By Shelagh Talbot
School Days School Days, good old Golden Rule Days. That used to be a rhyme from a long-ago time when going to school was considered more of a privilege than a right. Certainly in Greenville, as in many towns in Maine, going to school has changed dramatically over the years. The thread that ties those early years is the same however, parents wanting their children to have the best education possible in order to equip them for their lives once school days were done.
The Moosehead Historical Society has an excellent exhibit of what it was like during those early days, and traces the history of Greenville schools with a combination of artifacts and fascinating photographs and ephemera from the past. It is worth noting that although the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan house will be closing for the season at the end of September, the Carriage House and the building housing the school and sports exhibits remains open all year.
The first school in Greenville, located on the East Road next to Autumn Brooke Farm was essentially a tarpaper shack – board-and-battened together with a large wood stove occupying the center of the spare-looking room. Not only was this building used for school, but also it was a public meetinghouse for those early settlers. The teacher ‘s desk was a wide board set upon saw horses. She had a large slate board for writing and students were relegated to
high-backed benches that also served as desk space for them to practice on their own smaller slates. An early photograph of the Greenville school shows seven students, three of whom are barefoot, and most related to each other. No book bags or fancy iPhones for these kids, just having a pair of shoes was the big luxury back then. But despite the lack of supplies, these youngsters learned the basics – reading, writing and arithmetic – which gave them important tools to be part of the growing community of Greenville. Later the school was moved to the village at the south end of Moosehead Lake and the original building was hauled away by a team of oxen and joined to another house on Pleasant Street.
Less than half a century later, Greenville had a much larger school, located on what is now known as Pritham Avenue. Many families had moved to the area to take advantage of all the work opportunities available and the size of this large and elegant building was a testament to the progress in the area. In an 1883 math textbook it was noted, “Arithmetic was taught essentially so the student would gain skills needed in the common business of everyday life.” In those days teachers required much respect and children not paying attention could expect to be placed in a corner with a Dunce cap, or even whacked with a wooden ruler or switch. How times have changed since then! But some things remain the same. Students would stealthily write notes to each other. One note that caught this writer’s eye was as follows: “November 30,1886 – I never shall forget the fun you and me had down at that house” said the note. Hmmmm…. makes you wonder what that adventure was?
Then there was a poignant note carefully scribed in the back of another math book. It said: “Dear Katie, Twelve pleasant weeks we spent together. Soon we must part, perhaps forever. But if parted we must be, my last request is to think of me. From an Admirer.” One wonders what the backstory for that little inscription could be.
In those early days, in spite of the scribbled notes passed back and forth, school children took good care of their books and they were assigned to students year after year. McGuffy Readers were popular during that time and in the preface of the book students were admonished to keep their books neat and clean. “Your parents are very kind to send you to school. If you are good and if you try to learn, your teacher will love you and you will please your parents.” It all sounds rather quaint today, but the basic message was that school was a privilege. Most Greenville kids took that to heart. There was no such thing as school lunches. If you were close enough to school, you went home for lunch; otherwise you brought it along in a paper sack. Books were slim and small in those days and could be easily strapped together for carrying. If you were lucky you would have a pencil case to carry all your needed supplies, pencils, rulers, erasers and such. There was a place in your desk for a glass inkwell and you would learn how to carefully write your letters with a metal-nibbed pen. Good penmanship was expected and students would practice over and over to make their cursive writing something to be proud of.
As the schools grew, there were sports offered as well the usual studies. Greenville had its own football team in addition to baseball and basketball. In 1934 Louis Oakes presented the Town of Greenville a magnificent brick building to replace the older schoolhouse. It is interesting that once again, that building houses K-12 Greenville students as it did almost 80 years ago.
The old schoolroom recreated at the campus of the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan house is well worth seeing. And you still have time between now and the end of the month to take a tour of the main house. Tours are offered Wed. through Fri. from 1 to 4 p.m. and the Carriage House is open all year from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tues. through Fri. Visit them on line at mooseheadhistory.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also call 207-695-2909 for more information.