History Is Again Taught In A One-room Schoolhouse

September 27, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

"At the end of the class, wash your hands and face. Wash your feet if they are bare."

"Respect your schoolmaster. Obey him and respecthis punishments."

The classroom rules listed on a slate board at the Free School ofAnne Arundel County stand as reminders of student life in the 1700s.

One of the early one-room schools still remaining in the area, the building was recently restored by the Anne Arundel Retired TeachersAssociation, with help from the county Board of Education and several historical organizations.

Visitors to this birthplace of public education will find it easy to imagine daily life in the small beamedroom.

"It just feels old," says Herb Sappington, one of hundreds of people who donated energy and expertise to the project. "You step in there and you could be in the 1700s. It even smells right."

Within the sandstone walls, a guide explains, youngsters sat quietly on long benches, doing their sums on slates and keeping a wary eye on the dunce's cap that threatened misbehavior. Candles shed light over the pine plank floor. Several fireplaces, for which the students chopped the wood, provided heat.

The schoolmaster stood guard behind hishigh desk, armed with a large Bible, an inkwell and a quill pen.

This whitewashed stone building, trimmed in burgundy and roofed in cedar, remains in its original location in the community of Lavall, just off Route 450 in southern Anne Arundel County.

The restored colonial schoolroom is filled with reproductions of the original furnishings, from the master's desk to the children's benches to the slate boards and slate pencils. Upstairs, the space likely was used to house the schoolmaster and any students who boarded.

The school will be open for viewing Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m., offering a fascinating glimpse into early school days.

But the Free School represents more than a history project to those who for 18 years have worked to restoreit. It is a big chunk of life for retired teachers who checked historical records, applied for and received financial grants, completed archaeological digs and approached government agencies to restore the school to its 1820 appearance.

Volunteers also have spent hours restoring the place -- clearing brush, building benches, painting and installing lights and putting new shingles on the roof.

"It took five dump trucks to take the stuff we cleared from the yard," says Sappington. "It was impenetrable. There was poison ivy as big as my arm."

The construction has cost $167,000 so far, much of it paid for bygrants.

"All sorts of people were involved" during the four phases of restoration, Sappington says. "There were dozens of committees and workers who helped once the grants ran out." Lavall donated the building and 1.4 acres of land.

Sappington, along with other retiredteachers, spent long days this week with his tool box, finishing an addition that houses a powder room and administrative office.

The 67-year-old is eager to emphasize that he's just one of many who havehelped, praising other retired teachers such as Dorothy Shaver, who researched and wrote a detailed history of the school, and Robert Doenges, whose committee designed and built the reproduction furnishings.

The Retired Teachers became interested in the Free School after learning its history, which dates to an Oct. 26, 1723, resolution by the General Assembly encouraging learning in the counties. The following spring, a 150-acre site was purchased for a school.

The original building was improved after 1759 with an addition probably used asa kitchen. "They used it to shuck corn and slaughter hogs, we believe," says Sappington.

Also according to local tradition, Johns Hopkins studied at the school in the early 1800s.

After the Civil War,a new school was built nearby and the Free School became a family residence. It was used as a home until the early 1950s when it was abandoned.

In 1964, the Retired Teachers, which now number about 900, decided to restore an early county school. In 1972, school superintendent Edward Anderson and assistant superintendent R. Harold McCann proposed that the Retired Teachers restore the Free School. Sappington,a former elementary school teacher and principal then working for the school administration, was appointed chairman.

The historic sitewas a mess when the teachers got their first look at it, teachers say. Recalls Howard Hall, past president of the Retired Teachers Association, "The old school was so overgrown with vines and foliage, it took us three days just to find it out in the woods. We began by clearing the property, then began work on the building. With each stage of restoration, we had to have an archaeological dig."

Lavall donatedthe building to the county in 1975, and restoration has proceeded ever since, right down to the detail of hand-made nails in the yellow pine floors, which replicate the original flooring.

"We kept out everything modern except what we had to have," Sappington says. The teachers concealed light fixtures and hid heating and air-conditioning units upstairs.

One use for the restored building will be for student tours. Classes will view slides explaining the building's history,and take a few colonial lessons in daily chores, recitation, ciphering, elocution, spelling and memorization.

So far, one class has visited the partially restored school, Sappington says. Their response made him think the work thoroughly worthwhile.

"The kids just loved it. They used the slates and sat on the benches. They were a real delight."

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