OWLS HEAD, Maine — At its peak, this small coastal town had five one-room schoolhouses. Now only two remain, and both are out of use.
To raise awareness about the legacy of the schools, the Mussel Ridge Historical Society held a reunion Friday for everyone who attended one of the tiny schools.
The historical society threw the potluck and reunion to raise awareness for its effort to preserve two of the former schools — the Head of the Bay School and the Village School. About 35 people attended the event at the town’s community building.
“Whether you went to Minnesota or Millinocket, a lot of the one-room schoolhouses were pretty much the same,” said Tom Christie, vice chairman of the historical society. “They used the same books. A lot of teachers would travel from one to the next.”
On display were desks found in the attic of one of the schools and some old books donated to the society.
“How many quarters are given for a half dollar?” asked the 1915 schoolbook Everyday Arithmetic, which was displayed on a two-seat desk from one of the schools. Most of the schools were built in the 1830s, and they all closed in the 1950s when the town built one large school.
Another book on display was newer. “Mom’s Memoirs” was written and published by Vera Payson Mathieson, 88, of Owls Head. She dedicated a chapter to the Ingraham Hill School, where she started kindergarten in 1929. Mathieson wrote about her teacher, who had a sinus problem and always had handkerchiefs hanging from the woodstove, and about how at recess, that teacher would take naps while the kids played hide-and-seek in the woods.
Mathieson was one of 35 students in the school. At the potluck on Friday night she sat across from her friend Joyce Ross, 80, of Owls Head, whom she went to school with.
“School was like a family. I was one of three people in my class the whole time,” Mathieson said.
Ross met her husband in the small school, although at the time “he was a brat,” she said. It took him going to a private high school to make him a gentleman, she said.
“I loved being in a one-room schoolhouse,” Ross said. “I think we need to go back to it. Back then we could all read and write.”
“And if you didn’t behave they’d get pinched or hit with a ruler,” Mathieson added.
Ross said her most vivid memory of the school was being a very small child and being placed in a trash can for a school play.
Freda Woodman-Stone, 90, of Owls Head remembered being ignored by one male teacher early on and then getting held back a grade.
It wasn’t until the historical society dimmed the lights and turned on a slide show that the memories flooded back to Woodman-Stone.
She struggled to get out of her chair and then moved to the front of the room.
“I know them. That’s my brother,” she said, pointing at the screen. She then called out most of the other people by name as members of the historical society jotted them down in a notebook.
The historical society is raising money to refurbish the Head of the Bay School, at the corner of Ash Point Drive and North Shore Drive, and the Village School on North Shore Drive. Donations may be sent to Mussel Ridge Historical Society, P.O. Box 133, Owls Head 04854. Donations are tax-deductible.