Although Uxbridge has been seen frequently in the media over the last few years as it struggles to get more support for a new school, the frustrations of the sometimes perceived "stubborness" to save the Blanchard School (seen above) has its roots firmly planted in a long history within Uxbridge and the Valley. Its independent, proud, respectful and hard working values were weighted by the thriftiness and "make-do" attitude that often conflicts with the times and pursuits of present day. Though in no way diminishing the present realities, perhaps it is important to more fully understand these noble values as we explore some of Uxbridge's past - its schools.
Perhaps one of the most vocal supporters of the current Blanchard School dilemma is Cynthia Walenty. Her firm beliefs are derived from years of work to "store up and understand the true history" of Uxbridge. These historical structures can easily be erased without the vigilance, and utter tenacity of committed souls like Cynthia Walenty. Her thousands of hours of recovering history with detailed minutia become incredibly significant as these resources, documentation and memories become more remote. So, as the reality of the current issues need still to be addressed, let us recognize the significance of our pasts as well as those who helped to preserve it.
The Ironstone School District was one of thirteen Uxbridge school districts established in 1797 when a vote was taken to create a Public School system in town, according to a video and booklet of factual documentation compiled by Cynthia Walenty that is available at the Uxbridge Public Library. Historically, on a national or statewide perspective, Massachusetts' Horace Mann, the statesman, pushed for Public Education support from 1837-48 which finally led to compulsory education in 1858.
Uxbridge voted two thousand dollars to this mission of erecting or creating the following schools:
In 1727, Uxbridge had incorporated from former Mendon land although in 1667, the Nipmucks had "ownership" of this land. In fact, reports indicate that Uxbridge was an Indian village of 50 Indians, known as Praying Indians, under the leadership of John Eliot!
The Ironstone School, the third actual structure, is now home to the 80 member South Uxbridge Community Center which was bought for $1.00 from the Town on June 23, 1949. The recent efforts to restore the wooden floors, walls only add to the charm exuding from this sunny and beloved structure. Money was raised with a long tradition of yearly chicken barbeques, yard sales and coordinated efforts by core members of the group.
The history comes alive upon entering, yet documentation indicates that the original Ironstone school was constructed on another nearby parcel. The school year had two semesters, lasting a total of twenty weeks, spread equally in summer and in winter. Harvest season was excluded as was spring so children could help in the fields planting and harvesting. The walk to school was generally up to two miles, but sometimes as long as five miles, each way!
The salary in 1835 was $5.73 per month for females, but an increased $13.93 for males. In 1855, the school had to be removed to erect the railroad which crossed the original parcel's path. The new building was sited near the Balm of Life spring which provided all the water to the school.
Roughly two hundred teachers taught at this school, with an 1860 example being Ms. Joanna W. Chase from Blackstone who was known as extremely capable and well-loved. At that time, the school year had increased to 3 months, 15 days for the summer term and 3 months, 10 days for the winter term. Salaries had risen to $18 per month which was paid at the end of the semester! In 1860, the school held 28 students in the summer term and 32 students during the winter ranging in grades 1-8. By this time, a high school had been erected about 4 miles away which grades 9-12 had to walk to daily.
By 1872, the salaries rose to $28 per month and a smallpox vaccination was required for school admittance as smallpox had touched the Valley on a small level. This Ironstone District had become home to woolen and cloth mills, so the population continued to grow into a village area. One of the factories burnt down in 1832, but was rebuilt by Jonathan Southwick for woolen machinery with Fairbanks and Messenger then utilizing the large mill to turn out Kentucky jeans.
By 1913, the second school burnt to the ground, but the school was held at the factory when it leased space from present day mill owners, Davis and Spencer, at a cost of $12.50 per month. Three hundred dollars had been voted by Uxbridge for this transitional period with a $2800. commitment to build the present structure in 1915. This new school had two outhouses and light was provided by kerosene lamps. Pencils were used, but without erasers, until the mid 1940s even though erased pencils were invented in the 1930s.
Each day, the teacher would ring the handbell to gather and quiet students after which the Pledge to the Flag and Lord's Prayer were collectively and proudly recited. Subjects included reading, penmanship (the Palmer method), grammar, spelling, arithmetic, history, art and once a month, a music teacher visited the school. A pipe organ was available for those occasions.
It was an honor to wash the blackboards or raise the flag daily. Celebrations were traditional and very respected amongst the diverse backgrounds of students ranging from Indians, English, Europeans to Canadians all working together "repeating and respecting" as former students like to recall. Learning was mostly by rote, repeated year after year so all students could listen in on past years lessons in this one room schoolhouse serving eight different grades. Seen below is an actual Ironstone School class with the original photo onsite.
Thanks to Cynthia Walenty for her time and dedication that led to the Ironstone publication at the Uxbridge Public Library and a recent lovely visit to the special Ironstone schoolhouse.