one-room schools ..... opening LCS ...... fall in the air

This Week in Lincolnville: When Mama is the Teacher

...and these days, she often is!
Mon, 08/31/2020 - 9:30am

     “Stop dawdling, Madalienne! We’ve got a lot to do this morning.” Myrabelle Russ stood in the middle of the road, hands on hips, and called back to her daughter. The little girl, who had stopped to pick wildflowers, hurried to her mother and presented her with a bouquet of purple asters and goldenrod.

    “We can put these on your desk, Mama.”

    “That’ll be nice,” her mother said, her mind elsewhere. “You carry them, all right?” Myrabelle’s hands were full, a big basket of cleaning supplies in one and their dinner bucket in the other. She intended to stay right through the day, if necessary, and get the job done right. “Come along, now. Try to keep up with me.” She set off quickly down the road, hoping to get to work before it got too hot.


    TUESDAY, Sept. 1

    Cemetery Trustees, 4 p.m., Breezemere Park

    WEDNESDAY, Sept. 2

    Library book pickup, 3-6 p.m., Library

    SATURDAY, Sept. 5

    Library book pickup, 9 a.m.-noon, Library

    MONDAY, Sept. 6

    Town Office closed for Labor Day

    TUESDAY, Sept. 8

    First day of school 


    AA meetings, Tuesdays & Fridays at noon, Norton Pond/Breezemere Bandstand

    Lincolnville Community Library, curbside pickup Wednesdays, 3-6 p.m. and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-noon. For information call 706-3896.

    Soup Café, cancelled through the pandemic

    Schoolhouse Museum open by appointment, 505-5101 or 789-5987

    Bayshore Baptist Church, Sunday School for all ages, 9:30 a.m., Worship Service at 11 a.m., Atlantic Highway, In person and on Facebook 

    United Christian Church, Worship Service 9:30 a.m. via Zoom  

    When she’d agreed to teach the fall term at the Miller School, she’d assumed the building would be cleaned before school started. Generally, a woman in the neighborhood came in during the summer and went over the whole room so it would be ready for the fall. So Myrabelle got an unpleasant surprise yesterday when she stopped in at the school house to arrange her things for the first day to find the building hadn’t been touched since June.

    Complaining to Sadie Knight, the superintendent, wouldn’t really do any good at this late date. School started tomorrow; the only way that building was going to be ready was if she did it herself—she, and of course, Madalienne. To be fair, Lucius had promised to stop by after he was done work to see if she needed any help. Might as well stop grumbling about it, she told herself, and just do it.

    The Miller school house stood on the high side of the road about a mile from home. Madalienne had been walking to school with the other children in the neighborhood ever since she’d started, at the age of six. Come to think of it, so had Myrabelle herself, for she’d grown up in the very house she and Lucius and Madalienne lived in.  

    Her little daughter’s teacher during her first two years was Jessie Young from over on the Belmont [Greenacre] Road. Myrabelle thought that for a new teacher she’d done a good job. But this year, Jessie was going over to District No. 5, to the Wiley school on Moody Mountain. It was a good idea for a young teacher to get a variety of experience, but Myrabelle was sorry the Miller school was losing her. 

    The next best thing for Madalienne, she and Lucius decided, was to have her own mother be the teacher. She’d spoken to Sadie about the opening and was offered the position. Myrabelle had been teaching in Lincolnville’s schools off and on for over ten years and was sought after for her experience.  

    But she hadn’t planned on cleaning too, she thought, opening the door to the school building. “Let’s get these windows open and air out the place,” she instructed Madalienne. “Here, give me a hand.” Together they pushed up the casements and held them up with the sticks left on the windowsills. She surveyed the room with a critical eye. Leave it to Jessie, she thought, to see that the pupils picked up after themselves. The books were neatly arranged on the shelves, and so were the teaching supplies—the box of chalk, slates and pencils. The inkwells had been emptied too, so as not to dry out over the summer. But the windows were dingy and the floor was dusty. She peeked inside the potbelly stove—full of ashes, and no doubt the chimney was sooty. Maybe she’d leave that for Lucius. She wondered if she dared start a fire.

    She brought in the bucket of water that Lucius had dropped off outside the building this morning. Like most of the town’s schoolhouses, Miller school had no well of its own. The teacher or some nearby family generally supplied a pail of drinking water for the pupils. She found some kindling in the woodshed, the end of last winter’s fuel, along with a few pieces of wood; she wondered who was supplying Miller with firewood this term She used what was there to start a small fire in the stove.

    “Mama! It’s already too hot in here. Why are you starting a fire?” 

    “I have to heat this water to do a decent job,” Myrabelle said, lifting the bucket onto the stove. After a bit, she dropped two rags from her basket into the water and squeezed them out. It wasn’t exactly hot, but it would have to do.  

