Charlemont’s ‘Little Red School’ recognized

  • The Little Red School on Route 2 in Charlemont, built in 1828, which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • The Little Red School on Route 2 in Charlemont, built in 1828, was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/4/2017 9:23:43 PM

CHARLEMONT — The East Charlemont District School — also known as the “Little Red School” — sits alone in a field along the Mohawk Trail, with a simple plaque explaining its 116-year-long school history.

But now the tidy, brick schoolhouse is also on the National Register of Historic Places, in Washington, D.C.

“Inclusion of the East Charlemont District School in the National Register will help to raise awareness of this remarkably intact historic schoolhouse,” said state Secretary William F. Galvin, when the school was first nominated for the honor last fall.

Built in 1828, the Charlemont school is one of the few remaining, early 19th century, one-room schools in western Massachusetts to be made of brick. The Federal-style school is 1½ stories tall under a side-gable, slate-covered roof. A one-story, wood-framed equipment shed was added to the east side around 1874, and a privy was added around 1920.

The school has its original entry doors, hardware and transom, as well as its intact interior, of a cloak room and classroom. There are slate blackboards, beadboard wainscoting and ceilings, along with narrow oak floorboards dating back to the late 1800s.

“The school never had running water and has always been heated by a wood stove,” according to information from the Secretary of State’s office. “The lighting dates from 1943. The building is flanked by low stone walls and surrounded by fields ... reflecting its original setting.”

The school was typical of western Massachusetts schools in its earliest years: It was a school where neighborhood children and adolescents gathered in one room to learn reading, writing and arithmetic, often for fewer than eight months a year.

The teachers — usually single women — had a 12th-grade education. Gradually, the length of the school year was extended, along with the range of subjects taught, to meet growing state requirements. But, as education standards rose, the physical building changed very little — “an economic fact that was true for many of the small, rural agricultural communities of western Massachusetts,” according to the Secretary of State’s office.

The school closed in 1944, but the building is still owned by the town.

Inside, it is furnished with period-appropriate wood-and-cast iron student desks, and a teacher’s desk. It remains as a field-trip destination for today’s schoolchildren from Charlemont.

Last fall, for instance, the Little Red School was the setting for the Hawlemont Regional School’s cider day.

According to the Bicentennial History of Charlemont, the town first approved money for schools in 1770 and was divided into three school districts: the village, East Charlemont, and the Center.

“The pupils did the chores in the school, getting wood and keeping the fires burning,” according to the history book. “In the East Charlemont School, water had to be brought for drinking from the Wells homestead next door or, later, from the parsonage on the other side.”

As East Charlemont ceased to be a thriving village, enrollment declined until there were only about 14 to 17 students attending in 1943. “While parents were reluctant to see this school closed, at the beginning of the 1944 school year the pupils found, when they arrived for school, that a bus would take them to Charlemont village, and the last of the small schools had closed,” the book says.


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