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Article Number 29
Old Times in Windham 

by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout

Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 29 published on December 23, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library

Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin

Is the reader at leisure for a stroll through scenes as they once were in Ashland? Will you look once more at the low-pitched school house, very close to the road, on the south side of it, at a corner of Mr. White’s farm? It was built at least as early as 1800, at the south end of the high hill, when the road ran there; and it was afterward drawn across the valley, through a corner of Dr. Benham’s yard, at his old residence, near the creek, till it found a resting place in the before-mentioned corner. Let me tell you of some children who came to school there in Old Times, and of their friends. The children of William Decker came to school from what was then called "The Hollow." George was the oldest and it was rumored in under tones, that if he chose he could whip the teacher, and judging from appearance and looks, it did not seem an improbable thing—and then it was but a step in imagine how it would be done—how George would comport himself, and so on; but that battle was never fought, and now George lives a quiet life. George’s uncle John, and his two aunts Nancy and Betsey, lived unmarried, in one house, are up toward "The Hollow." They were people of the most quiet industry, and rode to meeting, Sunday after Sunday. For years, in a perfectly sound and very neat lumber wagon, drawn by horses that showed the best of care.

The children of Argalus White were George, Lavinia, Beul, Almira and Elisha. The last two the writer remembers as fellow pupils, in the old school house, on the south side of the road. George White has lived for many years in New York—a lawyer by profession. He sang beautifully in the old meeting house, when the choir extended quite round the gallery on three sides of the building—and his part was tenor. Buel White has been dead many years, and his children have removed to other points. Elisha, the youngest son, has lately died, to the great grief of his own family, and to the sorrow of the community in which he had always lived.

A patient, gentle teacher, in the old school house, was Olivia, oldest child of Jairus Strong, afterward, the wife of Henry Kingsley, and her brothers and sisters were pupils. To teach young fingers to write is not a much lighter task then "to teach young ideas how to shoot." What mending of pens—what ruling of paper—what steadying of fingers? The day is warm; the windows are thrown up; the good teacher sits near the cross-legged table, or stands near the novice, and cheers, and tries, and tries again, but in vain; and at last, without rebuke, but evidently with a heavy discouraged heart, turns from the hopeless task, in spelling there was earnest competition. The struggle was made brilliant by bright eyes, and anon, the scene changes, and the tears would sometimes flow, when child-ambition was frustrated. These were pleasant days, and the memory of them refreshes the thoughts. There the rosy morning of our day was rising, and a dewy freshness lay around our path. Jairus Strong kept a store near where the brick store now stand. His residence was on the same side of the road, and very near by. A real wind-cleaver of the period must not be forgotten. A race horse owned and driven by Jairus Strong, before a two-wheeled carriage, was for many years a marked object of interest—a most invincible traveler—going to Catskill in four hours easily, and going and returning in one day, without the least difficulty. The animal, if living now, might probably become the property of the President of the United States, or of the editor of the New York Ledger. Next below Mr. Strong’s was the house of Dumah Tuttle. His older children, Sanford and William have been called hence, early in life, but not too soon to have left behind them a name for much sweetness of disposition, and gentleness, and uprightness. Mr. Tuttle was a man of quiet ways, well versed in politics, and knew human nature. He was a Democrat, of the Jackson and Silas Wright school, loyal to his party, and well able to give an exposition of its principles and policy.

The old school house was heavily reenforced from the next house below, that of Elijah Strong, a man of primitive excellence of character. His children were James, Eliza, Lydia, Clarissa, Schuyler, Samuel, Dorcas and Sandford. A great excitement was raised on a time. The younger boys went across the creek for the cows after school, and took with them their younger sister, Dorcas. Not finding the cows in the lower field, they started for then higher up, leaving their sister on a large rock, with the injunction to stay till they returned. But the child wandered off while the boys were gone, and could not be found. People were summoned, and search was made all night in the woods, and in the waters, but in vain. Horns were blown and shouts were uttered, but no answer. The next morning, the news having been spread, hundreds came to the search. The parents were in a state of agonizing suspense, almost distracting. The minister, Mr. Stimson, was with them, offering such consolation and sympathy as he could. The house of Mr. Ormsbee was about half a mile below. In the course of the forenoon, Mrs. Ormsbee chanced to look in a certain direction, and saw a young girl about to ford the creek. It was the lost child, who, very tired, had the night before fallen into a deep sleep, and slept so soundly that no shouts awakened her till morning, while she knew not where she was, but was not trying to get home. It is needless to describe the joy of her return.

