A Modern School: 1855

by on February 24, 2013 in Local Business, Rick Church

The record of District Number Seven ends as it began. By 1851 that nice brick building, built only thirty years before, needed a major overhaul. Some in the district thought it needed to be replaced. In that year there was an article on the school district warrant to repair the building. It was passed over.

1883 School #3

Up until 1876 Nelson paid tuition to send students to old Number Seven. On the other side of Nelson, School Number Two was accepting students from District Number Four in Stoddard where there was no school building at the time.

In 1854 James Derby, Darius Farwell and William Seaver petitioned for a special meeting to consider building a new school. The resulting warrant had two articles. One to build a new school and one to repair the old one. The meeting voted to have the Prudential Committee make repairs. They didn’t.

In March 1855, Joel Bancroft, the second generation of that family to be involved with the school, and Chauncey Barker petitioned for a special meeting to repair and enlarge the school. At the next meeting on April 5th, Chauncey Barker moved that the district buy 22 desks and seats and arrange them after the Woodcock Patent; take down the old seats and remove the partition between the school room and the entry. Voters said “no”

School #7

Abandoned the old building looked like this.

Undeterred, and only five days later, there was another petition for a special district meeting to see if the district would appoint a “Disinterested Committee” and delegate to them the power to decide whether to repair the school. Three weeks later, the district meeting voted to appoint a “Disinterested Committee.” The committee members were from Hancock.

The “Disinterested Committee” chosen:

Nelson had done this before. In 1838, when the brick schoolhouse in Nelson Village was built, a private group asked to build a second floor at their own expense.

School # 7 Today

School # 7 Today

When it was finished, there was a dispute about what each party’s share should be. A disinterested committee of Hancock people was appointed to sort it out. Wisely the committee held the upstairs group responsible for the front 5 feet of building that housed the stairway to the second floor, but held they were not to pay for the roof that the school would have had in any case.

In three weeks the Disinterested Committee recommended “covering the floor, furnishing lathing and plastering the walls, fixing the window frames to receive the lathing, affixing Woodcock Patented seats instead of the old ones…” The building really had deteriorated in the thirty-five years since its construction.

This time the voters agreed.

Still pushing Washington Bancroft, Almon Martin and Chauncey Barker petitioned for yet another special meeting to raise money to actually do the repairs.

Finally on June 7, 1855 money was appropriated and a committee appointed to oversee repairs. The committee completed its work and the district voted to raise $283 to pay for it. The modern observer must be impressed by the speed of this process. Half a dozen school district meetings in a few months and more money spent than the building cost new.

woodcockPart of the improvement was the installation of Woodcock Patented seating. You can almost feel the pride in the words from the school record. Woodcock Patented seating was the latest thing. They weren’t actual seats, but a pattern of arranging single seats in a classroom that enabled denser placement of students and actually claimed to increase the usable space. The patented pattern replaced the usual rows with a diagonal pattern. The new seating looked like this, though School Number Seven was not nearly this grand:desks









Virgil Woodcock was a resident of Swanzey, NH. His pamphlet touting his invention carried the endorsements of school principals from three states and from the former state superintendent of Vermont. It was the latest thing.

Among its claims is this one:
double desk claim



The part of Nelson where School Number Seven sat became part of Harrisville in 1870. That town renamed the building, School Number Three, and continued to use it until 1885. Up until 1876 Nelson paid tuition to send students to old Number Seven. On the other side of Nelson, School Number Two was accepting students from District Number Four in Stoddard where there was no school building at the time.


This is the sixth and final installment of a long article on the operation of one of Nelson’s early schools.  The main source for the series is the seventy page record of School Number Seven from 1820 to 1858 which was generously donated to the town archives with many other valuable historical papers by Ethan Tolman. Thanks to a grant secured by Susan Hansel, the record of School Number Seven is preserved and available to the public on a CD at the Olivia Rodham Memorial Library.  The balance of the source documents are the Nelson Town Records preserved in the Town Archives and material on the Woodcock Patent located at the Cheshire County Historical Society. Click here to read the previous article in this series.

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