Quasset School a link to Woodstock's past

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Woodstock - posted Mon., Aug. 5, 2013
The Quasset School was built in 1738. Photos by D. Coffey.
The Quasset School was built in 1738. Photos by D. Coffey.

Hanging on the wall just inside the door to the Quasset School in Woodstock is a list of “crimes” and their punishments. The list let students know exactly where they stood if they were caught misbehaving. Coming to school without washing your hands could earn two lashes. For calling another a liar, a student could get four lashes. But for swearing in school, a student could receive eight lashes.

The list is one of several eye-opening exhibits at the one-room schoolhouse on Frog Pond Road. Built in 1738, the Quasset School is one of 17 one-room schoolhouses that used to dot the Woodstock countryside. Those 17 schools served as neighborhood schools until the 1950s, when the elementary school was built.

The Quasset survives because it was dismantled and moved to its present location in the 1950s. According to docent Myra Pratte, children collected pennies in a campaign to move the building brick by brick from its original location. A plaque posted on the entrance claims the Quasset to be America's oldest schoolhouse in regular use. The U.S. Commissioner of Education and Connecticut's Gov. Lodge dedicated it as a national shrine to public education in 1954.

Inside are desks and chairs, a Noyes & Nutter wood stove, bookcases filled with old readers and slates. Pratte said the Quasset School Advisory Committee maintains the school as close to its original condition as possible. There is no electricity. What light there is comes from eight large windows. Heat was provided by the wood stove located in the center of the room. In the cold weather, students had to bring wood with them. Reproductions of old maps hang on the walls, including a Windham County map of 1855. Inkwells and quill pens decorate the teacher's desk. A school bell used by Quasset teacher Anna Nelson is a link to the past when students filled the chairs and read from the books and learned from the lessons written on the board.

Woodstock students still learn in the old schoolhouse. Every year, third-graders at Woodstock Elementary School spend one week there. They can dress in period clothes, with girls wearing long skirts and scarves and boys wearing hats and vests. Teachers change their lesson plans to include the types of skills students would have learned in the 1800s. They might try their hand at stenciling and tin-punching. They might sew, do craft work or make baskets. Pieces of slate and old blackboards are used for writing and arithmetic exercises. And there are hoops and graces to play with at recess.

“It's almost like a field trip but you never have to leave town,” Pratte said. “The kids love it.”

Pratte loved it as well. She spent 26 years at the Woodstock Elementary School teaching third and fourth grade. She found the kids were most surprised at the separate doorways for boys and girls, and the fact that one room accommodated several different grades. “It's a nice experience for them to be able to see what life was like back then,” Pratte said.

The school is open on Sundays in July and August from 1 to 4 p.m.

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