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History of Derby Schools

My College

From Memories of Old Derby by Albert Sherwood, 1924

I am sometimes asked the name of my college and my reply is "the district school." The building wherein I passed my first school year was, I feel certain, the first schoolhouse in the Naugatuck valley. It was on Academy hill, built in 1728 and was in use as a town house and schoolhouse until 1848, a period of 120 years.

I do not wish to be understood that I attended this school all that time. I first entered its rough oaken doorway in 1847. The building was, in dimension, about twenty-five by thirty-five fee, with one door and six windows, with hewn beams and wide oak floor boards,. There was a bench next the wall which extended around three sides of the one room. In front of this was a rough desk on the same three sides. The larger pupils sat behind this desk, while in front of it was still another low bench for the little ones.

In that schoolhouse I was one of these little ones. In the center of the room was a cast-iron wood stove and near it the teacherís table and chair. There were some forty to fifty pupils, ranging in age from five to sixteen years, and one teacher had charge of all the grades from the alphabet through spelling, reading and writing to geography, grammar and arithmetic, which latter were then the higher district school studies.

There was an old bell on top of this schoolhouse which for a century had been rung for town meetings. It ahd also been used during that entire period to call the people on Sunday to their respective houses of worship. There were two churches not far apart and not far from the schoolhouse, and this bell had served at one and the same ringing to call Calvinsits to the Puritan church and Anglicans to the Episcopal church, and to the worship of the one God. The bell, unlike many of the worshippers, harbored no intolerance. At the time I began school these old churches had been replaced with new ones in different localities, each with its own bell and the old original was resting in peace on the top of the little schoolhouse, where without rope or ringer it hung on its rusty bearings in the ancient belfry motionless and mute.

This was the last year for the bell and schoolhouse as such. After the summer vacation of 1848, whene we came back to school in the fall the old building had been replaced by a new one. It had been removed a short distance away and reconstructed into a dwelling where as such it is still standing. This old historic bell should have been saved, and today be hanging on the Derby city hall to be rung on patriotic occasions. I have read in some papers that have been published in The Sentinel that it was cracked, but I am living witness to the fact that its tone was clear and musical to the last.

In passing from this old schoolhouse I will state that Gen. David Humphreys, aide to Gen. Washington, and still later minister to Spain, attended school here, as did also Commodore Isaac Hull, who later on, became famous as the commander of the "Constitution" in its memorable engagement with the British frigate Guerriere. I consider myself fortunate in that I was born just in time to spend my first school year under its historic rafters. For one hundred and twenty years his rude building did duty as town house and schoolhouse and for more than seventy years since had been occupied as a dwelling. It was the nucleus of the present school systems of four towns in the valley, and standing as it does in this latter day near the scene of its use as an educator, bearing modestly its one hundred and ninety-four years, is entitled to veneration and to be regarded as one fo the most interesting reminders of the early settlement of Connecticut.

The new schoolhouse was a modest one-story structure with improved seats and desks, and although far better than the old one would be considered very crude today.

The old school green stands today as it has stood for more than two hundred years, an open common between two highways. Legislative changes of town lines made it necessary that it be abandoned as a school ground. The building was torn down and it its place now stand a large slab of granite with inscriptions commemorative of the town settlement and its first school.

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