Playground History: David Aaron and ALCOA

Happy New Year, friends! I hope 2021 brings you good health, happiness, prosperity, and may it bring peace as well. I think a good way to start 2021 on Preservation in Pink is with a fun playground post. This is the one I referred to as “waiting in the wings.” I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for sticking around, preservationists and friends. 

Last winter, I wrote about a playground in Brownington, Vermont. On the playground, I found a mysterious piece of playground equipment – one that was new and unusual to me. Internet searching led me to find identical pieces, but no information about it. Readers and Instagram followers assumed what I did – a space age era piece of playground equipment, but nothing definitive.

Fortunately, an Instagram acquaintance (@followthebreadcrumbs2) gave me some information about this apparatus. She said that she was fairly certain it was designed by David Aaron and manufactured by Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America) in the 1950s. A quick search using that information and she was right. That was exactly the information I needed, and it made my day (yes, yes, I’m a playground nerd).

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Found in Brownington, VT. 
Space Age Playground at Sterling Forest Gardens, Tuxedo, NY.

Historically, playground equipment was made of steel. Aluminum had been widely used during the war years as a component in airplane manufacture. As part of its strategy to win new markets after the end of Word War II, Alcoa tried to catch the interest of the design community and make the consumer comfortable with this material (source: http://architekturfuerkinder.ch/david-aaron/).  This effort was known as the “Forecast Program”. For this venture Alcoa focused on the designer as ‘the man to stimulate the consuming public with inventive projects for the home”, and invited a range of designers including Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Girard, Charles and Ray Eames and many others to participate, including David Aaron. What Alcoa wanted from the designers was not a product to manufacture, but a concept to promote.

“With the new Forecast design, aluminum is given its first serious introduction into outdoor playground applications. The lightweight, rust-proof characteristics of the metal, – plus its ability to be colored, make it a maintenance-free, “natural” for playground use. The climbing tree is scheduled for actual production by Creative Playthings, Inc., New York City.” The “tree,” other Forecast items, and products of Massena Operations of Alcoa was on display during “Aluminum Days” of the Massena (NY) Vacationland Festival (1958).”

Additionally, David Aaron was the Director of the Playground Corporation of America. Mr. Aaron designed  these midcentury pieces called “play shell-ters” with 13 designs for ages 18 months to 13 years, according to the 1959 Playground Corporation of America Catalog. 

1959 Playground Corporation of America Catalog. Image found here: David Aaron – The Playground Project Architektur für Kinder (architekturfuerkinder.ch)http://architekturfuerkinder.ch/david-aaron/
1959 Playground Corporation of America Catalog. Image found here: David Aaron – The Playground Project Architektur für Kinder (architekturfuerkinder.ch)http://architekturfuerkinder.ch/david-aaron/

The September/October 1965 Playground Corporation of America information booklet titled “Park Practice Grist” discusses new concepts in playgrounds, specifically some that allow children to play independently, energetically, even with short attention spans, while growing and learning confidence. Playgrounds were designed to stir the imagination; each playground apparatus could be whatever a child imagined. And because equipment was stationary (unlike swings or merry-go-rounds), it was thought to be safe. The booklet describes “shell-ters” as: 

Dome-shaped shells of cast aluminum are caves, ships, playhouses, crows’ nest, forts…whatever busy young imaginations proclaim them to be. They can be installed concavely or convexly or upended to form curved walls. They are used in a variety of ways in combination with sliding poles and/or with such climbing apparatus as cylindrical “ring dings’ and grill like “wing-dings’. These versatile shapes are made of non-corrosive aluminum, require no maintenance. 

A “shell-ter” at a playground. Photograph by Scott Hocking. https://www.scotthocking.com/jmm.html

David Aaron’s obituary reads:

David Aaron, a designer of playgrounds, died of a heart attack Tuesday at his home in Accord, N.Y. He was 60 years old. Mr. Aaron was the founder of the Mid-Hudson Institute of Community Design for the Young in Poughkeepsie, with which he was associated at the time of his death. Among his creations were the playground for the United States pavilion at the Moscow Fair in 1959, the Playground of Tomorrow at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York and the playground at an elementary school in Bronxville, N.Y. He is survived by his wife, Maia; two sons, Peter, of Brooklyn, and Michael, of Chicago; a brother, Howard, of Bridgeport, Conn., and one grandchild.

