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The History of Redding Connecticut Schools- From Margaret Wixted's "Redding Schools of the Past"  

In 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.

The 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.

The 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".

School Districts Created

Little 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.

Redding Noted for Private Schools

Private 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 is given.

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 day pupils.

Olmstead Influence

Another 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.

Mr. 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 torn down.

Early 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.

From 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.

The Hill School

In 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.

In 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.

The 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.

The Redding Institute

The 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.

Professor 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.)

Mr. 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.

Among 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.

Daniel 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.

Daniel 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.

In 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.

When 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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