Chestnut Hill School: The schoolhouse that burned to the ground
On a bank by the roadside on Chestnut Hill Road once stood Wilton’s eighth district schoolhouse, Chestnut Hill School.
According to Wilton Library History Room documents, the schoolhouse stood on the eastern side of the road, south of a home later owned by a Clark Keeler. Old Wilton Bulletin articles indicate that Keeler lived in the vicinity of present-day 131/132 Chestnut Hill Road in 1960.
The exact year the schoolhouse was built is unknown. According to a display outside the Wilton Library History Room, it was built in 1899, but The Bulletin could not find documents verifying this.
According to writings by Angeline M. Post — who taught at Chestnut Hill School from 1912 to 1914, as well as part of the 1916-17 school year — the schoolhouse on the eastern side of Chestnut Hill Road had “scarcely any playground.”
There was “no place to play baseball, except the narrow road deep with dust,” she wrote.
Post recalled the schoolhouse being “light grey” and having “one window in the front on the south side” and “two windows on the east and west.”
A “tall flagpole” stood outside the schoolhouse near “a huge coal bin, which held the winter’s supply of coal,” according to Post.
Inside the school, according to Post, were “double desks, a heating stove in the back of the room, and an old fashioned teacher’s desk perched on a platform, which took up considerable room.”
There was also an old organ, “enclosed in a heavy wooden case with closets at the top to protect it from destroying rates,” in one corner of the one-room schoolhouse.
According to a letter found in the library’s History Room, Chestnut Hill School was closed for several years due to a “lack of scholars,” but reopened around 1900 with “Grace Ferris, Mabel and Harold Green, Louise Krogen and her two brothers, Josephine Gorham and his sister Ethel [and] several Gustavisons” in attendance.
Later, the letter states, the Young family moved to Grumman Hill and they, too, went to the school — as well as children from the Jung family.
“Many children from large families helped to make up the attendance” at Chestnut Hill School, according to Post.
An old student ledger lists children with last names like Banks, Chapman, Green, Lillie, Jayne and Jung in attendance in 1916, ranging in age from 5 to 15.
Other family names of Chestnut Hill students included Coley, Davis, Disbrow and Gorham.
In 1974, former Chestnut Hill School student David Young told Wilton Bulletin reporter Virginia Bepler that the rectangular schoolhouse stood “between a stone wall and the road” and had “blackboards around the room between the windows,” as well as a pot-bellied stove that was used to heat the room.
“The desks, some of them double, were fastened to the floor and had been carved by generations of occupants,” according to Bepler’s article, and there was “a coatroom and water pail with dipper, which had to be filled at the Disbrow farm nearby.”
Former student Francis Young recalled a small organ and singing The Star-Spangled Banner and Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean. He told Bepler there was also a phonograph and records like The Hunt in the Black Forest were played.
Francis also recalled a system of reading, in which students read small stories from cards and addition was taught in first grade, subtraction in second grade, multiplication in third grade, and division in fourth grade.
The Youngs told Bepler that English was “a neglected subject and put pupils at a disadvantage when they went on to junior and senior high school in Norwalk.”
According to an early-20th Century school ledger, the following teachers taught at Chestnut Hill School between 1911 and 1927:
- Angeline M. Post: 1912-1914 and 1917.
- Margaret A. Phillips: 1914-1915.
- Blanche L. Smith: 1915-1916.
- Ethel M. Kearns: 1916.
- Alice M. Wildman: 1917-1919.
- Lillie A. Bennett: 1919-1920.
- M. Eleanor Jenks: 1920-1922.
- Edith E. Spomer: 1922-1923.
- Katharine C. Keehan: 1923-1924.
- Emma Moller: 1924.
- Margaret F. Lillis: 1925-1926.
- Elizabeth Bennett: 1926-1927.
In December 1974, Bennett wrote a letter to The Wilton Bulletin, in which she recalled the schoolhouse burning to the ground in April 1927. It was Bennett’s first year of teaching and the news “really hit [her] hard.”
Post also recalled, in her writings, the night the schoolhouse burned.
“One evening, a bright light shone brightly over the Wilton hills and toward the east the flames grew higher and higher. People said, ‘What can it be?’” Post wrote.
“Soon the report came [that the school had] burned to the ground. To me that was a sad day. It seemed as if an old friend had passed away.”
According to an old newspaper article, fire broke out in the coat room in the front of the school and destroyed the building, causing an estimated $8,000 in damage.
After the school burned down, Chestnut Hill students were transferred to the old town hall on Ridgefield Road, which Bennett said was “very spacious” compared to the schoolhouse.
“We had room for many interesting activities,” Bennett wrote. “I especially remember how talented the children were in the field of art. They painted many large size pictures related to their work.”
According to Bennett, students were also allowed to use Wilton Congregational Church’s side yard across the street as a play area.
Dorothy Arthur taught Chestnut Hill students during the 1927-28 school year and Margaret O’Conner taught during the 1928-29 school year, according to the old school ledger.
In 1929, Wilton began consolidating its school districts with the opening of a new four-room school — the Center School — resulting in the eventual closing of all the town’s one-room schoolhouses.
Click here to learn about Wilton’s other district schoolhouses.