SCHOOL: Shutesbury, MA
is an historic one-room schoolhouse located in Shutesbury,
Massachusetts, owned by the Sirius Community. It was built c.1830, although
some records indicate that it may date to the 1790’s. It is currently listed in
the National Registry of Historic Places. Shutesbury
is a hill town in the Pioneer Valley, part of the Connecticut River Valley in
western Massachusetts. It was settled in 1735, and incorporated as a town in
1761. Early settlers were a farming community of small homesteaders. By the
early & mid 1800’s the inhabitants included small farmers, mill workers and
the owners of many small cottage industries, whose sons & daughters
attended the 10 one-room schoolhouses in town. Most of the young “scholars”
walked to school or rode horseback, or in a carriage. The schools were placed
in local neighborhood “districts” to be within a 1-2 mile walk or ride of local
residences. By the early 20th century many of these schools had been
replaced by more centrally located schoolhouses which were facilitated by
Although the 19th century saw a
gradual increase in population growth in Shutesbury,
by mid-century it had peaked. The Homestead Act of 1861 attracted many of the
early New England settlers to the newly opened & more easily farmed lands
of the western and mid-western U.S. By 1928, Shutesbury,
like many hill towns in Massachusetts had declined in population to almost the
lowest level since it’s
founding or apprx. 200. By then, only 3 schools
remained opened: the newly Consolidated School near the center of Town where 25
pupils attended, and which by then had two rooms, and two outlying one-room
schoolhouses, the SOUTH SCHOOL and the WEST SCHOOL. These were
both closed in 1928-29, but both remain standing today. These are the only two
remaining schoolhouses of the original 10 built in the town during the 19th
century. The WEST SCHOOL, built in 1840 is owned and maintained by the
Town of Shutesbury.
Last class to attend South School in 1928:
The Sirius Community owns
the SOUTH SCHOOL and is currently restoring the building to be used for
teaching woodcarving, woodworking, sculpture, & traditional crafts as part
of the Sirius Community on-going programs. On view are old maps, photos from
the early 20th century, general information about Shutesbury history, as well as large framed prints from the
era, including the work of Winslow Homer illustrating the schoolhouse era. SOUTH
SCHOOL is an apprx. 500 sq.ft.
1-1/2 story wood frame building with chestnut beams & cedar clapboard
siding. A Condition Assessment report has been done of the building by a local
architect with the assistance of a grant from the National Trust for Historic
Preservation. Although the school building is in fair to good condition, the
sill beams from the original 180 year old foundation have deteriorated and need
replacing. The building was re-roofed by the Sirius Community several years ago;
however, siding, door, and windows are in need of repair, painting etc.
For further information contact:
72 Baker Rd. Shutesbury MA 01072
there once were hundreds of these schoolhouses across the state of
Massachusetts, only a few now remain. In the neighboring hill towns of Leveret,
Pelham, Conway, & etc., some have been restored and preserved to their
original condition. Many generations of school children received their
elementary school education in these buildings. The SOUTH SCHOOL was in use for a span of 100 years. They all stand as
reminders of a bygone era, a lifestyle and system of education of America’s 19th
century rural past.
The WEST SCHOOL, built in 1840 is
owned and maintained by the Town of Shutesbury.
Education & Rural Life
in the 19th and early 20th Century
“Snap the Whip” Winslow Homer 1870
The work of Winslow Homer, one of 19th century
America’s finest painters & illustrators is often used by historians to
indicate the form & character of mid-to late 19th century life.
The painting shown above “Snap the Whip” shows young boys- often
barefoot- taking a recess break outside the little red schoolhouse in the
background. The rural farming communities of New England built schools with
available materials which reflected the simple folk vernacular styles of the
region. Schools often looked like farm out-buildings. Many were wood framed
with chestnut beams, plentiful wood at the time, & cedar siding like the SOUTH
SCHOOL of Shutesbury,
MA. Some were painted red; others were painted white. Some were
built of local stone or brick. Kerosene lamps were used for better reading
light, and wood stoves heated the interior. Electricity did not come to rural Shutesbury, MA until the 1920’s.