    “Here, Madalienne, you wipe down all the windowsills for me.” She tackled the blackboard herself, washing away the layer of chalk dust that covered it. The windows, though, took most of the morning. Myrabelle shooed Madalienne outside to play while she climbed up on the sills and washed the dirty panes. After the insides were done, she sat on the sills of the opened windows and washed the outsides.

    It wasn’t until they were sitting down outside in the shade to eat their dinner that Madalienne noticed the bouquet of wildflowers lying neglected on the doorstep. “Mama! The flowers died!” 

    “Oh, dear! Maybe you can pick me some more for the first day of school.” 

    “I can,” the little girl assured her. “We’ll have to remember to bring some water for them.” Madalienne looked at her mother with a worried frown. “I hope the children behave for you, Mama. Sometimes they can be very bad.”

    “Don’t be bothered about that, dear. You know, your mama’s been a schoolteacher for a long time, since before you were born. Those children will find that out soon enough.” 

    From Staying Put in Lincolnville: 1900-1950

    Like all the family stories in Staying Put, this one is from my imagination, though based on the reality of the times. Lincolnville had seventeen one-room schools scattered all over town, a school for every neighborhood, a walkable distance for the farms in each “district”. The schools came and went as the population of children changed. Probably all seventeen were never open at the same time.

    To date the Historical Society has identified where most of them were; those are marked with green “Schoolhouse” signs, indicating their location. Albert Mathieson made the original signs, and Cecil Dennison made new ones when those finally deteriorated. Got some time on your hands these Covid days? Take a ride around town and see how many you can find:

    District #1:  Shore School ………..Atlantic Highway past Black Horse Inn

    District #2:  Youngtown School….Youngtown Road, still standing

    District #3:  Deantown School……Youngtown Road

    District #4:  Center School………’s Library, though it stood across the road

    District #5:  Wiley School………...Moody Mountain Road, still standing

    District #6:  Unknown

    District #7:  Miller School………...Tucker Brook Road, Myrabelle Russ’s school

    District #8:  Hills School………….Van Cycle Road

    District #9:  Ducktrap School……..Atlantic Highway near Howe Point Road

    District #10: Rackliffe School…….Beach Road near South Chester Dean Road

    District #11: Lamb School………...Searsmont Road

    District #12: Slab City School……..Corner of North Chester Dean and Slab City, no sign

    District #13: Cobbtown School……North Cobbtown Road

    District #14: Unknown

    District #15: Unknown

    District #16: Heal School…………Belfast Road

    District #17: Beach School……….Beach Road

    Incidentally, the schools were always referred to in town reports and other documents by their district number, not the name that usually referred to a family in the neighborhood. It wasn’t until I happened upon an old town report that listed them, and someone had penciled in the names next to the district, that I was able to match up districts with the name of the school.

    Under the district system, a town had the right to determine the number of schools it would have as well as to define the limits of the school districts. The purpose of the district system was to place a school within the reach of every child and under the control of every citizen.

    Each school district was run by a superintending school committee of three to seven citizens. Women were not eligible to members until 1881. These committees, one for each school in town, had several duties. Committee members were to visit and inspect the school, inquire into discipline and proficiency of students, use influence and “best endeavor” to keep students in school, and dismiss a schoolmaster or mistress found incapable or unfit to teach. They also had the power to choose school books.

    In 1870 a law was enacted in the Legislature that allowed towns to begin doing away with the district system, a law which was accepted slowly. By 1893, the deadline for abolishing the system, less than a third of Maine’s towns had done so. Lincolnville was included in the majority.

    Teachers came and went, engaged for one term at a time (there were three terms ­– Fall, Winter, and Spring) in a school before moving to another. In 1900, for example, only the Lamb school with teacher Helen Leadbetter, the Heal school with Lydia Dean, and the Slab City School with Myrabelle Miller Russ had the same teacher for all three terms. The rest had two or even three different teachers in a single year, a situation that must have made continuity difficult if not impossible. Superintendents, in their annual reports, repeatedly brought up the need for experienced teachers.

    Between 1900 and 1909, one hundred and one different teachers were employed in Lincolnville’s schools. Eighty were women, 21 were men. Of those men, 11 taught for one term only. The others taught no more than three terms each. Teaching was probably stopgap employment for men, a way to fill in during slack time on the farm or before the start of a more traditional male job.

    For example, after attending Castine Normal School, Joe Mullin taught one term a year in Lincolnville schools from 1896 to1899 and in 1901, 1903 and 1907. At the same time, he was one of the founders of the Lincolnville Telephone Company, worked as a surveyor and served in the State Legislature. Only two men, Granville A. Prock, who was 34 when he taught at the Beach in 1902, and Ambrose Bragg, 24 in 1900, the year he taught at Miller school, were listed as school teachers in the 1900 census. All the rest, if they appeared in the census, listed their employment as “farmer”.

