Sometimes when Roberta Douglass is sitting quietly in her Sebago home she can almost hear the sounds of children at their lessons. And no wonder, because Douglass lives in an old converted one-room schoolhouse that once used to be the "New" Limington School. This schoolhouse closed its doors 55 years ago after educating the elementary school-age children of the area for 77 years.
Before Sebago was incorporated, early families from Limington settled in the Convene/Hog Fat Hill area. The Town of Limington built a school for the children of these families just west of the Convene Church on the Hiram Road (The old Convene Church is now home to the Sebago Historical Society, and Hiram Road is now known as Convene Road in Sebago and Sebago Road in Hiram). In 1826 the Town of Sebago was established, and the school became a Sebago school. In 1847 a new schoolhouse was built on the site of the original one, but it burned in 1873. In 1874 the "new" schoolhouse was built and operated until the doors closed in 1951. Title to the schoolhouse went through a succession of owners and is now owned and lived in by Douglass.
Little Has Changed
Originally the school had two front doors - one for boys and one for girls. Sometime after the turn of the century a single door that is in use today replaced these two doors. Massive granite steps lead up to a small porch and the front door, the same one that generations of Sebago schoolchildren entered every day. The sign over the door says "New Limington School, District #2" in commemoration of the building's early name. There is a small entry way with a second door to keep out the cold winter winds. Douglass has created a snug home inside while preserving the basic layout of the one-room schoolhouse. Is easy to imagine how the classroom would have looked when it was in operation.
"There used to be a box stove that burned wood here in the middle of the room," Douglass said. "There were two cloak rooms at the front of the room as students came in the front doors, and along the east wall was a big blackboard. One of the previous owners, Ben Gowen, had the fireplace put in by Harry McKinney where the blackboard used to be." She continued, "The pupils had their desks in rows facing the blackboard, and the teacher's desk was by the side of the blackboard. There was a stand with a bible and a big dictionary right by the teacher's desk. And over in the back corner was a sand table. The boys' cloakroom doubled as the teacher's supply closet, and on the shelf in the closet was the school's prized wind-up Victrola."
"Did you ever go to school here," I asked?
"No, I never did, but I know a lot of folks who did. They have fond memories about this old place. Just by listening to their stories I can almost see and hear the kids here at their studies."
A Busy School Full of Students
The 1881 school agent's census recorded 37 pupils at all the schools in Sebago, ranging from age 4 to age 20. Up to 20 pupils attended the Convene School. The single teacher taught grades 1 through 8 depending on the age of the pupils at any one time, and sometimes even had sub primary pupils as well. The school operated until the current Sebago Elementary School in East Sebago replaced it, and many Sebagoites have fond memories of their school days at the old schoolhouse on Convene Road.
Douglass often invites the Sebago Historical Society to meet at her home during the winter months, and the group that gathered just before Christmas included a number of former schoolhouse pupils who were eager to share their stories about the Convene School. Ann Burns, President of the Historical Society, attended school there for five years. "We used to have to lug water from Herberta McKenney's house next door, and the woodshed was on the side of the building where Roberta now has her garage. That was the boy's job, to keep the water bucket filled and bring in wood for the woodstove," she remembered. "The wood stove wasn't quite big enough, however, to keep us warm in the winter and it was often frosty in the classroom." Burns added, "We used to stand and sing the Star Spangled Banner to an old record on the Victrola."
June Allen and Diana Letellier are two other Historical members who used to go to school there. Allen remembers walking to school from her home on Convene Road, about a half-mile walk. She pointed out where the two outhouses used to be located. "There were separate outhouses for the boys and the girls, and they were attached to the back of the school, behind where Roberta has put in her kitchen area," she said. Students who went there remember that the boy's outhouse was a "two-holer", but the girls was a "three-holer" with a little step for the small girls to climb up.
Letellier remembers that third-grader Dickey Irish never tired of playing tricks on the teacher, Louise Grey. One involved him asking permission to go to the outhouse. He would climb out the window and run around to the front of the schoolhouse and knock on the door. The teacher had a beau that sometimes called on her, so she was always expecting a knock at the door from him. When the teacher answered the door she always got flustered seeing Irish's smiling face instead, and all the pupils set to giggling. Apparently this trick was repeated more than once, and the teacher never let on that she knew what was going on.
A Lost Way of Life
The combination of fond memories and a warm home have brought life back to the old one-room schoolhouse and have helped preserve a lost way of life in Sebago. Unfortunately, the Convene schoolhouse story is an exception in the State of Maine. Many Maine towns have lost their one-room schoolhouses to fire, neglect and decay. Few are left of the thousands that once existed.
Kirk Mohney, Assistant Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, estimates that there were 8 to 10 school districts for each of the state's 492 incorporated towns, and each district usually had its own school. "The one-room school house was the mainstay education facility through the 19th century and well into the 20th century," he said. "They are very important to our history."
It wouldn't be hard to imagine the sound of school kids from the past in the old Convene school once again. Or maybe even the sounds of 20 young voices singing the Star Spangled Banner accompanied by a scratchy record played on a wind-up Victrola.
Last updated January 7, 2006
Copyright © 2006, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2006, Allen Crabtree