Bald Hill School: Schoolhouse of mischief and memories
From 1820 until 1931, children of the Bald Hill neighborhood got their education at a little red schoolhouse on the northeast corner of Millstone and Ridgefield Roads, known as the Bald Hill School.
The one-room schoolhouse was where Bald Hill’s first through eighth graders not only went to school, but also pulled pranks.
According to Virginia Bepler’s July 1974 Wilton Bulletin article, Bald Hill: Highest Point in Wilton Once Resounded to Pranks of Students, the school had its “fair share” of mischievous pupils.
“One group of children spread dried beans around the classrooms, causing much commotion as pupils moved about the school,” according to Bepler.
Another group of students took a goat and goose from a farm and left them in the school overnight, which left “such a mess that the building was closed the next day,” according to Bepler.
A teacher’s chair was placed on the roof of the schoolhouse one Halloween, and the late Doris Godfrey Martin, who taught at the Bald Hill School from 1914 until 1916, once found a mouse in her desk, according to a 1975 Wilton Bulletin article.
The second school district students weren’t just a bunch of rascals, though. In 1924, Bald Hill students won first prize in a Wilton Garden Club contest for destroying 47,293 tent caterpillar egg masses.
The inside of the school had six double seats on each side and two in the back, and each desk had a hole for ink bottles, which were used to write with quill pens.
The exterior of the school had a rooftop bell, which people would use to tell the time of day, and a flagpole, which Mrs. G. J. DeWitt, of Wilton, purchased in New York City in 1895.
Outside the schoolhouse was an outhouse containing a “double-holer for the boys and one for the girls,” separated by a partition, according to Martin.
Each morning, the pot-bellied stove in the middle of the schoolhouse was started to keep the children and their teacher warm during the six-and-a-half-hour school day, which began at 9 a.m.
When Martin taught at the school, a 15-year-old named Doug Gray would start the schoolhouse’s stove and she would put it out at the end of the day. Around the stove was a nickel banding where children would hang their mittens and stockings up to dry after playing in the snow.
In addition to 34 first through eighth graders, Martin said she had one preschooler in her class, who “slept on a desk part of the time.”
Martin said she sometimes had only about five minutes to devote to a class subject and lessons were simple and basic and produced “good results.”
An hour of time was designated for lunch, according to Martin, during which some children would go home and then come back.
During recess, students played in the schoolhouse’s little yard or on the road and “invented their own games” like “Duck on the Rock” or played a-tisket-a-tasket or drop-the-handkerchief, according to Martin.
When the school day ended at 3:30, Martin said, she would stay at school correcting papers sometimes until 11 p.m.
There were winter and summer terms at Bald Hill School — October to March and April to September — which were sometimes taught by different teachers, according to an 1826-1867 Bald Hill School register. Classes ranged from as many as 46 students one term to as low as 19 another, with 5-13 being the usual ages of students between 1826 and 1867.
Many teachers taught at Bald Hill School over its 111 years, including the “much-loved” Peter Fayerweather.
Fayerweather was “considered one of the outstanding schoolmasters of his day” and earned $95 for teaching during the winter term of 1862-1863, according to a document written by former Bald Hill School student Caroline Keeler, whose mother, Eloise Fanton, taught at the school from 1891 to 1892, and father, William Keeler, taught at the school for part of a session.
Fayerweather died in 1868 and one of his former students, Ann E. Hoyt, later taught at Bald Hill School, from about 1880 to 1886.
According to a 1911-1929 school ledger and 19th- and early-20th Century newspapers, other Bald Hill teachers included:
- Harry Benedict: September 1895.
- Mabel Fitch Sturges: 1896-1897.
- Hatti DeNike: Circa 1907.
- Mary E. Cunningham: 1912-1914.
- Gladys L. Jennings: 1916-1919.
- Mae E. Wilson: 1919-1920.
- Alice Minnix: 1920-1921.
