At This Place in History with the Vermont Historical Society, Executive Director Steve Perkins takes us to the Hathorne School in Bridport, Vt.
Erin Connor and her family, along with community volunteers, have spent thousands of hours preserving and restoring this piece of Vermont History. When the Connor family purchased the farm, on which the schoolhouse sits, the structure was a three-sided shed used to store machinery. Now, it has been restored to its former glory.
Connor said, “Students of all ages came here from Addison County. It wasn’t just used for school; they had town meetings and a church gathering every once in a while. This is really the rich history of our small town right here.”
Built in the 1860s, the former Bridport District Schoolhouse #1 was renamed for a nearby landowner. Perkins asked about the sign, “It’s Hathorne without a ‘w’. Is it with a ‘w’? How did it get the name and why the different spellings?”
Connor answered, “Back in the olden days, the teacher had really nice handwriting and people misinterpreted her writing to make it have a ‘w’. Back then it was pronounced Hawthorne. Since then, we have transcribed it. It’s actually pronounced Hathorne, but the writing was very nice.”
Connor explained how kids of all ages attended this one-room school house. As was true in many rural, farming communities, once you learned to read and write, you graduated. That could be in high school or kindergarten. She added that the school was built in the 1800s. Its final days were likely in the late 1920s and 1930s as more developed communities grew and supervisory unions were coming together.
In the front of the room, there’s a stage jutting out into the center. Of the platform, Connor said, “If I was the teacher back in the 1800s, I probably wouldn’t need it because I am 5’9″. Back in the 1800s, teachers were wicked small. Some of her students were farm boys and they were tall, so she wanted to be able to project and look intimidating to her students.”
A Christmas wreath hangs on the front of the schoolhouse, but Connor said her family is not responsible for the decoration. “Ten years ago, my mom heard something at 2 o’clock in the morning at the school house. She hustled out here in her bathrobe, nervous they might steal something. In fact, all they did was place a beautiful Christmas wreath on the schoolhouse and every year since, there has been a wreath. We don’t know who it is, and we would like to thank our mystery guest. We hope it comes back next year.”
Visitors are always welcome! The schoolhouse is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week. If the Connor family across the street sees you stop by, they’ll come over and give you a tour. Perkins added, “We are on Rt. 125 in Bridport, in case you are looking for the exact location.”
Explore more of Vermont’s history! Click here for a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers.