Hurlbutt Street School: Wilton’s lasting schoolhouse
Unlike Wilton’s other one-room schoolhouses, Hurlbutt Street School still has a role in educating children — more than 80 years after its closing.
The schoolhouse was built in a day by members of Wilton’s ninth school district in 1834, and provided education for students in first through eighth grades over the next 101 years.
According to a 1976 Wilton Bulletin article, the current schoolhouse was probably not the first school building in the district.
It is said the first school stood on the south corner of Hurlbutt Street and present-day Liberty Street, another stood opposite the current one, and the third was “well up the street opposite Raymond and Ambler’s upper barn” and was called the “Holliberds School House,” according to Wilton Library History Room documents. The Holliberds School was large, numbering 90 or more pupils, and closed after it was found deroofed in 1834.
The current school building was originally built on land sold to the school district in 1833 by Michael Abbott.
In 1877, David N. Van Hoosear and George B. Abbott granted rights to the school district to use some of their land, west of the schoolhouse, “only for school purposes and religious meetings” under the condition that the land would be returned to them if the district “should be discontinued.”
With this, the schoolhouse was moved westward, its length increased by one-third, and a cupola and bell were installed.
The original schoolhouse had a door on the southeast corner, a “continuous desk” that wrapped around the interior wall, and benches made of oak, according to history room documents. In 1894, the school was repainted, papered and decorated with blinds.
The school underwent a number of changes over the years, including a transition from kerosene lamps to electricity, from hornbooks and slates to notebooks and lead pencils, and from students learning the three Rs — “reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic” — to understanding the atom.
The only things that stayed the same were the wood-burning stove, water jug, blackboard, teaching chart, old-fashioned desks, school bell, rain barrel, and outhouse. There is also a bell mounted in a small belfry above the front door that still works today.
Teachers and students
Many, if not all, Hurlbutt Street School teachers in the late 1800s were men. By the early 1910s, however, Hurlbutt students had a mix of men and women teachers.
The school’s most notable teacher was Angeline M. Post, who taught at the schoolhouse from 1918 to 1935.
Post once wrote about “looking forward to the day” with her “wonderful” students while traveling up and down “steep hills” from her home on Grumman Hill to the schoolhouse by horse, taxi, bicycle, and eventually car.
In 1978, a 1925 Hurlbutt Street School graduate named Edith Zaslow recalled Post being a “kind, patient woman with a wonderful sense of humor” who never used a dunce cap.
As many as 30 children were educated at a time in the one-room schoolhouse, and according to Post, some of Wilton’s most “prominent men” attended Hurlbutt Street School.
“Many of these people who had their roots in the one-room school became ministers, teachers, lawyers, bank officials and doctors, and were qualified for many more high positions in life,” she wrote.
Common family names of Hurlbutt Street students included Abbott, Ambler, Batchelder, Bedient, Bennett, Carvutto, Goeppler, Jackson, Knapp, Sturges, and, of course, Hurlbutt.
Post wrote about the school’s yearly picnics with ice cream, cake and “mostly homemade sandwiches.” She also recalled Halloween, Christmas and the last day of school being “highlights” in the one-room school.
One year, the school held a “Halloween frolic,” which featured a costume contest and “huge cake in which presents for the children were hidden,” wrote Post.
One Christmas, a stage was arranged at the schoolhouse and children performed short plays, recited poems and sang songs. There was also a “beautiful Christmas tree with gifts for all,” according to Post.
Field trips were another activity for Hurlbutt Street students. For example, according to history room documents, Post once took her students to the Norwalk Tire Co. factory to see how tires were made.
Another year, the secretary of the Hurlbutt Street School Auxiliary — a group organized in 1929 for the purpose of bringing added benefits to students in the district — took students to Split Rock Tavern to see different types of furniture. The students at the time were studying Colonial furniture.
Hurlbutt Street School closed in 1935, when all Wilton district schools were consolidated.
After its closing, Hurlbutt Street School stood empty until 1938, when Wilton’s Ladies Auxiliary purchased it for $1 and created the nonprofit Hurlbutt Street Community House Inc.
In March 1938, the group’s building committee met with an architect and a builder to discuss plans for moving and remodeling the old schoolhouse as a community center.
That summer, Chandler Cudlipp and Clinton Van Hoosear deeded some land to the Hurlbutt Street Community House, and the building was moved a short distance north to its present site.
The Hurlbutt Street Community House changed its name to the Hurlbutt Street Schoolhouse Inc. in 1974, and the then 80-year-old building was gradually refurbished to its former schoolroom appearance.
“The neighborhood ladies all got together and took over the schoolhouse,” Hurlbutt Street Schoolhouse Inc. Vice President Linda Schmidt told The Bulletin in 2015.
“They turned it into a mini community center and added the kitchen, which includes a sink so they could have potluck dinners and things like that.”
Today, the schoolhouse serves as a living museum for children from Wilton and neighboring towns to visit and learn the ways of earlier times. Children get to experience lessons taught in the old methods and participate in traditional rote learning and one-room class activities.
Today, the schoolhouse features a pot-bellied stove, water jug, blackboard, teaching chart, and the outhouse of bygone times.
To learn more about Hurlbutt Street Schoolhouse, Inc., visit hurlbuttstreetschoolhouse.org
Click here to learn about Wilton’s other district schoolhouses.