Little Grey Schoolhouse

Little Grey Schoolhouse


 (Note: many of us spelled “grey” or “gray,” the dictionary recognizes it either way).

Don Sheldon gave me these photos of his boy, Gale’s, first grade. The little gray school was one of the first public buildings in New Plymouth. Built of brick it was eventually stuccoed.  This was a very unusual material in early New Plymouth, although one of our best today.  Off hand, I cannot remember any other stuccoes in NP.  It has stood the test of time, and still is in use.

At first it was used as the school, then other bigger buildings took its place. It has been used by many organizations when getting started, various churches, New Plymouth administration, many, many others. It has served as overflow school rooms many times as needed.  Its prominent position at the heart of town lent itself to almost anything. No building in New Plymouth has such a storied life.

At times, different trees have been in front of the building. Fruit trees before 1900. When the big red brick schoolhouse (which had been behind this building) was built in 1904, then Elm trees were planted all around this school property all along Elm Street, and Southeast First.

Being at the “point” of this intersection and heart of town it has been the spot many activities have occurred.  I remember about 1938-1939 many farmers would come to town on Saturdays. Saturdays were big because Sundays everything was closed. Someone sponsored turkey raffle type bingo games to raise money for something.  The city put up saw-horse tables around which folks sat for the bingo games.

My parents, like so many other farmers, made the payments on farm mortgages by picking apples at 5 cents per box to pay their November/December annual payment.  After work was done by lantern-light, the pickers would gather to play cards.  Mom and Dad played some card game that if you got a certain hand, then you cried, “Shot the Moon!”  But Mom always confused that by crying, “I shot the robin!” Mom was always a very excitable sort.

Well, back to the turkey bingo game; Mom hit a bingo. She was so excited that she climbed on top of the table and danced a jig, singing “I shot the Robin, I shot the Robin!”  Because she was so sure to do something like this, many of us thought someone had rigged the bingo game to be sure she won!

But, this and so many more get togethers and “doins” took place right in  front of this little old building.  And all of us, while in school, played around, or went to school for some grade, in this small building before the new elementary school was built when the old red brick school burned.

This photo is of the first grade class of 1934-35 and teacher, Florence Higgins. The first grade was held in the “Little Grey Schoolhouse” as the new high school had not been built and there was not room in the large brick schoolhouse.

Note the ledge running around the building about the height of the children’s shoulders. This ledge was a great source of amusement for us. We could run our toy cars and trucks around it, and many other activities.

The best of all these activities was to attempt to circumnavigate the building by standing on the ledge and pressing ourselves against the building and inching along. The ledge is only about four inches wide and sloped slightly, so this was strictly a “small fry” activity as our center of gravity could be closer to the building than bigger kids. It was quite a sight to see the building ringed with dozens of kids at recess, trying to act like a fly on the wall. With arms widely outstretched and pressed against the wall we must have appeared as a string of paper cut-out dolls to an observer. We would only get so far before we lost our balance and fell off. I don’t remember if any of us ever made it all the way around the building.

We would start at the back stairs door (which put you at the level of the ledge) and go clockwise around the building. The game was kind of like “King-of-the-Mountain” in that the “winner” was the first to get around, or the one who got the farthest. When it seemed we just might be successful there were always those around who could increase the difficulty by tickling or otherwise harassing us. Or, someone just might catch up from behind us and attempt to dislodge us. They would rather both of us fell off than see the leader win the race. The ledge on this little building occupied many happy hours when we tired of run-sheepy-run, red-rover-come-over, squirting each other with the winged seeds from the elms along the street, or played “secret agent” hiding in the cellar entrance.


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