Thank you to David Aaron for your devotion to playgrounds and creative play.

This was much more information than I was expecting to find about a single playground apparatus. I still don’t know why a single piece of playground apparatus was placed behind a church in Brownington, VT. Perhaps something second-hand from a school or a town park? Or one piece specifically purchased for the church? If anyone knows, I’d be thrilled to learn.

Theories of play and playground equipment come and go like all trends; it is interesting to find historic playground equipment – usually on private property or in rural areas. Have you seen any of these pieces at playgrounds?

Playground Find: Brownington, VT

Brownington, Vermont is located in the Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom” (Essex, Orleans, and Caledonia counties), about 15 miles south of the Canadian border. It’s a very rural, picturesque part of the state. I was surveying a few properties in Brownington, VT for a work project and wanted to snap a photo of the church in Brownington Center.

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Brownington Center Church, 1854.

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Brownington Center Church, 1854.

Distracted by the building, I almost missed this gem behind it! 

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Vintage playground equipment sitting behind the Brownington Center Church!

Of course, I got out of the car to get a closer look at the playground equipment. First up – a classic 1950s jungle gym (see photos below). The American Playground Device Company (now the American Playground Company) produced similar looking jungle gyms in the 1950s. An easy way to distinguish earlier jungle gyms from 1950s jungle gyms is the rounded elements of the 1950s jungle gyms as opposed to the non-rounded and overall square structures of earlier versions. This jungle gym has “ST. JOHNSBURY, VT” stamped on one of its pipes. St. Johnsbury, is a larger town about 36 miles away from Brownington. Perhaps this was a hand-me-down piece?

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Next up, the slide. Slides are a little harder to date, but based on the design, it appears to be another 1950s apparatus.

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This slide is sinking into the ground.

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Recreation Equipment Corp. Anderson, Indiana. 10-A. (Does anyone know what the 10-A represents?)

Next up: the mystery apparatus. I don’t even know what to call this one. It dates to the 1960s space age era of playground equipment, but nowhere can I find a name for it or a specific manufacturer. It’s part spaceship, part jungle gym, part submarine, part ladybug? Take your best guess. Do you recall playing on something like this?  DSC_1182DSC_1184

I’ve found a few similar images while searching online, but no luck with names. Do any of these ring a bell? Sources are in the photo captions. Click on each image or on the following links (clockwise, starting at top left): Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3, Photo 4. Any help in giving these a name or manufacturer would be much appreciated!

And what is an old playground without a merry-go-round? This is a later version, likely the 1970s, which you can tell by the shape of the handles and the pattern of the metal treads. It still spins – I checked! DSC_1193

Behind the merry-go-ground is an assuming fire truck. These types of play structures were common in the 1970s as well. DSC_1195DSC_1197

And that concludes the tour of the Brownington Center Church playground: pieces from the 1950s – the present (note the plastic playground pieces I did not feature). I hope kids are still enjoying these pieces.

National Merry-Go-Round Day!

July 25, 1871 marks the first patent for the carousel (also known as a merry-go-round). If there was ever a holiday meant for Preservation in Pink to celebrate, National Merry-Go-Round Day is the one. It’s probably been a while since you’ve seen a merry-go-round on a playground; most seem to have been eliminated for safety reasons. While I distinguish between merry-go-round and carousel, they are  interchangeable in terms, according to the national holiday calendar. Here’s the explanation:

Along with the roller coaster, the merry-go-round is one of the oldest amusement rides. Also known as the carousel, the merry-go-round rotates on a circular platform around a pole. The platform holds seats for riders.  A motor spins the platform around the large central pole. Between rows of seats, passengers ride wooden horses and other animals. Poles anchor the animals in place.  Once in a while, the colorful animals move up and down. The movement simulates galloping. Meanwhile, calliope music plays, adding a light-hearted atmosphere.

Besides carousels, any rotating platform may also be called a merry-go-round. By comparison, children power the playground merry-go-round. They push off using the bars or handles. The riders cling to the same bars as the platform spins. Since the riders determine the speed, the harder they push, the faster they go. Not surprisingly, one of the thrills of riding the merry-go-round included becoming dizzy.

  • The earliest known depiction of the merry-go-round is in 500 A.D. The Byzantine Empire’s ride depicts baskets carrying riders suspended from a central pole. 
  • In the 1840s, Franz Wiesenoffer created the first merry-go-round in the United States in Hessville, Ohio. 
  • July 25, 1871 – The first carousel patent. 

In honor of the holiday, here are a few merry-go-rounds and carousels that I’ve come across over the years, from newest to oldest. As you can see, there aren’t too many. Slides and swings are much more common.

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Some flamingo fun in 2010 – testing out a newer version of the merry-go-round. 

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1970s merry-go-around in the Outer Banks, NC. 

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1970s merry-go-around in the Outer Banks, NC. 

 

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A homemade merry-go-round found in Waterville, VT. Photo taken 2013. The playground no longer remains. 

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1940s  merry-go-round found in Craftsbury, VT. Photo taken 2014. 

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1940s era playground equipment in Craftsbury, VT (2014). 

Seen any good merry-go-rounds lately? They were always my favorite. Enjoy!

Playground Find: Hancock, VT

Hancock, VT is a small town (population 323) located on Vermont Route 100 in Addison County, on the eastern edge of the Green Mountain National Forest. The two-room Hancock Village School was constructed in 1855 and operated as a school until 2009, when school consolidation measures caused the school to close. Since then the building has served as the town library and the town clerk’s office. The school is a contributing resource to the Hancock Village Historic District, which is listed in the Vermont State Register of Historic Places (VHSSS #0108-1-20). A playground remains on the former school grounds.

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Hancock Village School, December 1976 – Vermont State Register of Historic Places.

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Former Hancock Village School (now library and town offices), June 2019. The windows have been replaced.

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Swings with mountains and blue sky in the background.

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View of the jungle gym and the swings.

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The school in the background.

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A newer, plastic side is in on the left. 

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The apparatus is reminiscent of the “Muscle Man” equipment from the 1970s. 

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From the jungle gym: “Quality Industries, Hillsdale, Mich. 200028”

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No markings visible on the swings, but likely they date to the same time or earlier as the jungle gym.

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Swings.

The jungle gym bears the stamp, “Quality Industries, Hillsdale, Mich., 200028.” Quality Industries began in 1974, and the named changed to Recreation Creations, Inc. (RCI) in 1996. The name changed to Recreation Creations, Inc. in 1996. Without more available information, it is difficult to date this date playground equipment. However, it is reminiscent of similar 1970s playground apparatus, such as the Game Time Muscle Man. The edges appear more rounded than the example linked, possibly indicating the Hancock playground is a later design. If you have a better idea of the manufacture date, let me know. The swings did not have any markings on them.

It’s a shame that the building and the grounds no longer serve as a school, but at least the playground remains; what a picturesque spot for a playground.

Historic Playground: Goshen Jungle Gym

The former Goshen School (ca. 1860) is now used as the Goshen Town Offices. While it still stands in its general form, the fenestration (rhythm and size of windows) has been altered greatly, to the point of loss of integrity.  The only photo I can find is from a German Wikipedia page, or from a Bing Maps streetside view, but it does show you what I mean in terms of altered fenestration.

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Screenshot (dated 2015) from Bing Maps Streetside View. The windows have been replaced and there would not have been a door breaking up the bank of windows on the façade.

At first glance, this might not even look like a school to you; however, evidence of the building’s history as a school sits across the dirt road in a small playground.

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A jungle gym in Goshen, VT.

This jungle gym resembles those available commercially in the 1940s-1950s, though it is appears to be a locally made (vernacular, if you will) version. Some of the pieces are stamped with “Goshen School” and “Brandon Iron”.

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This reads “Goshen School”.

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Don’t fall in the creek – it’s just behind the jungle gym.

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Curved pieces of playground equipment were more common in the mid 20th century, as opposed to early decades.

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Connection details.

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This reads “Brandon Iron.”

“Brandon Iron” conjures up the iron industry of Brandon, even though this metal is steel, not iron. Historically, the Town of Brandon was rich in water power and abundant in iron ore, which led to the growth of the iron industry in Brandon Village and nearby Forestdale by 1810. Once the railroad arrived in 1849, competition hurt the iron industry, and by the 1865 the Forest Dale Blast Furnace no longer operated. What had been the Brandon Iron and Car Wheel Company (est. 1850) and the Conant Iron Works became the Howe Scale Company, a manufacturer of scales. It extremely unlikely that this playground apparatus was constructed during the operating years of the Brandon Iron and Car Wheel Company, so the “Brandon Iron” must refer to something else.

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More details.

Vermont history buffs – any guesses as to the origin of this apparatus?

All photos are courtesy of Devin Colman, 2018.

Tourist Cabins: West Shore Cabins, North Hero, VT

Summer is winding down, but fall in Vermont is a perfect time of year to visit. The humidity has decreased, the leaves are changing, and you can readily find apple cider doughnuts to go with your craft beer. Take a drive on U.S. Route 2 and you’ll pass through the Champlain Islands (or “the Islands”). The Champlain Islands offer a completely different feel than central Vermont. The land is flatter, mountains are in the distance, the lake is visible for much your drive, and fall arrives a bit later than in the mountain towns. It would be a lovely time of year to stay in a tourist cabin on Lake Champlain. I’m happy to report that there are more tourist cabins operating in Vermont!

The West Shore Cabins are operating tourist cabins located adjacent to Lake Champlain on U.S. Route 2 in North Hero, part of the area known as the Champlain Islands. What began as the West Shore Inn in 1927, became the West Shore Cabins in 1945. At that time it was run by the Donaldson family who saw how a motor court would be a good economic venture as automobile traffic increased in the mid-20th century.  Some cabins were relocated to this site and others were constructed on site. Today the family operated business offers five cabins for daily or weekly rentals from May – mid October.

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West Shore Inn postcard. Image via West Shore Cabins.

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The vintage sign between the lake and U.S. Route 2.

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West Shore Cabins sit on U.S. Route 2 with a clear west view to Lake Champlain and its sunsets.

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The cabins retain much of their historic integrity including siding, porches, windows, and fenestration.

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Novelty siding, exposed rafter tails, screened porch and a barbecue out front; Cabin 5 is adorable.

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Cabins 4 and 5.

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Cabin 1.

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The cabins are set back from the road, with no obstructions to the lake views.

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Ca. 1880 (with later alterations) residence associated with the owners of West Shore Cabins.

Happy end of summer! Let me know if you find more tourist cabins and/or stay in one!

Tourist Cabins: Injunjoe Court, West Danville, VT

After eight years of driving by these tourist cabins on Joe’s Pond in West Danville, VT, I finally stopped to snap a few photographs. I figured if I waited any longer, I’d be tempting fate. This collection of tourist cabins is known as “Injunjoe Court”. No, it’s certainly not a name that would be given today. However, it is reportedly named after a St. Francis Indian of the Canadian Coosuck tribe. This site was used for summer hunting grounds, and Old Joe was a scout and guide on the side of the Americans in the Revolutionary War. He protected the builders of the nearby Bailey-Hazen Road. (Source: Vermont Hsitoric Sites and Structures Survey, page 70 of this PDF.)

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You will see this sign on your right as you travel eastbound on US Route 2 through West Danville, VT.

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View from the Joe’s Pond side of the road.

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There are 15 cabins on the property, all slightly different and of varying sizes. Most have novelty siding and a small porch.

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Exposed rafter tails, old screen doors, lots of charm.

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The office sits up on the hill.

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View from the office and upper cabins.

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This one has an original window (2nd from left) and fieldstone chimney. Note the window flowerbox, too.

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A row of cabins.

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Spectacular views from all of the cabins.

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Even the cabins closest to the road offer privacy.

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An undated postcard. Note the signage. It appears that today’s sign is the same, except for the color and the headdress removed on the left side.

Scroll to Book III, page 70 of this PDF of the Danville Vermont Historic Sites & Structures Survey for a detailed history and architectural description.

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From the VHSSS, an undated postcard. The cabin at the road and the entrance gate are no longer extant.

Likely constructed in the earlier decades of the 20th century, the cabins and cottages appear to have changed very little since them. An old brochure (no date, but it is from a 2013 environmental review file) indicates that Injunjoe Court had cabins, cottages, and RV spaces. Guests could borrow canoes, rowboats, and paddleboats for free. Rates included housekeeping, cable tv, heating, refrigerator, microwave, and bathrooms. Some cottages had fully furnished kitchens. Click on the brochure link above to see an interior photo. The distinction between the cabins and cottages was that cabins were smaller (think tourist cabins, no kitchens) and cottages were larger with kitchens and could accommodate four people. At one point the owner was Beth Perreault.

Based on the lack of No/Vacancy signage and the website that is no longer up (injunjoecourt.net), I’d say that Injunjoe Court is not open in 2018. If you know anything about it, please share in the comments.

Garfield District School

One room schoolhouses are easily recognizable, as we’ve discussed. I delight in what I call my “schoolhouse radar”. It’s a fun game to play. What is your favorite type of building to spot?

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At the crossroads in Garfield (a small hamlet in Hyde Park), VT on a cloudy, foggy day – just before a summer storm arrived.

Near Green River Reservoir in Hyde Park, VT, this building sits at a crossroads, a common place for one room schoolhouses. It has the gable roof massing of a schoolhouse and the general size, and hint of Green Revival detail (cornice returns).

While the building looks a bit dreary in the fog and clouds and the overgrown weeds, it still stands out as a schoolhouse converted to a residence, right? Maybe? Where is the bank of windows?

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Pardon the fog and the clouds.

 

The windows don’t lend themselves to a schoolhouse, but look closely and you can tell by the paint on the rear of the schoolhouse that the bank of windows has been removed and replaced by residential windows. Still, I’d bet on it being a schoolhouse.

Next up? Consulting the trusty Online Resource Center (ORC) of the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. The ORC contains searchable PDFs of all of the state survey files, among many other resources.

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Garfield District School, 1981. The best part: the duck and ducklings to the right of the school. Source: Vermont State Register of Historic Places file.

This building at the crossroads of Garfield was indeed a schoolhouse. According to the 1981 survey, this was the Garfield District School, constructed in 1875, operating until 1953. This was one of the first schools in Vermont certified as a “Standard School”. The Standard Schools were aptly named, as schools were rated based on standards of lighting, ventilation, teaching quality, sanitation, and other details. As of the 1981 survey, the building was a residence. The survey does not discuss the west elevation (the former window bank). However, the existing chimney replaced a cupola that enclosed the school bell.

Panton Schoolhouse

Can you spot a one-room schoolhouse as you’re driving by? I bet after this week of one-room schoolhouses here on PiP, you can! It’s a fun game. This ca. 1895 school in Panton, Vermont sits next to the town garage and serves as town storage. It appears as though it was the former home of the town offices, and the town bulletin board is still in use on the rear addition. Take a look. These one-room schoolhouses were called “District Schools” because each town was divided into districts and each district had its own school. This was before the days of school consolidation.

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Quite the sunny morning, and the iphone couldn’t avoid it. But, look at the bank of 6 windows on this school.

 

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Note the town bulletin board on the wing. Current fliers are posted there.

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Unlike most schoolhouses, this one has windows on both sides. Perhaps they were added when the building was no longer a schoolhouse.

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Bank of 6 windows.

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View into the schoolhouse shows storage and  original features (see the doors and beadboard).

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Peering into the back windows: town highway department storage. Also, note the wall on the left. The addition was added after the original construction date.

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The Town Highway Department. Photo taken standing in front of the schoolhouse.

Of course, I feel badly for this schoolhouse. While it’s sort of in use, there is so much more potential to it. Poor thing. It’s a common case for these schoolhouses, even though one room schoolhouses would be fairly easy to rehabilitate to modern uses. What do you think?

Cornwall Schoolhouse

Our tour of Vermont one-room schoolhouses continues. Here’s one in Cornwall, VT off Route 30 that I’ve wanted to photograph for years. The Cornwall District No. 3 schoolhouse was constructed in 1830. It operated as a school until the 1950s.

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Cornwall, VT. District No. 3 school. Stereoscopic view, ca. 1890. 

Today the school is a seasonal residence. The entrance has been enclosed and the vertical siding has been replaced with horizontal clapboards, but the details and characteristics remain intact (brackets, arch, steeple, slate roof, bank of windows). The house looks lonely on a spring day, but looks well maintained.

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Looks like a pretty good seasonal residence, doesn’t it? I hope people still use it.