November-December, 1929

Stamford's Little Red School House
by Florence Lee

Gone are most of the little red schoolhouses of former generations - gone, but not forgotten, for theirs is a place in the people's memory, the spot where many of our finest men received their first inspiration.

One of the few of these single room schoolhouses still stands on the old state road between Stamford and Bedford, a monument to the honest building of former years, in such excellent repair that an art school now replaces the former teaching of the three R's.

What stories could this old house, with its two classic porch columns and little cupola, tell of happenings during the century and a quarter of its existence.  only twenty-five years before had we declared ourselves an independent nation; schooling had been merely for the favored few.  The fastest transportation was by horse, and the distance to Icabod Crane's former school, thirty miles away, was a day's journey!

Our nation was developing rapidly.  Soon came news of Hendrick Hudson's boat that could steam five miles a hour, then before long this same steam drove railway trains, and even the Atlantic was crossed by means of it.  Perhaps the school heard discussions about the great Erie canal, the increased population and trade brought in by it - certainly Stamford was growing.

Following the war of 1812 when all men who were physically fit were required to join the National Guard, the old meadow across the road became, for the village militia, a drill ground, with bugle calls, rumble of drums and rattle of target practise to break the peaceful country quiet.

What matter if this militia became more social than a military organization, that made it not a whit less interesting!  If Connecticut was slow in getting its National Guard to the front some years later when civil war broke loose in the land, at least, they went fully equipped and conducted themselves like seasoned soldiers, no doubt, partly because of these same required drills.

Closer to the existence of the little school that drills and wars, however, were the remarkable educational reforms that took place in the East during the "Forties," when Horace Mann became Secretary of the State Board of Education in Massachusetts.  Throughout the country district school education was raised to a higher level.  Instead of children going only a few months to school they began to attend it for most of the year.  The idea of free education to all as a duty of the state to each of its citizens was growing.  School boards were formed and supervisors maintained.

It was about this time, so local history tells us, at the annual school meeting in 1842 that the district employed one John Lyell as teacher.  Perhaps it was a too liberal use of the hickory tree which stood conveniently near, though gossip said he kept a bottle of rum in his desk and partook of it freely, anyway, "his conduct soon resulted in dissension, and one year later at the annual meeting of the school board it was voted that Mr. Lyell might dismiss his school any day without breach of contract."  Evidently opinions differed, rumor again had it that he engineered another special meeting at which his friends voted to reengage him.  But in six months he was finally dismissed.  An interesting sidelight upon the type of teacher employed then lies in the continued account of this episode, which tells that Mr. Lyell was discovered by his successor, also a Scotchman, to be the long sought heir to his father's title and estate in Scotland, "after which," it quaintly remarks, "he always had money to lend."  However he renounced the title and preferred to live in Fairfield county until his death 30 years later.

About 1873 the little school reaches its zenith, when there was a consolidation of educational effort.  It was then known as the Roxbury School, and was remodeled and enlarged.  Perhaps it felt quite important in those days for we were getting to be a great nation.  Stamford was a flourishing town, daily newspapers kept the country informed of the world's doings and the pace began to be swifter.  Not until about 1915 when macadamized roads had replaced the old dirt ones, and the world passed swiftly in automobiles, did the little school close its doors and settle down to a peaceful old age.

"Came a day," as the movie captions say, a few years later when the picturesque little building attracted the movies themselves.  It was just the spot to film a drama of school life.  So in the realistic picture, "The Little Red School,"  Martha Madison played teacher and the whole country afterwards saw the reflection of what had been.

Another decade of peaceful musing and once more the sturdy little schoolhouse opens its doors.  Easels and paint boxes replace the old desks and crayons.  Interesting sketches of metropolitan, Parisian and American Indian life covers the old blackboards for it is now the Kihn-Ten Eyck Art School.  Instruction in various branches of art are offered by W. Langdon Kihn and John Ten Eyck, both artists known here and abroad, the former chiefly for his Indian subjects, many of which are found in western and Canadian museums, the latter perhaps best known for his etchings and landscapes.

An ideal spot is this for an art school, situated as it is amid fields, woods, streams and hills, and happier probably, its summer students when outdoor sketching lures them beside a running brook or light-flecked forest, than were those children of yesteryear.

Today automobiles drive swiftly by.  Will the little red school be still standing when students arrive in their airplanes?  I wonder.