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Life In The Schoolhouse In The Glen



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Life In The Schoolhouse In The Glen

By Nancy K. Crevier

Art Bauer has spent more than a quarter of a century renovating his home on Glen Road. Snuggled into a hollow barely off the side of the road, it is bordered on one side by a rocky ledge linked to Newtown Forest Association property and by the busy road on another. Mr Bauer has turned what was a building in “horrible” condition when he bought it in 1984, into a welcoming home.

The living room is lit, one late winter afternoon, by the diffused light of tabletop lamps and the afternoon sun spilling through multi-paned windows to reflect off of cream colored wood paneling. One wall showcases a fireplace framed by a simple wooden mantel, flanked on either side by identical windows. Heavy, ancient beams cross the low ceiling.

Off of the living area is a wide hallway that leads into the kitchen, with a den and a dining room adjacent to it. Natural wood doorframes are broad and plain, new, but reflecting the home’s 18th Century heritage.

The rooms are serene, and do not speak of a history that spans two hundred years. But Mr Bauer knows that all those years ago, and up until 1920, the building resounded with the voices of children reciting verses, scribbling madly in hornbooks, or scratching answers onto blackboards while a stern schoolteacher stood by.

His home began its life as the Pohtatuck Schoolhouse, established in 1779.

Mr Bauer was not looking for an antique property specifically when he began house hunting in Newtown in 1984, he said, but when the real estate agent showed him the tiny Glen Road house, something about it intrigued him.

“She did mention to me that it was an old schoolhouse,” he said. There was no evidence of the building’s years educating Sandy Hook’s children at the time. The house was in such disrepair, that the mortgage company he approached would not give him a mortgage for the house. “I walked away and looked at other houses, and eventually put a deposit down on another,” recalled Mr Bauer.

He could not get the ramshackle building on Glen Road out of his head, though. “Then I was visiting my grandmother, in Chappaqua, and she was very pleased to hear I was buying a house,” Mr Bauer said, “but she said to me, ‘Art, you’re buying the wrong house. All you are doing is talking about the house you are not buying.’”

He transferred his deposit to the needy old schoolhouse, and his learning began.

“I wasn’t a carpenter until I bought this house,” he admitted. An electrical technician by trade, he coincidentally found himself out of work shortly after purchasing the schoolhouse, and took up work with trades people in the area. “I worked with a trim guy, a carpenter, a plumber, anyone who would hire me,” he said. The on-the-job-training worked to his benefit, giving him the skills he needed to make his house livable.

As he scraped the paint off of the exterior of the house one afternoon to reveal a layer of red paint, he realized he had bought a house that nearly ten years earlier he had come upon on a walk. “It was a mess, and so uninviting, my friend and I wouldn’t even walk past it. I remembered that house was somewhere around where I bought, and we always wondered what had become of that awful red house… I bought it!” he laughed.

In the course of renovating, the building gave up some of its secrets to him. Behind the layers of paneling, plaster, and wallpaper, Mr Bauer discovered three blackboards buried in the walls.

“They were almost a part of the walls, so it was impossible to remove them,” he said. One remains between a double wall above the fireplace mantel, hidden by the paneling. Another is embedded in a section of the dining room wall, and in the wall of the den. A small tintype photograph of a woman and two children was discovered in the walls of the den as he did demolition there, he said. The woman is dressed in a dark dress covered by a white apron remarkably similar to the uniform of the teacher in the Winslow Homer print that hangs in the den.

“I don’t know who they are, but I like to think it might be a teacher and her students,” said Mr Bauer.

As dropped ceilings came down to be replaced in the living room, he could identify the elliptical roofline of the original schoolroom. “I couldn’t leave that ceiling, though,” Mr Bauer said. “It would have looked too tall for the dimension of the rest of the room,” he said. He wondered about that roof, though.

“I did some research, and I found out that in the mid-1800s, a major renovation to the schoolhouse was done, adding on the section of the house that is now my kitchen and dining room,” said Mr Bauer. “Then the roof made sense. I had thought that the kitchen area was the original part of the building, but I realized during renovations, because of the way the two parts were attached, that it was actually the living room that was the original schoolhouse. It explained a lot of why that part of the house was so much less square, nothing really level,” he said. The peaked roof over the living room had been added when the addition was put on, he guessed.

Going up in the attic, the slightly arched roofline is still visible there, and above the ceiling of an upstairs bedroom, evidence of a bell tower remains, said Mr Bauer.

A Sketchy History

The history of Pohtatuck Schoolhouse is sketchy. Dan Cruson, town historian, writes in his booklet Educating Newtown’s Children: A History Of Its Schools, that the Pohtatuck District School was created in 1779. By 1854, enrollment was down to just seven children, who were then sent to the Sandy Hook District. As population in the area increased, the Pohtatuck School was reopened, and in 1859 “Charles and Julia Johnson sold some of their land to the Pohtatuck School District for the construction of a new schoolhouse.” Two teachers, covering a junior and senior division of classes, taught over 80 children during the mid- to late 1800s. By the end of the 19th Century, though, enrollment was half of that, and only Elizabeth Gallagher managed the classes. She taught there until the school closed in 1920. “It was subsequently sold on August 31, 1929, to Thomas Brew, for $150,” Mr Cruson notes in his booklet. Mr Brew was the first in a succession of private owners that led to Mr Bauer in 1984.

The history of the school is only muddied by descriptions in the E.L. Johnson history of Newtown, 1705–1918. Two schools are described, both in Sandy Hook, and both established in 1779. The Pohtatuck Brook School appears to be what became the Sandy Hook Schoolhouse on Riverside Road. The description of the Pohtatuck School “close by the road in the brush” more closely describes Mr Bauer’s homestead. Mr Johnson, however, then goes back to describing the Sandy Hook School, leaving the reader with no further information about the Pohtatuck School.

What little Mr Bauer has found out has been through brief descriptions in books at the library, he said, through his own discoveries as he dismantled the layers, and thanks to the insight of an elderly neighbor.

“Mr Kilbride lived near me when I bought the house and he used to come down and visit me sometimes. He told me that he remembered going to school here as a little boy, and described what it looked like inside,” Mr Bauer said. What his neighbor told him supported the tales the house was giving up to him.

Sometime in the 1990s, a friend showed him a photograph in the Way We Were column of The Newtown Bee. “It was the Pohtatuck Schoolhouse, and I recognized it as my house, even though the photograph was backwards, a mirror image. I could tell that where I replaced two doors with windows, one in the dining room and one in the den, that those had been the main entrance to the new part of the school,” he said. The picture faintly showed the bell tower above the entrance, the remains of which he later came across. He can only guess that where his living room passes through to the broad hall was the entrance to the original school building.

 “I haven’t found evidence on any of the other sides that there was ever a doorway,” he said.

A poem, “The Schoolhouse In The Glen,” was printed in the paper, as well, said Mr Bauer. He re-photographed the picture and had it flipped to show the building as it stands, and framed it, along with the poem. (A search of The Newtown Bee archives has not turned up this article, to date.)

“I couldn’t really preserve a lot,” Mr Bauer said of his many years of renovation to the schoolhouse. “So much had already been ripped up or damaged, or covered up. I wanted to keep the wooden doorframe that goes into what is my kitchen, but it just didn’t match the rest of the work. I kept it though. It’s underneath the newer frame,” he said.

The hints of the home’s past that do remain, however, are treasured, said Mr Bauer. Like the classroom of yore, hushed by the presiding teacher, it harbors its past, quietly.

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