Old Schools of Burrillville
Old History Of the Schools in Burrillville

   This history of the schools takes you back to the beginnings of the Town of Burrillville.    It is presented to give you an idea of how our schools were established along with information on the way things were in the early years of Burrillville.    Photos of the earliest schools were unavailable except for two which are included here.

   We begin with the following:  “Establishment of Free Schools throughout the State,” was presented to the RI Legislature by its author, John Howland, Esq., of Providence in 1799.   The Legislature referred it to a Committee, which presented a bill at the October session.  “This bill,” says Mr. Howland, ”embodying a general school system, was drawn up by James Burrill, Jr., Attorney General of the State.”  This is the same James Burrill for whom our town was named in 1806.

   Some schools in the earlier history of the town were held in dwellings, corn-cribs, and shops.  Quite a number of the older citizens attended such schools, traveling miles in some instances in order to “read, spell and cipher.”    In those days, schools were opened only two or three months a year, mostly in the winter.
Esten Schoolhouse, Mohegan

   It is not definitely known where the first schoolhouse in the town was built, but probably  the "Smith Neighborhood" in the vicinity of Oak Valley and Tarkiln is entitled to the honor, later known as the White School District.   Here in 1823 there was on the "commons" an ANTIQUE one- story school house which in that year was enlarged to a two story building with a belfry and a steeple and was then used both as a church and a school house.  The old school house in the Esten district near Cripple Corner was built in 1806, which could possibly make it the second  oldest school house in Burrillville.

   At the June 1828 town meeting, two committees were chosen.  One consisted of 23 men to divide the town into school districts. another of 21 men to constitute the School Committee.  September 8th, 1828, the town appropriated $300 for schools.  The state, $199.80.  The Committee was authorized to make alterations in any dissatisfied district, “the expense to be borne by the district that complains.”

   Burrillville consisted of 2,164 inhabitants in 1828.   In 1829, sixteen men were elected to the School Committee until the year 1846 when the number was reduced to six members.  The report of this committee in 1847 stated that the districts had been arranged, the schools put in order, new books introduced, and new rules put into practice.  In fact, this committee first put the schools on a good basis, and inaugurated a system that resulted in the development of the schools along the correct lines.

   According to the School Committee report of 1860, much improvement had been made in the upkeep and maintenance of the school houses.  In the early days, according to them,  a location among the rocks, in the road, or on some spot available for no other purpose, was selected, and there would be erected the school house - an uncouth structure, inconvenient and unattractive, alternately cold and hot, with long upright benches, and seats so high as to leave the children's feet dangling in the air.  In short, possessing no merits of comfort or convenience.  Now matters assume a different form.  The old school houses are being deserted, and new ones of more convenient and entirely different construction are taking their places.  Now, when a new house is to be built, it is designed to be neat, convenient and commodious, on a pleasant and accessible location."   And remember - this was written in 1860!!!
Round Top School, Harrisville

   Superintendent Allen P. Keith in his 1900 report states that "There has been a great improvement in the attendance of those  pupils who attend school only the eighty days required by law.  Parents and manufacturers are beginning to see the advantage of regular attendance for even this short a time.  The results show that the child gets much more for the time spent in school, and that he is worth more in the mill because his certificate allows him to work for a longer time.  I have found the superintendents of our mills very willing to work with me in securing a better attendance of this class of children."

   The number of visits to the mills to check for illegal employment was 63 with 69 children found to be illegally employed. The number of certificates of attendance issued was 109.  This meant that 109 children were legally employed in the mills of Burrillville in 1899.

   Times have certainly changed since those early days where the local schools were built within walking distance of the children who would be attending them.   Now very few of our students walk to school for their education.  The challenges facing the teachers and students have increased tremendously since 1900 as you can imagine. And no doubt the new information required will just keep increasing over the coming years.

   Hope you enjoy the photos of some of the older schools which have disappeared over the years along with some of the others which now serve an entirely different purpose.  Check them out in the Photo Gallery section of this Website.

©2008Patricia A. Mehrtens
The contents of this site are copyright © 2006-2009 Patricia A (Zifchock) Mehrtens. Please respect our copyrights.
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