In 1789 the Massachusetts State Legislature decreed that towns having 50 or more families were required to furnish 6 months of schooling during the course of the year, in one or more schools. It also mandated the separation of towns into “districts”. The South School served as “District School No. 5” and later as “No. 8” as more schools were added. Within the districts, neighborhood committees were held responsible for providing teachers, and building and maintaining the schoolhouses. In 1869 the state ended the district system, and the towns were required to take over ownership and maintenance of the schools. The towns became financially responsible for the schools and taxed accordingly. A year later this was contested and towns were allowed to decide individually to reinstate the district system, or not. By then, however, many schools statewide were already “public”. That began a lengthy debate which was soon resolved as it became increasingly clear that in a rapidly developing country getting a job and earning a living required schooling as well as training.
Many young “scholars”
from these humble beginnings could go on to High Schools located in larger
nearby towns. However, this was not always possible in the hill towns until the
motor car, and early rudimentary school “buses” became available in the early
20th century. Older children often stayed on the farm or went to
private boarding schools.
1920’s Ford High
“The Country School”
Winslow Homer 1872
“The Country School” above shows a typical schoolhouse interior of the day. The schoolmistress is at the center of the school room in front of her desk, while children of mixed ages study or recite, sitting on benches at long tables that line the walls. This depicts a somewhat informal or nostalgic view of elementary school education of the time. However, one teacher often taught the equivalent of grades 1-8 in one room: children of four or five years of age to adolescents in their teens. Discipline was a problem, with frequent tales of confrontation and harsh punishment. Later on, older pupils were often used to teach the younger ones, but it wasn’t until late in the 19th century that individual desks set in rows by grade and the use of blackboards became the adopted norm. The evolution of school grades was a gradual process often necessitated by increasing numbers and varying ages. Oft-times pupils attended in late summer, late fall, and winter so they could work on the farms during planting and harvesting seasons.
Shutesbury in 1875 had some 11,000 acres involved in farming, including a few prosperous
farms, although many had left for the more fertile farmlands of the Mid-west
opened up by the Homestead Act of 1862. Nearby, in Amherst, the Massachusetts
Agricultural College was established as a land grant agricultural college in
1863. However, by 1925 the acreage farmed in Shutesbury had nearly halved. In 1870, 52 % of Americans worked in agriculture, by the
turn of the century that figure was down to 38%. Mechanization and industrialized
farming begun in the late 19th century changed it all. By 1980 that
number was 25% and falling rapidly.
the pupils would go through a sing-song drill together, spelling a group of
words, reciting a multiplication table, or listing the capitals of the states:
sometimes groups of three or four students would recite together, and at other
times individual students would take turns going through a question and answer
drill with the teacher, while the teacher managed (somehow) to keep the other
youngsters occupied with work on various tasks. This was later relieved when
older pupils taught the younger ones. In some areas vocational training was
advocated, which usually meant woodworking & mechanics for the boys, and
sewing, cooking, canning for the girls. These have even come down to our time
as “shop” and “home economics”.
Art teaching and drawing
instruction was considered valuable training in visual literacy and the
development of personal expression, but also of practical importance in a
developing industrial economy. In 1870, Massachusetts became the first state to
mandate the teaching of drawing in its public schools. Simple geometric forms
and outlines were taught as the earliest lessons to the youngest children.
Louis Prang, Victorian artist & lithographer, also known as the man who
invented the “Christmas Card”, published a number of art instruction booklets
Annual school plays often
highlighted the school year, especially at holiday time. Singing, and choral
groups often rounded out the curriculum.
Recitations were frequent and the spelling bee was an institution which
passed on well into the 20th century.
“Blackboard” Winslow Homer
new immigrants arrived in the early 20th century, but little changed
until the 2nd quarter of the new century when the auto car and a new
industrial economy significantly altered ther
character of rural life. Larger, centrally located school buildings were built.
Primary education became more structured and efficient, and subject to new
educational methods & theories. However, many visitors to these older
schoolhouses often express the wish that they could have attended school there.
An interesting nostalgia, or sentimental view given the very real hardships and
difficulties. Or perhaps, this is a reflection of Homer Winslow’s depiction of
a “homey”, less formal, non-institutional character of life and times in a
-WEST SCHOOL -Shutesbury Historical Commission
SCHOOL – Current -SIRIUS Community
PHOTO – 1928 -Gertrude Malmquist
-Shutesbury Historic Resources Survey SHU-67,
and Scenic Resources: Chapter- 4
Education: The Metropolitan Experience
-American Education – The National Experience,
of Education in American Culture