Getting schooled in Charlotte: The hidden past of the town’s early learning centers

Photo courtesy Dan Cole
Charlotte Historical Society President Dan Cole said judging from the children’s clothing in this photo of the Lakeview Seminary (which by this time was the District No. 5 school in the Charlotte system), the photo was taken in the 1920s.
Photo by Scooter Macmillan
When the Mosers bought the old Lakeview Seminary schoolhouse in the early 1980s, it was a home, but it had been a post office after it ceased being a school in 1949 with opening of Charlotte Central School.

By SCOOTER MACMILLAN
Staff Reporter

While several Vermont school systems are still struggling with school consolidation, not only has Charlotte and other towns in the Champlain Valley School District already dealt with merging, it wasn’t their first trip to the school merger rodeo.

In 1869, Charlotte had at least 14 school districts, each with its own one-room school house. (If you have looked at the Beers Map of Charlotte dated 1869, you might be confused because you’ll see District 15, but if you look more closely you will see there’s no District 13. Local historian and president of the Charlotte Historical Society Dan Cole said his best guess is triskaidekaphobia, or fear of the number 13).

The number of schools went up or down as neighborhoods dwindled or grew until 1949 when all the Charlotte schools were merged into the brand-new Charlotte Central School.

One teacher taught all the subjects and all of the students, who ranged from 4 to 18 years old. Sometimes the students were older than the teacher, according to the book “Look Around Hinesburg and Charlotte, Vermont,” published by the Chittenden County Historical Society in 1973.

In 1900, a teacher in the Charlotte schools earned $185 to $200 a year and they had to pay for their boarding.

“Originally teachers were boarded free, for families with school-age children were expected to take turns boarding the teacher for a month,” says “Look Around Hinesburg and Charlotte, Vermont.”

Some of the old one-room schoolhouses still stand, including the Quinlan School, the Emerson School and the Lakeview Seminary.

Photo by Scooter Macmillan
When the Quinlan School was moved behind the Charlotte Library, people donated old desks and school artifacts, replicating the interior of a school from another century.

The Quinlan School

The Quinlan School is the old school that most people know about it since it’s behind the Charlotte Library. It was disassembled and moved to its present location in 1996.

The Quinlan School is known as the Quinlan School because it was built by John Quinlan on his farm in 1855. It served elementary school students from Charlotte’s District No. 7.

Coming to Charlotte in 1844, Quinlan cut firewood to make his living and went into farming. The first teacher was his daughter, Mary Quinlan, who taught there for more than 60 years until she died from influenza in 1918.

Local historian Dan Cole said that other teachers who served at the Quinlan School for many years were Susan Preston and Florence Horsford. When the Quinlan School reopened at the Charlotte Library, people donated old desks, so it is furnished much like a school in the 1800s.

The library has a history of the school, “The Quinlan School, A One Room Schoolhouse” by Jerrie Vane with more details about the school and a typical school day.

The Emerson School

The Emerson School is the oldest school in Charlotte, built in the 1791, according to “Look Around Hinesburg and Charlotte, Vermont.”

And appropriately, it served school District No. 1.

This old school is located at the northwest corner of Thompson’s Point Road and Lake Road. Bruce and Linda Williamson bought the old schoolhouse and renovated it into their home in 1986.

When they bought the building, it had been used as storage and one of the things that was stored in it was old school desks. They also found old report cards, said Bruce Williamson.

Although they’ve added onto it and raised the roof a bit, the building hasn’t changed much.

The Lakeview Seminary

The Charlotte Female Seminary was built in 1836. When this building burned in 1880, a new school building went up that became the Lakeview Seminary.

The first principal of the Lakeview Seminary was the famous Burlington philosopher, psychologist, democratic socialist and educational reformer John Dewey.

He promoted “teaching by doing” and “hands on experience” in education, said Cole.

Dewey lasted at Lakeview Seminary for just one year, during the 1881-82 term. He said afterward that classroom teaching was not for him.

Dewey’s and his wife’s graves are the only ones on the University of Vermont’s campus, next to the Ira Allen Chapel.

This school building on the east side of Greenbush Road just south of the intersection with Ferry Road became the school for District No. 5 as part of the Charlotte school system in 1895.

It was a public school from then until 1949, and Robert Larson went here for first grade in 1948 before moving to the new Charlotte Central School.

He said that there were two teachers, one taught first through third grade downstairs and the other had fourth through sixth graders upstairs.

“Our teacher would teach us then go on and teach the second graders and then we could go out and play,” said Larson. “Or if we were smart enough could stay and learn with the second graders. And after she taught them, if could keep up to third graders, you could stay and learn with them.”

Mark and Laurie Moser renovated the Lakeview Seminary building into their home in “1980 or 81,” Mark says. It had been a home when they bought it, but before that it had been a post office.

Consolidation controversy is nothing new

The issue of combining schools and whether it makes schools better or less expensive isn’t new. In an essay from 1899 (reprinted in “Around the Mountains”), William Wallace Higbee wrote:

“Close by stands the cozy little schoolhouse that used to be known as District No. 11 in the days before the legislature blotted the time-honored district schools from the map of the state. Were the question submitted to the people without prejudice from anybody, it is doubtful if they would pronounce our schools one whit better than under the old system. While so far as concerns expense, it costs the state thousands of dollars more than formerly.”

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