1723, twenty five settlers and "well wishers to the settlement
of a plantation between Fairfield and Danbury" petitioned
the General Court in Hartford for the privileges of becoming
a parish. This early paper says in part "first laying
out a farm of 200 acres for ye ministry, 200 for a school,
and as much for the first ministry that shall settle there,
and annex the whole to the town of Fairfield." Thus it
seems that school was in their thoughts firmly, although the
first recorded action was in 1737 when a parish school was
set up, to be maintained by a parish fund.
new school was described as follows: "divided into three
parts, that is to say, five months in that quarter called
the Ridge, and five months on the west side of the parish
near the mill, and two months at Lonetown, understanding that
the centre of division is the meeting-house, and that Stephen
Burr belongs to the west side." The mill was the grist
mill operated by Jabez Burr on the Saugatuck, and located
according to Todd's History, "a short distance above
where Nobbs Crook road crosses the stream," or at the
present intersection near the Mark Twain Inn.
early Lonetown School referred to here was on the common near
the meeting house. This common was also the parade ground.
It was a large area north of the Federated Church parsonage,
comprising the former playground of the Hill School, and the
location of the Center Fire House. (Route 107 which intersects
this field is a fairly recent construction). The Ridge school
area was defined only as "west of the Aspetuck".
mention was made of district schools in the district schools
in the succeeding years, except that money for their support
was appropriated regularly, and at one time school bonds were
in effect. However, it was assumed that in 1768 there were
7 districts. In 1879, there were 10 school districts and 3
half districts, these latter located on the borders of adjoining
towns, and partially supported by the neighboring towns. The
enrollment (believe it or not!!) was 406 pupils. The district
school system continued until 1929, when the Hill Academy
was remodeled to accommodate children from the remaining districts.
Noted for Private Schools
schools for the higher education of ambitious pupils came
into existence very early in Redding. The earliest mention
is of a boys' school conducted by Seth Samuel Smith, esq.,
who was the first lawyer in Redding. He had his office in
Redding Center, and the school adjoined. This was in the 1790's.
Rev. Nathaniel Bartlett, pastor of the Congregational Church,
like many clergymen of his day, tutored pupils for college.
Among his pupils was Joel Barlow. His son, the Reverend Jonathan
Bartlett operated a school for boys in 1795, in the present
residence of J. Bartlett Sanford. Todd mentions an Eli Gilbert
who ran a "select school at the Centre." No date
In 1836, two schools were opened on Redding Ridge. The first
was run by Aaron Wilson, grandfather of Mrs. Amy Wilson Nichols,
in her residence next to the Redding Ridge Firehouse. The
classrooms were housed in a building which stood near the
cemetery fence, and the boys boarded in the main house. The
second was started by John Osborne who may have lived near
the top of Great Hill in the Milo Osborne house on Cross Highway.
Walker Bates was a well known man, well educated and a large
land owner. He operated a school in the house best known now
as the Millar house, at the intersection of Goodsell Hill
Road and Route 53, from about 1825 on. Burton Bradley, who
operated a boarding school about 1850 cannot be identified.
The best known girls' school was the Polly Sellick School,
which began in 1844 in the house last occupied by the late
Arthur MacAuley near the Mark Twain Library. In addition to
the "boarders", local boys and girls attended as
school for girls was operated by the Olmstead family who built
the old house on Redding Green now owned by Geroge Ritter.
The foundation still remains on the knoll in back of the house.
The son or grandson of this family was James F. Olmstead,
a graduate of Columbia College, a teacher at Columbia, and
a teacher for twelve years at the Packard Business School
in New York.
Olmstead was known as a mathematical genius, and his short-cut
methods of solving problems baffled teachers of the day. He
returned to Redding and opened the Olmstead Academy on Umpawaug
Road in 1896, in the house now occupied by his son, Robert
Olmstead. Classes were held in the barn which was recently
pupils of Mr. Olmstead included Maud Bronson, George Bronson,
Bessie Blackman, Margaret Griffith, Charlie Hill, Helena Hill,
Luella Hill, Orson Marchant, Percy Platt, Gerald Olmstead,
Harry Read, Joel Selleck, Seth Sanford, and "Willie"
who cannot otherwise be identified. Younger pupils were taught
by Mattie Fields Wood.
time to time small neighborhood schools were held for younger
children in private homes. The Misses Martha and Abby Sanford
instructed nieces and nephews, at the Bartlett Sanford home
in Redding Center, as did the Misses Sanford, of the Jesse
Lee Sanford family on Redding Ridge. Another later school
was conducted in MacAuley house by Mrs. Theodore Adams.
