MAINE MEMORIES: School days of old

The old Weeks Mills one-room schoolhouse, built in 1860.

by Evangeline T.

Welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state. For this installment, I’m looking back at my early school days. Times definitely have changed, since then!

I grew up in the small town of LaGrange, Maine. We had a general store, a post office, service station, and a railroad station.

My first train ride was on an old black steam engine from that station to Milo, Maine, a distance of approximately ten miles. I’ve never forgotten it!

LaGrange had four working schoolhouses, which I attended one by one, until I was in my third year of high school. That’s when I moved to another town.

School number one consisted of a large room, where sub-primary (or kindergarten) and first and second grades were taught, all by one teacher. We sat at low tables, with small brightly colored chairs of red, green, yellow, and orange. Once a week, we’d gather together, and a lady would come and tell us a story. After that, a man gave us all chocolate cupcakes, with delicious white cream filling.

School number two was a single room, housing grades three and four. We had our own desks, which made us feel grown up. There was one teacher for every subject and for both grades.

In the back of the room was an iron stove called a ram down. The stove used a big log for fuel. It was our only source of heat, so everyone wanted a desk close by. Sometimes, we’d be allowed to cook lunch on the ram down, using ingredients brought from home. A great stew was the result. What a treat!

Teachers back then were strict. If we whispered and giggled, she wrote our names on the slate blackboard. Later, at day’s end, those who’d disobeyed lined up in front of the room and held out their hand. Each received a slap from a razor strap. Ouch! A razor strap was about two inches wide and two feet long, made out of strong leather and used to sharpen straight razors. It hurt, and I can witness to that!

School number three was split into two rooms. The left housed grades five and six. The right accommodated grades seven and eight.

A basement coal furnace provided heat. My dad filled it every evening and again in the morning, all part of his duties as school bus driver.

Our school was right in town, across from the general store. If we’d been good and asked “may I,” not “can I,” teacher allowed us to buy candy or an ice cream cone during lunch hour. If we didn’t have money, we’d play games or swing.

As I said before, Dad drove the school bus, so I’d wait to be the last one out. “May I have a nickel?” I’d ask him. Keep in mind, mom had already said no at home! He’d reach into his pocket and say, ‘gee, I don’t seem to have a nickel, will a dime do?’ It was our little secret. A dime bought a lot of candy and an ice cream!

School number four (high school) was a converted church on a hill called Hinkley Hill, after a family who’d settled there years before.

All four years of high school attended. We’d start each day by congregating in the central area, about 30 of us. Our senior class consisted of two sisters, and no one else! After roll call, we’d go to different rooms, depending on what subjects were being taught that particular day.

This building was heated by a coal furnace, and the heat came through one very large register in the floor.

Maine winters are famous for being chilly, but we girls knew how to keep warm. Slacks weren’t allowed, and the style was skirts with lots of petticoats. At recess, we’d stand over that register and get our petticoats as hot as possible. When the bell rang, we wrapped them around ourselves and sat down. Worked like a charm!

Those times of one room school houses, coal furnaces, razor straps and hand-held brass bells are all in the past, now. Just scrapbook memories. Too bad.

Today, it’s smart phones, computers, and modern technology galore. Are these new methods better? Are our students smarter? I wonder!


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