History of the Rock School &

Preparing for Rock School Day


In grateful appreciation to:

Bob Grigg


Colebrook Historical Society

Municipal Historian:

Town of Colebrook,

County of Litchfield,

State of Connecticut, USA

"As Colebrook’s population grew, the need for more districts became necessary, and on October 20, 1796, a meeting of the inhabitants of Colebrook was called to form a School Society."

History of the Rock School

At the first town meeting held in Colebrook, held on December 13, 1779, the voters authorized two school districts – North and South. “The north is to go from the colony (state) line south as far as Capt. Samuel Rockwell’s.  The south consisting of all Colebrook lands lying two miles north of the Winchester line.”

At this meeting the voters directed that the listers (tax collectors) set up notifications on the signpost and on the two schoolhouses.

As Colebrook’s population grew, the need for more districts became necessary, and on October 20, 1796, a meeting of the inhabitants of Colebrook was called to form a School Society. Chosen was a moderator, chairman, treasurer and a three-man school committee. The first vote taken by this body was to appoint a committee to form several school districts.

Now, for the first time, the North School found itself in a named district – the Sandisfield Road District. This district encompassed the area from the Massachusetts border at the point where Viets Brook enters Colebrook, down that brook to Sandy Brook, south along that brook to about where the Kitchel cottage now stands, then westward over the hill to Colebrook Center approximately where the Colebrook Consolidated School now stands, then westerly along property lines to near where Loon Brook crosses Phelps Road, up that brook to the Norfolk town line, then north along that line to the Massachusetts line, and ending by going along the state line to Viets Brook.

District revision came in 1805 when the south part of the north district was granted the right to set up a school. (Presumably this would be called the Center District.) Revision again came in 1823 when all that part of the North School District north of Capt. Arah Phelps’ was made a new school district. Thus the original Sandisfield Road District was divided into three parts with the schoolhouse now sitting in what was then called the North Middle District. During the latter half of the 19th century, the name, through popular usage, presumably, became simply the Rock School District.

From the fall of 1779 until the fall of 1911, this building continuously served Colebrook as a schoolhouse. Population declines forced the town to cut back the number of schoolhouses, and thus we see the voters on October 26, 1911 abolishing the transportation routes for the Beech Hill and Rock Districts. The remaining students were transferred to the Center School.

On March 1, 1920, it was voted to sell the Rock and North schoolhouses. The Rock Schoolhouse remained in private hands until 1970, when the then owner, not having any plans for the building, and not wishing to pay taxes on it, suggested that perhaps the Historical Society would like it as a museum, if it could be moved to a new location.

Nancy Phelps Blum, long a mainstay of the Society, and whose ancestors had attended the school since the 18th century, donated the corner of her adjacent field, directly across the road from the school. After a successful fund-raising campaign, the Rock School building was moved to its present location on March 23, 1971, having remained in front of its namesake glacial boulder for 191 years.

The Colebrook Historical Society, upon deciding to make the school available to school groups, elected to restore the classroom to that of the late 1850s. Primarily this is due to the fact that there are individual seats and desks, whereas in the 1700s, benches were built in as an integral part of the building. The position of these benches can be seen today on the floor patterns. In 1858, the year currently being chosen for the visiting student’s yearly sojourn, the U. S. flag had 32 stars consisting of 5 rows containing a pattern of 7-6-6-6-7.

It is indeed fortunate that during the period when the schoolhouse was in private hands, no modernization took place. It was only used as a summer cottage, and the elderly owners didn’t feel the need for electricity, nor did they object to using the “backhouse”. They continued to use the spring, located just downhill from the schoolhouse that has been in documented use since the early 1760s. The result is that this schoolhouse museum is, as far as can be determined, the only colonial era school in Connecticut that has never been modernized in any way; what the visitor today sees is essentially exactly the same that students saw the first year Colebrook was a town. The vast majority of the textbooks that are used by the students today are original, as is the large 1829 wall map.

- Bob Grigg

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Preparing for Rock School Day

Once a year, at the beginning of June, the third grade pupils from the Colebrook Consolidated School spend an entire school day at our schoolhouse/museum located at the intersection of Colebrook Road and Sandy Brook Road. The building was erected during the summer of 1779 and remained in use from that date until decreases in population caused it to close in 1911.

The Colebrook Historical Society makes certain that all aspects of the vintage school are as historically accurate as is possible. For the most part, everything is in place and only needs the teacher and her third graders to complete the picture. Minor adjustments do need to be made occasionally, and a few years ago we tackled two of them. One involved the flag. Up until now, we have always used a conventional 50 star flag with which the pupils conducted opening flag ceremonies, and which flies over the school throughout the day. In the year 2000, Rock School Day was held on June 14, which happens to be Flag Day. Because of the added significance, a 32 star flag was constructed reflecting the year 1858, the date being portrayed that year. The Society feels that any year from 1779 through 1911 would be historically appropriate. The type of desks that we have, however, represent the mid-nineteenth century, thus the choice of year. The 32 star flag was current from July 4th, 1858 until July 3rd, 1859. It consisted of five rows of stars arranged with the top row of seven, followed by three rows of six, and ending with another row of seven. Any flag that has ever been authorized may be flown today. There is no such thing as an obsolescent American flag. When a new state joins the Union prior to July 4th, a new star is applied to the flag beginning on July 4th. When the admission date is after July 4th, then its star is not added until the following Independence Day.

So much for flags; our second upgrade concerned writing instruments. Up until 1858, with the advent of the first successful steel-tipped pen, writing, at least with ink, involved the use of wing feathers from crows, turkeys or other large birds. Thus we tell our time-traveling students that when they grow up and have children of their own, they will be able to tell them that theirs was the last American generation that learned to write by using a quill pen.

You might well ask what’s the big deal about quill pens; how difficult would it be to get a large feather, sharpen it, dip it into ink, and start writing? Long ago, that’s what I thought. I attempted to do some research on the subject, only to discover that if anyone had ever written one word about how to go about creating a writing instrument from a feather, I certainly couldn’t find it!

My first attempt was to make the tip look the same as a steel nib – in other words, having a long taper with a slit in the center. It didn’t work, not even close. Finally I gave up for a while, only to be involved again when a friend shot a wild turkey, from whom I begged the wings. I needed quite a few feathers to hone my skills. Here is what was discovered: There are several types of feathers that can be made into writing tools. The length isn’t all that important, although you don’t want the largest. The shortest may be as short as four inches, especially when you consider that we were making pens for nine year olds. What is essential is that only feathers having a transparent end be used; those having a milk-white, or dark tip won’t work because they seem to be too soft, drag on the surface of the paper, and don’t evenly distribute the ink. Neither do they need a split to facilitate the flow of ink. The point can be fairly blunt. The top of the point is determined by holding the feather so that it fits your hand comfortably. When this is accomplished, make a mark at the top of the stem of the feather. Turn it over and cut at about a forty-five degree angle (a single edged razor works best for me). Remove the small, transparent disks that you will find inside the stem, dip into ink, dragging the tip along the edge of the ink well, and write! You will no doubt need to make a few adjustments, but from here on, you are basically finished. There is one more item that you will need, and as far as I’ve been able to find out, you will have to make your own. We’re talking about an ink blotter. These were easy enough to come by a few years ago, but they are as hard to find today as hen’s teeth! I have settled on pieces of the thickest paper toweling, which does a credible job as long as you are careful not to smudge the ink.

I’m not certain our 3rd graders will fully appreciate the technology employed in writing the Declaration of Independence, but I certainly do!

- Bob Grigg

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