that revelation in due course.

At the annual town meeting the following year, 1824, “inhabitants of the town”, as voters were then referred to, voted $125 for the support of schools.

And right then, only a year after the district schools had been officially established, came the first critical judgment of Milo’s schools − a criticism, it should be added, which has never ceased to this day.  Probably it shouldn’t either, for criticism is a basic way of getting the message of the public to the schools.

This first criticism was more a judgment that a revelation.  It was made by Winborn A. Swett, a mill owner in the center of town.  The article in the warrant asked “to see if the inhabitants of the town will allow Winborn A. Swett to draw his part of the school money which he pays for the support of schools, and expend the same in schooling his children at home.”  The article was voted down.

In 1825, Swett’s request popped up again, worded a little more arrogantly: “to see if the town will vote to give W.A. Swett the school taxes that he pays for himself and Francis Mayhew, to school his children where he pleases.”  Again it was voted down.

What must have been an embarrassing situation was arising, for Swett was first selectman at the time; not only that, but the town meetings were taking place at his residence!

Some of the voters made an effort, at the special town meeting on May 28, 1825 (still at Swett’s home), to agree on a plan to hold future town meetings “alternately at the two schoolhouses now erected in said town.”  This proposal, too, was voted down.

So the next town meeting,  March 6. 1826, again took place at Swett’s residence.  This would, however, be the final meeting there.

At this meeting, voters approved $150 for the support of schools, chose Joseph Lee, Amos Davis, and Hiram Esty, for the superintending school committee; and Joseph Lee, school agent west; and Moses Snow, again school agent east.

The March 5, 1827 town meeting upped to $200 the amount for support of schools.

Less than a month later, at a special town meeting, voters authorized the first division of the original school districts.  This change took away from District 2 land on the west side of Pleasant River − from which the District 2 schoolhouse was scarcely accessible anyway.  This break-away territory became District 3 (Hobbstown), whose lines were described as follows:

Beginning by Sebec River and Brownville lines, down from Brownville line between Sebec and Pleasant Rivers to lot blank (the way it was written), about halfway to lot 3, to be called the 3rd district in said Milo.

Exactly two months later, on June 2, voters again divided District 2.  This new division produced District 4 (Stanchfield Ridge).

This same special meeting brought a third, and final, request “to see if the inhabitants will allow Winborn A. Swett to draw his proportion of school money from the treasury”.  And a third time the voters refused the  request.  Subsequently Swett’s name doesn’t appear as a town official.

School districts had now expanded to four and the town meeting of March 3, 1828 chose the following school agents:  Aaron Hill, District 1; Eliot Staples,  2;  David Hobbs, 3; and William Stanchfield 4.

With the new district voters increased school support to $250.

In the next three years the amount for school support wavered with no explanation in the records, as follows: in 1829, $75;  in 1830, $75;  in 1831, again $150.  A partial explanation for this will appear a bit later.

Dissatisfaction with the operation of the schools was by no means over.  At town meeting, March 17, 1831, voters held their stand by voting “no” to an article; “to see it the town will let William Sturtevant have his school money to his own use.”

And then on April 10, 1832 at an adjourned meeting, voters approved the establishment of “a new school district at Snow’ and Dennett’s Mills.” 

This became District 5, the village district.

The next annual meeting, March 4, 1833, confirmed this new school district and added a new school agent.  The roster then became as follows:  Jonathan Eblip, District 1; Pierce b. Turber, 2; William Hobbs, 3; William Newcomb, 4; and Robert Cutts, 5.  Voters raised $175 that year for the support of schools.  The town meeting took place at the residence of Stephen Snow.

Once more at this meeting voters reaffirmed their stand on the efficacy of Milo’s schools by voting down for a second time an article:  “to see if the inhabitants will allow William Sturtevant to draw his proportion of the school money from the treasury and expend it in such school district as will best accommodate him.”

In 1834 the town voted again to raise $175 for the support of schools, and again refused an application to draw school money for use elsewhere.  This was a multiple application, from Joshua Little, Levi Johnson, Elisha Johnson and Timothy Parker.  They asked permission to draw their proportion of school money and pay it to the town of Brownville, whose schools were evidently more convenient to them. 

And now, with five districts already established there began to be a great restlessness in the efforts to stabilize them.  The district lines expanded, contracted, took in a new “poll and farm”, or relinquished an old one, as Milo’s population increased, moved about, presented a large family here, a small one there, for education.

At the town meeting of March 17, 1834, for instance, it was voted “to set off Benjamin Spearing from District 5, and annex him to District 1”.

And again on April 4, 1836,  it was voted “to alter the line between the 5th and 1st districts, so that the poll (meaning the registration) and farm occupied by Willard Frost shall belong to the 1st district.”

In another article at the same meeting, voters also “set off Nathaniel Day from the 2nd school district to the 5th”.

In that year, the town voted $200 for the support of schools.

One year later, April 3, 1837, the number of school districts was increased to six, with the addition of the Murray District (formerly a part of District 2), on the back Brownville Road.

With the increase of the districts to six, a new school agent was added.  The roster of school agents was now as follows:  Theophilus Sargent, District 1; Phineas Tolman, 2; Henry Wilkins, 3; Moses Sturtevant, 4; B.H.Davis, 5; and Elisha Johnson, 6.

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