1878, the Rev. Aaron S. Sanford of New Haven, but of a Redding
family, donated $5,000 for the endowment of a high school.
This was incorporated as the Hill Academy, and was in operation
probably around 1880. The stipulation was that only college
graduates could teach there.
answer to an advertisement for a teacher a young man named
Ernest Smith, just graduated from Amherst, applied for the
job, was accepted, and taught for two years. While here he
fell in love with Mary Collins Wakeman, daughter of Dr. Wakeman,
married her, and after completing medical studies returned
to become Redding's best known doctor, succeeding his father-in-law.
Herman and Homer Smith are his sons.
Hill Academy continued at junior high school level for many
years, finally becoming a school for all eight grades, when
the Center district school was abandoned prior to 1915.
best known school in Redding was the Redding Institute, founded
in 1847, by Daniel Sanford, A.M. This was a year round school
for boys, and was conducted in Mr. Sanford's home, "The
Red House" on Redding Ridge, which was then augmented
with a long wing on the north side, containing class rooms.
This house is now the residence of Miss Madeline McCue.
Sanford was well educated and had previously taught in White
Plains. After a small beginning, his school grew to a capacity
of forty pupils, with students coming from as far away as
Cuba and the Island of St. Thomas. (It is recorded that two
southern boys attending in 1865 were treated with great hostility
because of the civil war.)
Sanford was joined in 1851 by Edward P. Shaw, a graduate of
Wesleyan, who after Mr. Sanford's retirement continued to
operate the school until 1873. Mr. Shaw was the grandfather
of Miss Annie Banks and Mrs. Margaret Reinhardsen of Redding,
and of Frederick Shaw of Bethel. Mrs. John Wilson of Redding
is a great-granddaughter. The school brought increased business
activity to the area for many years.
the flourishing enterprises was a tailoring shop operated
by John Close, an Englishman, who lived and had his shop in
the present home of Mrs. Katherine Slesinger. Several romances
resulted also, one of the local interest being the marriage
of Marshall Driggs of Brooklyn, a student, to Miss Elizabeth
Sanford, beautiful daughter of Aaron Sanford of the Ridge.
Mr. Driggs later became president of the Williamsburg City
Fire Insurance Company. A brother, Frederick Driggs, built
the log cabin in Poverty Hollow, now owned by Len Pinover,
and started the influx of summer people in that area.
Sammis Sanford, son of professor Sanford, returned to Redding
in 1905 after being principal of the model Brookline, Mass.
High School where his friend Professor Samuel Train Dutton
was revolutionizing high school education in his capacity
as supervisor of schools.
Sanford, a Yale Graduate, had married Annie Tomlinson, a Wellesley
graduate and a fellow teacher at Brookline. On a modest scale
they started the Sanford School, first in a private house,
later in the large building familiarly known as the Bonner
School on Redding Ridge. In addition to boarding scholars,
Mr. Sanford took local students as day pupils. There was a
lower-grade school in the basement of the Gymnasium, which
is now the home of Mr. And Mrs. Edwin Clinton.
addition to stressing the classics, (Mr. Sanford taught Latin
and Greek) Mr. William Sanford taught an agricultural course,
and conducted the farm operation which helped to sustain the
school. This was finally discontinued after a series of disastrous
fires destroyed the fram buildings. Among the students were
Sesar Romero, later of moving picture fame, and Richard Mansfield,
2nd, son of the famous actor.
Mr. and Mrs. Sanford retired in the 1920's the school was
closed until Kenneth Bonner reopened it as the Redding Ridge
School in the late 1930's. Mr. Bonner's excellent school was
finally closed because of conditions resulting from World
War II, and the landmark was finally divided in three residences.
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