The children of Elijah Strong, more especially the younger, were the writer’s companions in school. They were cheerful and trained in the old haunts. The parents of all these children were men and women of the old school-pioneers in Windham. Let us turn back to the road leading up the hill to West Settlement. On the corner lived Benjamin Kinsley. His oldest son, Hudson, was at an early day teacher in the old school house, and his brothers and sisters were pupils.

Climb the hill road, and take the first left hand road, and it will bring you to the place where Peter Hummel lived. From whose house a whole flock of children came –Peter, Eli, and others.

And now we will stroll no further in this direction. I do not pretend to have shown you all the paths of the children whose tracks looked toward the old school house; but let us look at the building itself once more. A large stone chimney is at one end, on one side of which is a dark pantry, where the girls’ cloaks, bonnets, and so on are stowed away; on the other side is the entry way to the house, and there the boys hung or pile their hats, as they go in, (and in the old times they used to be required to bow too as they went in). It is about A. D. 1820. The building has seen, and done the State some service. Many a boy has congratulated himself on seeing how keen his jack-knife was, as he carved the writing desks and seats. Many an apple, many a cruller, many a doughnut has been eaten with head bent down to the writing desk, and book open on the knees, as if hard study was going on. Boys make fires by turns, and the point of ambition is to make the old boxstove red hot. A crackling big fire in the chimney, at the same time, and 40 or 50 in the room, make a "sweltry times." It is mid-winter. Children start for school; but the news meets them that the house is burned, and all at once the event seems to throw an air of strange interest over the place where weariness and frolic had so often attended. We face the hard wintry blast, and stand to behold the ashes which are all that remains of the dingy but memorable school house.

But not to end our walk sadly. At the east end of the village of Ashland a road turns northward, and going a short way, we come to a bridge across the stream. Just below the bridge stands a house that came very near not standing in the late flood. There was, in old times, a grove there, and plenty of smooth stones scattered about, and in summer the ripple of the stream near by made pleasant music. Two small boys having wandered at midday from the old school house, were very busy building what they called a play house of stones. The writer remembers how one of them, holding a bleeding finger of one hand tight in the other hand, ran across bridge, and up the hill, to the old mill house; and how Mrs. Eustis, the miller’s wife, poured cold water into a little kettle and made him hold the bloody finger in the water, and how the boy asked if the missing finger-end would grow out again. But Mrs. Eustis did not know, and kept scraping lint, and at length the finger was bandaged, and the little boy went back to the school house, and from there was sent home. He never knew exactly what lesson to draw from the adventure, unless it was to keep good watch against being seduced by eloquent people. The child was led away from the usual track by the alluring description of his child-companion, and then as their play went on, both children lifted at one side of a great stone, but the stone was too heavy, and the talking boy gave way suddenly, and the big stone came down, and a finger mark was got by the other boy to last always.

Let us go on and we come to moderate hills, covered with a dense forest in old times, and a noble cool flush spring at the foot of one of these hills. Emerging from the forest you would see an old gambrel-roofed house with a dormer window or two. Diantha Green went to school in the old school house, and she and her father, Gideon Green and his wife lived here in the gambrel-roofed house, and that is why I show it to you.

Further on, if you are not too tired, and we come to the house of the pioneer, Orange Munson, where he lived till more than ninety years old. His children, at least John and Clarissa, went to school before the conflagration. It is a quiet spot, where they live (I think we have been here before), and they are cheerful people, and the old house is cheerful looking; and looks just as it did fifty years ago, only more completely embowered by the trees around it. As if transfused by the spirit of its occupants, it seems to show how healthful a thing cheerfulness is, and how much it promotes longevity. And now since the patient reader is in a quiet pleasant spot I must thank him, and for the present, bid him respectfully, adieu.

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