A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE STONE SCHOOL HOUSE (WEST DISTRICT SCHOOL)
In 1713 Farmington’s First Ecclesiastical Society was divided into twelve school districts. It was determined that each district was to erect a schoolhouse where and when they please. Of course, each district was to finance this undertaking on its own. However, the building of these schoolhouses was delayed by the Revolutionary War, 1776.
Around 1790 a schoolhouse to serve the West District (area) was built on a triangular plot of about a quarter acre, taken mostly from land designated for the highway. Brownstone from a quarry off New Britain Avenue was brought to the site by ox-drawn wagons, and men of the District helped to build and furnish the school. Deacon Calvin Hatch, the first schoolmaster, had a class of seven pupils when the first session began. American Indian children who lived nearby were among those attending.
By 1872 enrollment was exceeding 40 students and the small brownstone building was overcrowded. The West District built a new frame school house just up the road, now a residence at 102 Coppermine Road. The stone schoolhouse was deeded to George North. However, there is no record of its use under his ownership. Ownership by North was short lived, and he deeded the building to Simon Manus, a former slave who had fought in the Civil War (1860-1865). During the time that Manus and his wife lived there, a child was born to them.
Later in the same year, a group of neighbors bought the building for use as a religious and social center. Recorded on the deed are the following names: Alpheus Porter, et al, William Porter, Mrs. H. Webster, Allen Webster, W.A. Webster, I.N. Davis, W. Vickers, Henry Ibell, Robert Brown, Robert Morley. The group called themselves the West District Ecclesiastical Mission and called the building the West District Hall. Sabbath School was held regularly, and the ministers or deacons were brought from Farmington Village and Unionville to conduct services after their regular Sunday duties were completed.
Some thirty seven years later (1912), the West District Evangelical Mission was formed to succeed the previous organization—-a change apparently only in name and perhaps, emphasis. Names of some of its leaders are familiar: William Porter, A.S. Calkins, John H. David, Henry Ibell, Robert Morley, Maranda A. Webster, Robert Brown, and Allen Webster. In addition to the ministers from Farmington and Unionville, students from the Theological Seminary in Hartford came to conduct services and, occasionally, an evangelist from Bristol would hold a revival. The building by then was generally called St. Simon’s Chapel.
The annex to the original schoolhouse was built by John Knibbs in 1912 of brownstone from the same local quarry to match the original building providing more space for the increasing activity and membership. The schoolhouse room was redecorated and modernized to match the annex, a preacher’s platform was built, and electricity was installed. A dozen Windsor benches were bought for seating. Activities within the building included the women’s sewing society that met weekly, suppers, plays, socials, food and fancy work sales along with song fests. There was absolutely no card playing or dancing.
In 1956 members of the West District Evangelical Mission, nearly all of whom were also members of the then two year old Farmington Historical Society, proposed deeding their property, which was by then falling into disuse, to the Historical Society with the belief it would be better preserved and maintained. The Society accepted the offer and took over the ownership making necessary repairs and opening the building occasionally for special events. Various neighbors continue to serve as volunteer caretakers and watch closely over this historic site which is now on the state registry of historic buildings.
On the 200th anniversary of its construction (1990), the Old Stone Schoolhouse was opened on a regular basis as a museum reflecting its important role in the practice and progress of education and religion in Farmington and, particularly, the West District. By 1993 a restoration project was undertaken to repair damage and deterioration which were threatening the structure and to return the schoolroom to its original appearance. During the restoration project what was thought to be the footings for the original fireplace, were discovered. A fireplace was built to the ceiling and the room refurnished to the manner of 1790 to 1820. The refurbished schoolhouse with plumbing and electricity was re-opened on August 7, 1994. In the late 90’s the Dube family gifted about three quarters of an acre that adjoins the schoolhouse property.
Since that date, the schoolhouse was hit by an automobile in June 2011. The Sansone Restoration Company was able to repair structural damages to the corner of the building by repairing the brownstone. In July 2013, it was noticed that the fireplace was leaning and continued to lean dramatically. Sansone Restoration Company removed the fireplace and opened up the existing floor boards. It was discovered that the original footings were not shored up properly. Over time the eroded soil beneath it allowed the footings to sink causing the fireplace to lean. This presented a safety issue that had to be corrected. Sansone stabilized and shored up the original footings and closed the floor back up with new floor boards. If at a later date a fireplace is wanted, the footings are secure enough to support one.