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Witherbee School bu...


Witherbee School 1892 in Middletown, RI. The schoolhouse is maintained & it's museum curated by the Middletown Historical Society in Middletown, RI. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places & one of the remaining single room schoolhouses. The schoolhouse site was conveyed in 1891 by land-owner Sophia Witherbee to Middletown School District No. 2. The schoolhouse was built by Joseph Coggeshall for $1975 paid for by a special levy on Distruct 2 taxpayers. The priginal schoolhouse was destroyed by a fire in 1907 & immediately rebuilt. John R. Coggeshall, son of Joseph, rebult the school to the original design for $3500 paid for by a general levy on all town taxpayers. The schoolhouse is a one-story, end gabled, wood ballon-frame structure of modest Queen Anne style. The foundation is made of rubble-stone & mortar. Decoratively patterened & plain wood shingles create the exterior. A two-story square belltower is on the left with still intact and functioning bell. There is a small brick chimney on the left for the coal stove which orignally heated and was a source of cooking. The central entryway is arched & recessed covering the with 2 main entry doors, a door on the right for the boys and a door on the left for the girls. These doors both enter into respective small vestibules which were originally equipped with benches & coat hooks. These vestibules were later converted into bathrooms for both boys & girls, which later replaced the original outhouses before plumbing. There is an onsite well which provided fresh drinking water for the school. A door from each vestibule opens into the 24'x31' classroom with high-ceilings & well lit and plain decor. The original bot-bellied wood/coal stove was replaced by Victorian cast-iron radiators of the later 19th century introduction of circulating hot water heating, both of which have been retained for historical record but no longer in use due to a modern oil-fired hot air heating system currently in use. The windows are four-over-four, wood sash for the three bays of the school's main body with-pane-surrounded-by-smaller panes sash over two windows used for the forward entrance areas. The exterior window shutters have carefully reproduced as in old photographs. The typical one-room schoolhouse was a heavy responsibility for one teacher. Having as many as 50 plus students, the teacher was expected to teach all subjects to all ages from 7 to 16, while maintaining discipline in the classroom. A 1901 census, the School Department reported in District 2, Witherbee School having 54 students, 2 attended private schools & 5 did not attend any school. Cirriculm for the students included: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic ( mental & written), Geography, Grammer, History, Drawing & spelling, Physiology. School was in session from 9am to 4pm with an hour for lunch from 12pm to 1pm. Older pupils were known to regularly assist younger pupils, 1st graders sat in the front & worked their way to the rear of the classroom as they moved up. Witherbee School 1892's significance lies in the fact that it is one of 5 one-soom schoohouses in Middletown at the turn of the century. It is the only one remaining as a true representation of a schoolhouse. The next closest replica of the one-room school houses is Paradise School 1875 which has been fully restored & serves as the main headqauters & museumn for the Middletown Historical Society. The other 3 have been drasticaly altered from thier original schoolhouse deisgn, Oliphant School 1823 is a storage facility for the School Department, Peabody School 1794 is a private dwelling & Wyatt School was demolished & is the current site of the towns Fire Headquaters. The 5 schoolhouses were built with the same general characteristics but Witherbee School 1892 was architecturally unique in exterior design. It was the only one not kept to a minimal austere design, showcasing fine examples of the periods skilled craftsmanship. Witherbee School 1892 was operational until the early 1940's & aquired by the Historical Society in 1988, receiving a Recognition of Preservation Award in 1994. The schoolhouse has been preserved for an interpretive center on the history of education in Middletown and is visted by hundreds of school children each year as part of a special local history corriculum sponsored by the Middletown Historical Society. Learn More at

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