Former students gather to remember Ledyard's one-room schools

Doris Johnson, from left, who went to Long Cove School beginning in 1940, looks over the school's 1941 graduation pamphlet as she talks with her husband Doug Johnson and Janet Barnett, who attended Geer Hill School, during a one-room schools reunion on Sunday, April 22, 2018 at the Ledyard Senior Center. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Doris Johnson, from left, who went to Long Cove School beginning in 1940, looks over the school's 1941 graduation pamphlet as she talks with her husband Doug Johnson and Janet Barnett, who attended Geer Hill School, during a one-room schools reunion on Sunday, April 22, 2018 at the Ledyard Senior Center. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Ledyard — While most students probably spent Sunday reluctantly preparing to return to class following April vacation, some of the town's oldest residents gleefully made a trip back to school.

Dozens of residents, including more than 20 former students, gathered at the Ledyard Senior Center for a presentation and reunion celebrating Ledyard's one-room schoolhouses.

From Geer Hill and Long Cove to Ledyard Center and Cider Hill, residents revisited the town's old schools alongside those who attended them.

"I'm glad we captured their stories," said Kit Foster of the Ledyard Historical Society. "That's where the stories come from, you need to capture those while people are still around."

A collaboration of the historical society, senior center and friends of Ledyard Libraries, Sunday's event marked the first one-room schoolhouse reunion in more than six years, and was full of fun insights.

The presentation delivered by Foster walked the audience through the 15 schools or districts that used to populate Ledyard, all the way up to the modern day. Many of the schoolhouses have been repurposed in some fashion, converted into stores, doctor offices and residential homes.

But a few other schools such as Geer Hill still stand in mostly their original state.

Alumni of Ledyard's one-room schools also offered firsthand accounts of their time as students. Be it long treks to school, wartime bomb drills or arriving early to start fires for heating, alumni were full of tales that offer a stark contrast to the schools of today.

One story that earned a lot of laughs came when one resident recalled her teacher futily trying to close windows during the hurricane of 1938 and the words of wisdom she offered her students: "Don't open your umbrellas."

Another catching story came from Jerry Watkins, who attended the Ledyard Center School. Watkins recalled attending school while the town was finishing up its expansion of Route 12. Constructions workers were using dynamite to blast the ledges, but the concrete wasn't the only thing to feel the effects of the explosives.

"We came back to school and there was this big shelf that went all the way around the room, and all the books were on the floor," Watkins said with laugh. "A big rock had hit the schoolhouse."

But one of the most heartening themes that came up frequently as students reminisced about their old schools was this sense of camaraderie. People knew each other, trusted each other and were eager to lend a helping hand. There were students of all ages, grades one through eight, who all attended the same one-room schoolhouse, but the age difference didn't stop them from being friendly.

"You got to know everybody," said Sally Allyn Brousseau, who attended several of the old schools including Long Cove and Gales Ferry. "If someone was having problems in class, one grade helped the other."

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