Bicentennial committee gears up for China’s 200th birthday

The old Weeks Mills one-room schoolhouse, built in 1860 — newly upgraded with Wifi and electricity!

by Eric W. Austin

Funny how you can spend half your life in a place and still discover something new, I think, as I head down Old Weeks Mills Road to a meeting with China’s Bicentennial Committee.

The meeting is being held in the old Weeks Mills one-room schoolhouse.

Blue lights blink at me as I enter: a modem plugged into the wall just inside. It seems out of place in such an historic setting. The building was restored seven years ago and gleams with clean, whitewashed walls and dark, stained-wood floors.

Wifi and electricity are two modern conveniences that Neil Farrington, China selectman and local history enthusiast, hopes will encourage the next generation to use the building.

“It’s the perfect place for tutoring or to do homework,” he tells me as we wait for the other committee members to arrive.

He’s right. It sounds like a library in here. I feel compelled to use my inside voice.

We’re soon joined by Betty Glidden, who attended class in this very schoolhouse until the eighth grade, her husband Sherwood, and Bob Bennett, a retired history teacher who taught at Erskine Academy, in South China.

The committee has been tasked with planning celebrations for China’s 200th anniversary next year. The talk turns to the many unknown – and unnoticed – places of historical interest in China and the surrounding areas.

“We once had more than 20 schoolhouses just like this one in the areas of China, Weeks Mills and Branch Mills alone,” says Neil. “Imagine that!”

“And there are a ton of little cemeteries all over the place,” I say. “I bet they each have a story to tell.”

“Twenty-eight,” Neil supplies. “Maybe more.”

Neil is big on getting the community involved. Everybody agrees. Bob Bennett tells us how he encouraged his students to conduct interviews to add color to their term papers. Heads nod. China has a rich, deep history, but it’s locked away in the minds of its older citizens and hidden in quiet corners of the landscape.

I pipe up and offer to interview some of our senior residents and share their unique experiences with readers of The Town Line.

“Before they’re lost forever,” says Bob. The prospect is sobering for this little group of history buffs.

A reverence settles over us as we shuffle out of the little schoolhouse. There’s something about considering the vastness of history: you get the sense both of your own insignificance and yet also of our eternal connection to what has gone before.

Do you know someone with a story to tell? Contact The Town Line at townline@fairpoint.net or visit our contact page !

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