- Margaret Fearon and Mrs. Esther J. Staples: 1921-1922.
- Nellie E. Bourke and Mabel Hathaway: 1922-1923.
- Ruth Carlson: 1923-1924.
- Gladys E. Sherwood: 1924-1925.
- Ruth E. Niland: 1925-1926.
- Hazel E. Emmerthal: 1926-1927
- Dorothy E. Benjamin: 1927-1929.
- Mary Thomas: 1928-1929.
- Edna Lynch: 1929-1930.
According to Wilton Library History Room documents, Jennie Carter Middlebrook, Helen Burke and Gladys Stannard also taught at the school.
Responsible for the operation of the Bald Hill school system, the second school district committee saw to maintaining and supplying the schoolhouse, hiring teachers and ensuring proper instruction, as well as loaning money, mortgaging, foreclosing and sealing lands to finance the operation.
Residents of the Bald Hill district paid for teachers’ salaries, books, school supplies, furniture, fuel and maintenance.
According to the 1911 Town of Wilton Annual Report, Bald Hill School cost taxpayers $455.29 that year.
With an average attendance of 19.28 students in 1911, Bald Hill School’s per-pupil cost was $22.70, as determined by the following:
- Fuel: $21 ($1.08 per pupil).
- Salary: $400 ($20.78 per pupil).
- Books and supplies: $25 (77 cents per pupil).
- Miscellaneous: $1.25 (7 cents per pupil).
According to the report, $8.04 was spent to repair the schoolhouse that year.
In 1920, Bald Hill School cost taxpayers a total of $948.76, part of which included $800 for the teacher, $44.12 for fuel and $83.19 for repairs, according to a February 1991 Wilton Bulletin article.
A group from the Teachers College of Columbia University in New York introduced a progressive method of education to Bald Hill School in 1926, which, according to a document written by Louise Ruscoe, led to the consolidation of Wilton’s district schools.
The consolidation process began with the opening of the town’s new Center School in 1929. Bald Hill School was one of four schools initially omitted from sending students to Center School due to lack of space.
Instead, Bald Hill students were sent to Ridgefield for “a year or two,” according to Ruscoe, until four classrooms were added to the Center School, allowing students from the town’s omitted districts to attend.
After Bald Hill School closed, the one-room building it was used as a meeting place for a the Bald Hill Boys’ Club in 1933 and 1934, as well as a recreation center.
In October 1935, the town sold the plot of land with the former Bald Hill School to George Evans Hubbard, who then moved the schoolhouse further east to its current location at 24 Millstone Road, remodeled it and annexed it to a dwelling he built.
According to an April 28, 1938 Wilton Bulletin article, the former schoolhouse was being rented by Robert B. Bell, of Darien, in April 1938. At the same time, according to the article, alterations were also “being made in the second floor under the direction of Wellington Green," and Ridgefield resident Charles W. Weitzel was installing a hot air heating system.
Today, the schoolhouse is part of a 4,372-square-foot, 10-room antique style home, owned by Stephen Vehslage and his wife Emily.
Vehslage, who has lived there with his family for the past 15 years, said he loves that part of his home is an old schoolhouse.
“I'm a high school social studies teacher and my wife was a preschool and kindergarten teacher before we starting having kids,” he said, “so it's fitting that we should live in an old school house.”
Vehslage said he and his wife decided to buy the home because they liked its “unusual style” and “mix of old and new.”
“The schoolhouse was moved to our current location, as was a separate barn that now serves as our living room,” he said.
“The two old buildings were joined together into one home, and over time, other sections have been added on. The result is rambling and pretty unique.”
Vehslage said it’s not easy to identify the old schoolhouse portion of his home — the section to the right of the house’s front door — since the belfry was moved to another section of the house.
Today, a white plaque on the front of the house indicates the location of what used to be the old Bald Hill schoolhouse, he said.
Click here to learn about Wilton's other district schoolhouses.