Problems at the District School

                                                                       By Lessie Mae Drown

    Not long ago the Mendon Historical Society was presented with a very old record book concerning
    one of Mendon’s own schools.

    It was a record of the school meetings of the Seventh School District from 1812 to 1860. The
    Seventh District, better known as Albeeville, was one of 14 into which the town was divided. Each
    was a little world in itself, a good example of democracy. School matters were settled at the
    district meetings, which were very similar to our town meetings. (Albeeville was in the Millville
    Road section of Mendon.)

    In 1812, the town appropriated $38.57 for the Seventh District School. The schoolmaster’s salary
    was $12.50 a month. In 1823 Ruth Staples taught a summer school for 75 cents a week. We
    read that there were 67 “scholars” in 1824 and 74 in 1832. Incidentally, many distinguished men
    got their start in education in the little school at Albeeville. Many fine old New England families
    grew up in Albeeville. Several generations of Tafts have lived there, including the ancestors of
    President Taft.

    The Tafts were so numerous in 1832 that there were 18 Taft children in the school. They
    represented six Taft families. At the same time four Wheelock families sent 16 children to school
    and five Staples families sent 12. That was the year there were 74 pupils.

    The teacher had to board around in the district. In the 1845 record we read, “It was voted to have
    21 means for one week’s board.” What could be back of a vote like that? Did someone feel
    something should be deducted if the teacher was invited out to supper? At the price usually paid
    for board then, one meal would be less than five cents.

    One amusing item appeared in each report for a number of years. In 1812 it read, “Johnson Legg
    bid off the ashes for 77 cents.” It was the custom to sell the ashes to the highest bidder at each
    annual meeting. At a meeting in 1813, Leonard Staples agreed to repair a chair for 33 cents.
    Does it seem possible that anyone ever did anything for 33 cents?

    The question of building a new schoolhouse came up in 1821, so we see that it is not a new idea
    with the present generation. They voted to raise $160 to build one. They appointed a committee
    “to find a spot to set the schoolhouse on,” and another committee to make a contract with
    someone according to law for building the schoolhouse. Before the meeting adjourned, “Simeon
    Wheelock took the schoolhouse to build for $193.” They adjourned for one week.

    At the adjourned meeting, they voted to release Simeon Wheelock from his bid and to contact with
    Arnold Taft for the same sum, $193. They voted to give Wheelock $1.50 for a piece of land upon
    which to set the schoolhouse. Arnold Taft built the new school, and it was finished within a year.
    In October of that year (1821) there was a meeting at which they voted to “put out to the lowest
    bidder the building necessary, leveling around the schoolhouse,” and a few other jobs. Simeon
    Wheelock agreed to finish the cellar for $2 and to build a necessary for $5.

    In 1830 they were facing what must have seemed a very serious and urgent problem. That was
    vandalism. The schoolhouse had been broken into, and property damaged. The extent of the
    damage is not given, but much or little, it must be stopped. They voted that the committee repair
    the door lock, nail down the windows, and close the schoolhouse against intruders. They also
    voted that the agent prosecute any person or persons “who shall break into the schoolhouse
    unnecessarily or damage the house in any way.”

    In 1845 they again needed a new schoolhouse. They were now more ambitious, or prices had
    risen, for they voted to raise $425. They also voted that the building committee negotiate with
    Varville Taft for a site and if they failed, to take legal measures to obtain the same. They need not
    have worried. Mr. Taft evidently was glad to sell them the desired land, one acre for $12.50. Soon
    the land was purchased and the schoolhouse was built.

    Of course they wanted a new stove for the new schoolhouse, so in October 1846 they voted to
    authorize the prudential committee to buy and set up a stove. The year 1847 arrived and at the
    first meeting held they voted to buy a stove and pipe and instructed the prudential committee to
    carry the vote into effect. Apparently the voters’ wishes were again disregarded, for at a later
    meeting the same year, “the prudential committee is instructed to buy a stove adapted to the
    wants of the district.”

    Time went on and at another meeting they chose a committee to take up a subscription to obtain
    a stove, and buy a separate vote, they were instructed to sell the old stove. At a still later meeting
    they voted to raise $15 to buy a stove, but the vote was reconsidered. There is no record of the
    stove being bought. Why did anyone hesitate? Was there a feeling that stoves were “new-fangled
    notions” and fireplaces were better?

    If we should look in other old town records we would find that men then were paid 10 cents an
    hour to work on the road, and 10 cents an hour for the use of a pair of oxen. We do not need to
    smile at these figures. They were wonderful dollars. One of them would buy a bag of groceries so
    big we could scarcely lift it. It would buy other things in the same proportion. Those dollars
    command our respect.

    From all this we can see something of a past life and a past pattern of thinking and living which
    was very different from our own.

                                                         Albeeville                                        Mendon   


The Albeeville School