Exhibit on Cohanzie School part of steps toward demolition

Waterford - The story of the expansion and consolidation of the town's schools has been installed on five poster boards behind a glass case in the town's library.

The exhibit on Cohanzie School is one of two documentation steps required by the State Historic Preservation Office before the former elementary school can be demolished. A report documenting the school, its history, historical architecture as well as photography must be submitted to the state on archival paper for preservation.

For the exhibit, town historian Robert Nye enlisted the help of the Waterford Historical Society to locate photographs, maps, letters and other documents from what used to be the 11 school districts within the town.

"I expanded on it thinking, if I'm going to do this, why don't we give kind of the whole story," Nye said Wednesday. "It was really a period of expansion starting in the 1700s, 1800s, and then the consolidation started early in the 20th, and after World War II, it was an expansion period again, and in more recent years, we're back to more consolidation."

Each of the 11 school districts were overseen by a committee appointed by that district's residents, and it wasn't until 1898 that the school districts were consolidated into a townwide system.

In one picture included in the exhibit, a wood-burning stove was located in the center of a classroom in Spithead School, located in District 9 near the Niantic River.

"I got my glue stick out and my scissors and I regressed," Nye said. "I was back in elementary school again. Of course I did call on my years of teaching, too."

Nye was a teacher for 15 years and taught special education and history/social studies at Waterford High School for seven years.

According to a letter in the exhibit detailing plans for the ensuing 1814 winter season, students in the Lakes Pond District, which bordered Montville and East Lyme, were required to bring "one foot of wood fit for the fire before they enter the school and if not ... the child be sent home."

The first consolidation period in Waterford began when the two-room Cohanzie School known as the "Peter Baker School", Gilead School and Lakes Pond School closed their doors when a new Cohanzie opened in 1923. Post-World War II expansion happened between 1930 and 1990, when the town's population grew from 4,740 to 17,900.

In 2002, a consolidation of three elementary schools was approved by referendum.

Quaker Hill, Oswegatchie and Great Neck schools were demolished and rebuilt in their respective locations in 2006, 2007 and 2009, and a new Waterford High School opened its doors in April. The older part of the high school will be demolished this summer.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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