"Our town has had a very interesting and
divisive evolution of public school development at the lower
It was not until the late 1940s and early 1950s that effective central
thinking and planning came about, which finally resulted in a unified
system in 1954.
"Initially, Joseph Pratt was the first person publicly paid to teach, and apparently performed this service through the use of various private homes. This was in 1735, but by 1737, it was decided by the residents to build a schoolhouse, and one was subsequently erected near the Muddy River in Centerbrook. It was 16' by 20' and cost about $400. This served all Potapoug, including the "Deep River" section (Potapoug had a relatively small population prior to 1770). In 1768, 4 school districts were formed, roughly dividing current Deep River and Essex into quadrants. Interestingly, the center of this division was the mill pond in Centerbrook, indicating, of course, the essential center of town (politically and socially, as well as geographically), at that time. The eastern section (District #2) was shortly broken down into three individual sectors. It was voted at this time to have an individual schoolhouse in each district and see that proper amounts of money were raised to support each place.
"With the doubling of the population of "Saybrook" in the latter part of the 18th century (mostly in Potapoug Point due to the shipbuilding "boom"), the demand for schools became rather extreme. Consequently, by 1814, there were 8 schools in the following places: #1 - close to the Meeting House in Centerbrook, #2 - Deep River, #3 - Comstock District (current Ivoryton), #4 - West District (west of Ivoryton), #5 - Southeast (by Rackett Lane / Route 154), #6 - Meadow Woods, #7 - The Point (Essex Main Street), and #8 - "Pound Hill" (these last two were very close to each other). There were 553 students enrolled in these places. Of these 8 buildings, 2 are extant: the "Pound Hill" school was for a long time the dental office of Doctors Sweet / Baldwin and currently is an architects office, and the first Meadow Woods school is a private home at the east corner of River Road and Book Hill Road.
"The Point school was located roughly where the Essex Savings Bank now stands on Main Street. It was mysteriously "blown up" in 1845 (by gunpowder), and the town was forced to purchase the new Baptist Meeting Hall, which replaced this school and combined it with the Pound Hill School. This served as this district's school until 1910, and today stands as the Essex Art Association building.
"Maps of the town (indeed, many towns) in the 19th century dispersed the land area into school districts, rather than voting districts. While this was done for travel reasons among other things, it effectively divided towns that grew as Essex has - different areas becoming more important at varying times. By an act of the State Legislature in 1867, school districts had to be combined under a single committee (school board). This resulted in only 5 schools, one in each village, plus Meadow Woods and the "southeast school," on Rackett Lane. The Meadow Woods school building and land was sold in 1886 to Stillman Tiley for $100, and a new Meadow Woods structure was erected in its place for $800. This was on the opposite side of current River Road, just past the intersection of Dennison Road. One half acre of land was purchased from Benjamin Post for $150 and today this school building remains as a homestead.
"In 1909 Augustus Pratt and Samuel Griswold sold one & one half acres at the rear of the Pratt House ($500), to the town for a new school. Sylvester Comstock also transferred a small, adjacent parcel back of Hill's Academy to the town for $200 at the same time. A brick, Georgian style structure was put up with 6 classrooms, central hall, and large basement, with recreation fields on the north. As a result of this action, by 1910 all the elementary schools in Essex Village: Meadow Woods, Point, and Southeast were combined, and it had the added advantage of being near Pratt High School. In 1927, Samuel Griswold sold another adjoining acre to the school, on the west, for $1,000, which allowed for more playing fields. This property today is "Highland Hall," a convalescent center, and stands behind Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church.
"In Centerbrook, the school was relocated to near the Centerbrook Burying Ground and referred to as the Nott District School. This school moved, very early in the 20th century, to a position behind Prann's Store, about 1/4 mile north. This location served as the Centerbrook School until 1924, when a new brick building was constructed, on the land where the Essex Elementary School now stands. The old building is the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall today.
"Ivoryton had a slightly different history, as schools were enlarged and combined. In this Comstock District by 1850 a single story school existed where the parking lot now is, at the intersection of Main / North Main Streets. With the rapid expansion of the Comstock, Cheney, & Co., however, this facility soon was inadequate. This company therefore paid for the greater part of a new and much larger, multi story wood building which was erected at the same location in1900. This act, while an immense help to the town financially, fit in with company policies centered on the late 19th century concept of "welfare capitalism."
"Subsequent to World War II, the fact of three separate school buildings, with three Principals, staffs, etc., was becoming untenable. After the Valley Regional High School became operative, it was decided to build a centrally located Essex Elementary School. The existing Centerbrook School, only 28 years old, was demolished, and a far more contemporary structure put in its place. This has had two major additions, the most recent a little over 5 years ago. In addition, a pond which existed at the rear of the old Centerbrook Grammar School was filled in, and this area is now suitable for outdoor activities. The Ivoryton Grammar School was also demolished.
"Some of the information contained herein, came from "A Statistical History of the County of Middlesex," by David Dudley Field, and Beers 1884 "History of Middlesex County.""
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