Kent School: Wilton’s ‘strict’ schoolhouse
On the west side of Danbury Road, opposite the junction with Westport Road, stood Wilton’s 6th District schoolhouse — the Kent School.
The Greek Revival-style schoolhouse, also known as the South Wilton School, was built in 1843 and closed in 1929, but it was not the district’s first school.
According to a document written by the late Wiltonian F. C. Ogden, “tradition says that the first school built stood on the triangle where Sharp Hill Road enters Route 7” and “the second school stood not far from there.”
At a school meeting on Feb. 11, 1802, the 6th District school committee voted to sell the first schoolhouse at auction once the new one was completed, according to Wilton Library History Room documents.
Land records are sketchy and it wasn’t until 1843 that Charles A. and Sally L. Davenport sold land to the 6th School District for the purpose of “erecting, maintaining and keeping in repair” the new Kent schoolhouse.
One of Wilton’s most notable teachers, Angeline M. Post, was once a student at Kent School. From 1883 to 1892, she walked a full mile to the little one-room school with her older siblings each morning from their Grumman Hill Road home, according to Wilton Library History Room documents.
“This school was situated very near the roadside on Danbury Road,” Post wrote. “I trudged along trying to keep up with the others and [was] so glad when my goal was sighted by the little brook by the wayside.”
School started at 9 in the morning and ended at 4 in the afternoon.
Post recalled her first teacher being a “beautiful” and kind lady, whose classes consisted of first through eighth graders. When Post was a student at the school, she said, approximately 30 pupils were in attendance.
The interior of the school was “very unattractive,” according to Post.
“The little old stove, coal or wood, stood in the middle of the room and sent out the welcomed heat, which I will never forget,” she wrote. “There were four rows of old double desks and seats which were shared by two children.”
The teacher’s desk and “heavy old-fashioned chair” sat on a raised platform in the back of the classroom, and “a long bench on which stood a wooden water pail and one dipper” was located at the west side of the room.
“The only water available had to be carried from a neighbor’s well a short distance from the school,” according to Post. “Here the boys walked back and forth through the day bringing a fresh drink to the thirsty children.”
When Ogden was a student, a “common tin dipper” was used by everyone and a wooden water pail was filled twice a day from a well at Mrs. Bradley Sturges’s house across the brook.
Post said students had to purchase their own books and used ink bottles, slates, slate pencils, and sometimes soapstone pencils in class.
During recess, the only place for the children to play was in the “dusty street,” where “horses and wagons only passed once in a while,” according to Post.
“Some children played close to the schoolhouse, especially the little children. Some of the games we played were ‘A Tisket-A-Tasket,’ ‘Farmer in the Dell,’ ‘London Bridges,’ Tag, and ‘Hide and Seek,’” recalled Post. “Others jumped the bars leading to the fields nearby.”
Kent School’s teachers were very strict, according to Ogden, who said some of them “emulated the Van Higginbottoms, a race of schoolmasters so humorously described by Washington Irving as being armed with ferrules and birchen rods and who first discovered the marvelous sympathy between the seat of honor and the seat of intellect and that the shortest way to get knowledge into the head was to hammer it into the bottom.”
Ogden’s father also attended Kent School, and he told him about a teacher named Joseph Hyatt, “who couldn’t enjoy his lunch unless he had administered corporal punishment to my worthy sire during the morning.”
“Those were the days when the teacher was always right, and a licking in school brought another one when the culprit got home,” wrote Ogden, who “fortunately never got licked in school.”
Although her first teacher was kind, Post recalled, other teachers were so strict that “some children were afraid to go to school.”
“Men teachers were hired as well as women, but sometimes a man was needed to discipline the older, unruly boys,” wrote Post. “These teachers were really cruel. Today, these teachers would not be able to qualify in any school.”
Ogden said male teachers weren’t the only ones “handy with the switch.” There were several female teachers who “frequently beat the dust out of the fresh or obstreperous youngsters.”
Kent School had many different teachers, who usually taught for short terms, and most of whom were men.
John Gaylord Davenport, who attended Kent School until he was about 11 years old, lived across the street from the little red schoolhouse, and male teachers would frequently board with his family through the winter.
In his autobiography, Davenport recalled “but two women teachers” in the course of his seven or eight years at the school.
According to documented 19th-Century school committee proceedings, approximately 70% of the teachers hired in the district were men.
Angeline Sturges, Mary A. Randle, Catharine Sturges, Sarah Keeler, Henrietta Carley, Mrs. Eunice Dudley, Sarah Jane Fayerweather, Julia Banks, Alice St. John, Anna Hyatt, and a Miss Benedict were some of the women hired to teach at Kent School between 1845 and 1878.
Kent School’s early 20th-Century teachers included Mabel L. Post (1912-1927), Winifred Little (1927-1928) and Mr. Sassman (1928-1929), according to a 1911-1929 teachers list.
Children from the Comstock, Godfrey, Orem, and Morehouse families were among those who received an education at the Kent School, and Cpl. James Bennett Whipple — the first Wiltonian killed in action during World War I and for whom the American Legion post is named — was a Kent School student, too.
With 28 students — six first graders, two second graders, three third graders, four fourth graders, five fifth graders, six sixth graders, and two eighth graders — Kent had the highest enrollment of Wilton’s nine district schools in 1913-14.
In March 1849, the school district prohibited out-of-district children from attending Kent School “unless by the consent of the majority of the legal voters” in the 6th School District. In September 1862, the district voted to exclude Chestnut Hill — with which it had voted to share its public money the year before — “unless they pay their bills.”
“If a child from another district attended school,” according to Ogden, “his parent or guardian paid the district for his schooling.” However, there seem to have been exceptions.
According to documented school district proceedings, Bennajah Gilbert was hired to teach at Kent School in the summer of 1855 for $1 a day with the privilege of having his two sons attend for free.
In spring 1924, Kent School beat Chestnut Hill School, 15-11, in a baseball game at Orem Field.
In 1927, the school started The Jolly Readers of Kent School club. The club officers were John Dennin as president, Roxane Wright as vice president, Frederick Dotson as secretary, Dorothy Tolles as assistant secretary, and Harold Remsen as treasurer.
In November of that year, the school voted to name its school paper “The Kent School Monthly.” The paper’s student officers were Chester Godfrey as manager, Arthur Javes as editor, and Anita Peterson, John Dennin and Robert Wilson as staff members.
Kent students also helped the American Legion sell tickets for a dance and Thanksgiving basket, and the pupils presented their teacher, Edith Richdale — who later served as Wilton’s town clerk — with a floor lamp as a Thanksgiving gift.
In December 1927, Georgiana Comstock gave a nature lesson on birds and Mary Comstock gave one on seeds, both of which, according to The Bridgeport Telegram, were “very interesting and instructive.” The school also had a Christmas party that month.
Wilton started consolidating its schools in the 1920s and Kent School closed its doors once the new Center School opened in town.
After its closing, the Kent schoolhouse was used by the Kent Pioneer Club of the Fairfield County YMCA for meetings in 1939.
The building also has served as a meeting place for Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts, and at one point became Wilton’s one and only rural YMCA — a branch of the Norwalk YMCA. In the 1950s, the schoolhouse was used as the Wilton Athletic Club headquarters.
In 1971, the school was due to be razed to make way for Route 7, but arrangements were made with the state to move it and set it on a new foundation provided by the Wilton Historical Society — Lambert Corner on Danbury Road.
Before the schoolhouse was used for all these things — including its current use as a State Farm insurance office — “many men and women, now living or dead, received their first, and in some cases their only, schooling,” said Ogden.
Click here to learn about Wilton’s other district schoolhouses.