    It was a different story for women. Teaching school was one of the few jobs open to them in the first decade of the century. A girl whose family could spare her at home might go to high school, either in town when it was offered, or to public high school such as in Belfast or Camden, or to a private academy like Freedom Academy or Eastern Maine Conference Seminary. She might even go on to Normal School in Castine as Edna Lamb did in about 1900, meeting her future husband, Henry Upton there. Teaching in another town, or at least in a different neighborhood, broadened a young woman’s life. Frequently, a teacher would board with a nearby family, her board part of her pay. More than once, marriage between the young teacher and a local fellow resulted.

    A Superintendent oversaw all the district schools, writing a summary of the year’s work for the annual Town Report. Six different people held the position between 1900 and 1910. Here are a few of their comments:

    “It is just as impossible for our children to compete for the higher positions in life today with no better facilities for obtaining an education than were to be had 50 years ago, as it is for the farmer or any other tradesman to compete for the wealth of the world while still using the same implements for doing his work as did his forefathers.” 

    “It is the privilege of parents to visit the schools and show by their presence that they are interested in the education of their children and the welfare of the schools. The visits would encourage both teacher and pupils to greater exertions. As it is, many parents are either indifferent or hostile to the schools. Criticisms are pronounced upon the teacher and her work, based oftentimes upon entirely unreliable reports. After parents visit the schools, learn from actual observation what is being done by teacher and pupil, then, and not until then, are they qualified to criticise (sic).”

    “The most of our pupils do not attend school after finishing what we have in town. Now in order to benefit this part of our scholars we must give them a better chance than they have at present. In these schools of all classes mixed together the pupil invariably does the best work in the studies which he naturally takes to and is deficient in those studies which are less pleasing to him. In short, the mixed schools like ours do not give, or at least do not require an even development. We need a chance for these scholars to gain a more complete education.”

    It wasn’t until 1947 that the District System was finally abandoned with the opening of Lincolnville Central School, a four-room school, centrally located and with transportation provided. Each room held two grades with a teacher with one designated principal as well. My husband held that position for six years in the 1970s, principal and teacher of grade 8. By 1960 or so the school had outgrown two-grades-per-teacher; Lincolnville and Hope joined forces, with all grade 1-4 children going to the Hope School and all grade 5-8 students coming to LCS.

    That ended in the late 70s when Lincolnville built an addition to the original four-room building and brought all its students back to town. Writing this, I realize that I can’t put dates to the many changes that have continued to occur to our school, including even the year our present school opened. And I lived them!

    Here we are today, on the verge of starting another school year unlike any other in memory. If the parents and teachers in the fall of 1918 took any precautions against the flu pandemic then raging at (relatively) nearby Fort Devons, we have no record of it. We worry over school opening, debate remote vs. in-person learning, and are generally anxious about it all.

    And just as in Myrabelle’s day, teachers carry the brunt of the project. In one local high school, teachers will be sanitizing their classroom in the few minutes between change of classes. They are the ones who must figure out ways to teach remotely all the while teaching in person, to say nothing of keeping youngsters masked and at safe distances. Everyone wonders if schools will be able to stay open.

    Think of our modern school with all its amenities, everything we could dream of to educate our children – a staff of professionals, library, electronics, spacious classrooms, ball fields, gymnasium, cafeteria, art and music rooms. Then look at the photo of the Youngtown School, Lincolnville, c. 1900. How far we’ve come. Yet, presumably every one of those children grew up and had good enough lives. All we can hope for today’s children.


    The first day of school is September 8 this year. Notice on the school calendar that the first week of September will include all the teacher workshop days for the year. This is to give the staff more time to prepare for the new protocols brought on by the covid pandemic. The usual week off for students during Thanksgiving week, when teacher workshops are held, will only have Thursday and Friday off.

    Summer Winding Down

    Experience tells us that this cool stretch of days doesn’t really signal the end of hot weather, but isWhen  a reminder that fall is indeed coming. I lit the first “trash” fire of the season the other day, the kitchen stove stuffed full of all the scraps and random cardboard containers that I automatically put there. So many years in the same space generates that kind of mindless behavior. Like where the key is always hung, the lights I turn on, in turn every morning before dawn, the spot by the chimney where I kick off my sandals at night.

    So that over-stuffed woodstove blazed brightly for a few minutes, sending smoke up the chimney for the first time in months. Conrad, the upstairs dog, seems to be training to bring in firewood, as he’s taken to carrying actual logs around the place. Our new woodshed, replacing the one that stood in front of the barn, is half-finished, with Tracee and her dad tackling the roof today. Once that’s done we’ll unleash the wood-stacking crew (those three upstairs kids) to fill it. I know our front yard looks like a wood yard at the moment, but it will all be neatly put away eventually. Or burned.