Norwalk Historical Society

• Mill Hill Historic Park •
2 East Wall St. • Norwalk, CT

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 1640
Norwalk, CT 06852

Tel: (203) 846-0525

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Copyright ©2006
Norwalk Historical Society

Click here to return to the main Little Red Schoolhouse Program page.
Students take a page from the past

By James Lomuscio  Special Correspondent

Published June 1 2007

NORWALK - Not only did the third-graders dress the part of Early American students, wearing hats, bonnets, shawls and long skirts as they came to the Mill Hill Historic Park yesterday morning.

They also assumed new names - Nathan, Charity, Ezekiel, Samantha and Isabella - all popular in 1826, when classes were in session at the one-room Little Red School House, as the Downtown District School House is dubbed.

Liz Pippa, their teacher at Rowayton Elementary School, also got into character, assuming the name Patience, a prim and proper school marm in period dress.

“We’re going to put ourselves back in time,” she said as she led the students into the school on East Wall Street. “Back then, you went to school from 8 o’clock in the morning to 5 p.m. And as you can see, there wasn’t very good lighting, and the windows didn’t go up.

“Also, back then you went to school with children from 4 years old to 17,” she added. The 19 students who filled the room were taking part in the Norwalk Historical Society’s Little Red School House Program, designed to complement the school system’s third-grade local history curriculum.

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Gail Wall from the Norwalk Historical Society tells third-graders from Rowayton Elementary School about city history during a visit yesterday to the Mill Hill Historic Park in Norwalk.
Dru Nadler/Staff photo


The students also toured the complex’s 1740 Gov. Fitch Law Office, a small clapboard cape-style building with a wood-shingled roof, and the 1835 Town House. At the latter, docent Sue Semchuk let students pull the rope on the building’s bell to announce a town meeting. Gail Wall, historical society vice president, later gave students a museum tour of Norwalk history.

“All these years I’ve driven by here, and I’ve noticed the cemetery. But I didn’t know all of these buildings existed,” said Deena Cannon, a parent volunteer whose daughter Sydney (called Samantha for the day) was on the tour. “This is great!”

As the students sat at the school’s plain wooden desks that surrounded a central wood stove, their teacher described a period when Norwalk education involved horn books and rigid discipline, when a bucket drawn from a well was the water fountain of the day.

“Back then, you had to be very quiet, very quiet,”  Pippa said. “There was no talking, unless the teacher called on you.”

She then asked students what they thought about the building’s stark amenities.“They didn’t have a very good water-drinking system,” said Katalina Connors (who was Isabella yesterday). “There must have been a lot of germs in that water.”

Katalina also spoke about the school’s small-paned windows made of wavy, grainy glass, saying, “The texture looks bumpy, and you couldn’t see well through them.”

Brooke Gordon, who took the name Martha for the day, studied her horn book, which resembled a wooden paddle.“It has ABCs on the front, and the only story is the ‘Our Father’ on the back,” she said.

For Pippa, the trip also brought back childhood memories. In the third grade, she had toured the complex with her class, and Semchuk, who then was her teacher, now was her students’ guide.

At the Fitch house, Semchuk explained everything from quill pens to tavern pipes to an extra wide soldier’s chair, designed to accommodate a colonial soldier’s sword. She also talked about the dangers of working in a colonial kitchen and how women would typically put water on the bottoms of their long skirts so they wouldn’t catch fire.“

“It’s exciting,” Pippa said as she walked from the Town House to the school. “I remember being here and learning about it in the third grade, and being able to teach it now is exciting.”

– The Mill Hill Historic Park is open to the public 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. It will be open Saturday, June 9, in conjunction with Open House Day, sponsored by the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.

Copyright © 2007, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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