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History of the Schools of Redding, Connecticut :: Brent Colley's Version  

I can not take credit for this history, it's a mixture of Charles Burr Todd, Wilbur Thompson, Margaret Wixted and other information I've come across in the past 8 years.

Please let me know if there are more areas you'd like me to explore or if you have further information. Contact bcolley@snet.net or phone me at 860-364-7475.

School Districts of Redding

In 1717 the Connecticut General Assembly required every parish to have a school. The upkeep of the school was to come from a tuition paid by the parents. However, towns did cover the cost for anyone too poor to afford it. In townships where no school-houses existed students received their instructions at the teachers' home. When the teacher lacked a home the class would be rotated among the homes of the families whose turn it was to board the teacher.

As towns grew from small communities to large rural settlements, the location of the school house(s) became an issue. Imagine a student living on Church Street, Georgetown traveling to Black Rock Turnpike everyday to attend school…it simply wasn't possible.

The solution, to use Redding as an example was to divide the town up into school divisions. At a parish meeting held December 26th, 1737, it was voted to have a parish school, and to maintain said school by a parish rate. John Read, Joseph Lee, Joseph Sanford, John Hull, Nathan Lion, Stephen Morehouse, and Daniel Lion were the first school committee.

It was also voted: "that said school be 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." (apparently Stephen Burr belonging to the West-side meant something back then.)

  • The Ridge school area was defined only as "west of the Aspetuck River"; likely located on Black Rock Turnpike.

  • The "West-side" 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"; located either at the present intersection near the Redding Roadhouse or about where the Hull Cemetery is today.

  • The early Lonetown School referred to here was on the common near the meeting house. This common was also the parade ground. The location of the Redding Center Fire House. (Route 107 erased much of the "common" in 1955).

These were the original school districts of the town; in them the first rude school-houses were erected, and from one to the other went the traveling school-master.

The traveling school master system doesn't appear to have been all that popular and/or effective, it lasted a short period of five years as on December 10th, 1742, it was voted:

"that the interest of the school money belonging to the parish shall be divided into three equal parts for the year ensuing, for the maintaining of three separate schools (each to be kept by a master,) one third part of the money for that part of the Parish east of Little River, one third for that part of the Parish between Little River and the Saugatuck River, and one part west of the Saugatuck River. Provided, that each part of the Parish fail in keeping a school as above said, the other two parts that keep said school, shall equally divide the said money between them, and if two parts of the Parish fail in keeping a school as above said, that part of the Parish that shall keep said school the three months, shall draw the whole of the school money."

The same districts are defined in the appropriation of the school money in 1743 as being "the school on the West-side of Aspetuck River (Redding Ridge), the school by Mill River (Saugatuck River) and the school by the Church (Redding Center)."

In 1745 the appropriation was again made to the same districts, with the provision that each should "keep a school with a school master sufficiently capable to learn children to Write and Read."

There seems to have been no change in the school districts until 1764, when it was voted: "that the school money should be subdivided according to the lists within such subdivisions."

In 1767 the town of Redding was incorporated and in 1768 was subdivided into seven (7) school districts. This first committee appointed to select these districts consisted of Stephen Mead, Daniel Hill, and Daniel Sanford.

[Redding School District No. 5 was referred to as the "Boston District" and served the children from Georgetown and Redding. The schoolhouse was located on Route 107, between Umpawaug Road and Little Boston Road. Elias Bennett, later known as Post Rider Bennett, was teacher from 1800 to 1815. Nathaniel Perry, Walter Bates, Aaron B. Hull, Gershom Banks, Oliver Dudley, and William Bennett taught in the old schoolhouse later.]

By 1879, there were ten (10) school districts and three (3) half districts, these "half-districts" located on the borders of adjoining towns, and partially supported by the neighboring towns:

District One: Centre,
District Two: Ridge,
District Three: Couch's Hill,
District Four: Diamond Hill,
District Five: Boston,
District Six: Hull,
District Seven: Umpawaug,
District Eight: Lonetown,
District Nine: Pickett's Ridge,
District Ten: Foundry,
District Eleven: Georgetown, (Half-District)
District Twelve: Florida, (Half-District in Branchville)
District Thirteen: Rock house, (Half-District in Easton)

There were still ten (10) school districts in the town, and three (3) half districts, in 1906. The number of students is noted in this report:

District One: Centre, 30 Students
District Two: Ridge, 48 Students
District Three: Couch's Hill, 15 Students
District Four: Diamond Hill, 17 Students
District Five: Boston, 54 Students
District Six: Hull, 20 Students
District Seven: Umpawaug, 51 Students
District Eight: Lonetown, 29 Students
District Nine: Pickett's Ridge, 9 Students
District Ten: Foundry, 23 Students
District Eleven: Georgetown, 40 Students (Half-District)
District Twelve: Florida, 46 Students (Half-District)
District Thirteen: Rock house, 5 Students (Half-District)

[The total number of children enumerated was 387. The whole number who attended school was 406.]

A 1909 Connecticut law changed this in-town multiple schoolhouse system. The law made each town a *single school district and required a local school board to maintain control of all public schools within its limits (CGS § 10-240). The law, was intended to improve education by providing increased state involvement in public schools while still permitting considerable local control and accountability.

*For example: Redding School District, Wilton School District, Weston School District.

This law took some time to implement but one by one the District Schools of Redding were decommissioned. Gilbert and Bennett School, built in 1915, took in children from the Boston District No. 5 School and Georgetown District No. 11 School.

[Dec. 6, 1920: The sale of the Boston District schoolhouse to M. Connery of Georgetown forms the closing chapter in the history of a school that had had an existence of over 150 years. On December 6, 1920, this property was sold to M. Connery and on March 15, 1921, he sold it to James Driscoll, who used the site to build a home. Parts of the old school house were used in the construction of the garage.]

The Hill Academy in Redding Center was remodeled to accommodate children from other Redding districts in 1929 which completed the consolidation of Redding Schools. Together the Hill Academy and Gilbert and Bennett School would serve the communities of Redding and Georgetown until 1948-49 when the Redding Elementary School opened to serve all of the children in Redding. Gilbert and Bennett School would continue to serve Georgetown, Wilton and parts of Weston until 1964.

Redding grew from a population of 1,599 people in 1930 to 1,758 in 1940 and by 1950 there were 2,037 people. So, the town government being aware of the changes taking place needed two things: a larger town house and a larger school. They decided to use the existing Hill Academy location for the town house and build a new school on property the town had purchased in 1938 from F. Howard Burritt just up the road. The plan to convert the Hill Academy into the new town house would have to wait as children in grades 1 and 2 would still attend school in that building until the late 1950's. Redding was growing at a much fast rate than they had anticipated.

The new Redding Elementary School was built in 1948 with 8 classrooms, with the Gymnasium Auditorium added on in 1949. This was "Redding's School" the first new public school built in Redding since 1879 and I believe that they named it "Redding Elementary School" for that reason.

All of Redding and Georgetown's children attended this school when in 1957-58, a new wing was added to the facility, doubling its capacity and the 7th and 8th grade students of the Gilbert and Bennett School were transferred to Redding Elementary School.

Between 1957-59 Redding built the High School, it was for not only Redding but Easton too. It was the first time Redding students would not have to travel other towns to attend High School.

In 1965-66, Redding built the John Read Middle School to accommodate children in the grades 6-8. The land the school is located on was donated to the town by Lester Wolfe for $1. Some people in town felt Mr. Wolfe's generosity warranted the naming of the school after him: Wolfe School, while others asked: "who outside the town will know who Wolfe is?" John Read, the founder of the town, was thought to be a better name for the school and was approved by the majority of towns people. Four years after JRMS was completed the population of Redding had climbed to 5,590!

More to come on this topic...my "real" job calls.

Bonner's School on Redding Ridge, Time Magazine Article 1938

Monday, Jul. 25, 1938 - Last week the headmaster of a private preparatory school made an astounding announcement: he was proud that next year his school's enrollment would be more than twice this year's; he was mortified that because of this increase the school would no longer be able to have more teachers than pupils, but would have only two teachers to every three boys.

The headmaster: Kenneth Bonner, 47. The school: Redding Ridge School, Redding Ridge, Conn. Enrollment, 1937-38: 5. Enrollment so far for next year: 12. Teachers, 1937-38: 6. Teachers next year: 8. Tuition: $1,400. Reason for the increased enrollment: a unique idea in preparatory education which proved highly successful in its first year of operation.

Headmaster Bonner based the Redding Ridge Plan on the conviction that only one thing can be done thoroughly at a time. Redding Ridge prepares boys for College Entrance Examination Board papers, and its courses are no departure. Novelty of the system lies in shuffling the courses so that a boy studies only one subject per year. In the first year (known as Second Form) pupils study geography —as related to literature, mathematics, world history, human relationships. Next year French is the major subject and Third Formers live in a separate house, speak only French, conduct all classes in French, master by year's end better than the equivalent of fourth year French conversation, composition, history, literature. (No other language is offered, on the grounds that it is better to learn one language well than to pick up a quickly forgotten smattering of several). Fourth Formers study the arts. Fifth Formers the sciences, Sixth Formers history and literature, closely correlated. Each successive year the subjects of previous years are applied to the new field of study.

Headmaster Bonner got his big idea during the War when, at high-pressure Plattsburg Officers Training Camp, he was polished as an officer in three months, simply by concentration. But militaristic regimentation is taboo at Redding Ridge. Boys are encouraged to swim, play tennis and golf, sports which they will enjoy later in life. (Mr. Bonner wryly admits he would have had trouble developing a football team with five boys.)

In defense of the Redding Ridge Plan, Headmaster Bonner says: "I am simply advocating that the system under which a boy is asked to do his work shall not be as irrational as a system which would require of an adult that he be a lawyer from nine to ten o'clock, a doctor from ten to eleven, a stock broker from eleven to twelve, and an author from twelve to one. It is my unalterable conviction that under such a system all but the rarest adult would be foredoomed to failure in all capacities, and do his best work in none."

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