The Waterford Adventure, Part 2

After a full day on Saturday, we had our dinner and then everyone went to sleep around 8:00, which for us was extremely early! That just shows how tired we were after being outdoors for close to 8 hours and all that hiking around in the fresh air.

Sunday, we were up bright and early since Happy and George were going to be at the Second Street School, built by the Freedman’s bureau and the local Quakers for the black children of Waterford after the civil war.
The Second Street School, built in 1867.  With three windows on either side and two in the front, students were able to see to work.  This was a good thing since "The Electric" didn't come to Waterford until the 1920's.
George stood outside while the tour groups waited to get in, telling visitors all about the building. It was constructed in 1867 and boasts 3 windows along either side and two at the front. This was a big help since “The Electric” did not come to Waterford until the 1920’s. Happy was inside, telling each group all about life in a one-room school house and the special Living History program for students in the 3rd and 4th grades. The program is extremely popular, and competition is fierce for the number of available dates the school is open. Teachers from the region sign up their classes to make a special field trip to Waterford for one day, and each student is assigned to reenact the part of a black child from 1880. According to the official census, the children portrayed actually attended the school in 1880. Each student is given a brief biography of his or her 1880 counterpart, and on the day of attendance, they dress their part and bring an appropriate lunch (no zip-loc baggies, plastic wrap, water bottles, or drink boxes, for example). The students are studying black history and American history in school, so this experience ties in nicely. They must present their hands for cleanliness and fingernail inspection at the door and show their hankies. There is no plumbing, so they have to go out back to the “necessary,” and the only drinking water available has to be dipped from a bucket.

The students are taught on this day by Miss Aura Nickens, a single black woman who taught there in 1880, portrayed by a Foundation volunteer docent, also in full costume. Happy was, for many years, one of those docents, so she knows a lot about the school and the program. The children are taught many lessons during their visit. Here we are on the ledge of one of the five thick slate slabs that serve as the chalk boards in the school.

We learned the moral lesson of the day

We learned the moral lesson of the day


Isn’t the penmanship lovely? They used the Spenserian method back then, and there is a chart on one of the walls. Notice that the name of the President is not filled in – that was a test for the visitors.

The students also learn ciphering, which is a big word that we learned means math. Their work is not done on paper, however, but on their personal slates. These are much smaller pieces of stone on which they write with special pencils (not lead but another type of stone), just for that purpose. Students erase using a small flannel cloth and are warned not to use their hands because oils from their fingers would transfer to the slate, eventually preventing the pencil from marking on it. Paper would have been too precious to waste on this type of work, particularly for a poor black child in 1880.

Sometimes, though, the children do write in what we call a “copybook.” These have brown paper covers and the inside paper is sewn in. The visiting students make them before they come to visit the school. We give them pencils in which to copy work from the board, such as the moral lesson, into their books so that they have a souvenir to take home. They also get to practice their penmanship at the special bench using a quill pen and ink. That is so messy that the bench where they work is nearly black after years of use.

I choose a pencil to write in my copy book.  Notice, they have no erasers.  I have to be careful not to make any mistakes.

I choose a pencil to write in my copy book. Notice, they have no erasers. I have to be careful not to make any mistakes.

The children also do reading from the grade-appropriate McGuffy Readers provided, and each grade rehearses a memorization after which they perform a recitation from memory for the class. They also come by small groups chosen by Miss Nickens (usually by grade) to the special benches in front of the teacher’s desk to work on individual lessons appropriate to their age or learning level since, in a one-room school, there are a variety of needs to be met. In 1880, children didn’t necessarily attend every day, so they didn’t progress at the rate which modern students do, one level per year. Thus, there might be a 14 year old in the 2nd grade, and a 16 year old in the 6th grade. Often, an older child is pressed into service as an assistant who works with the younger or less abled students while the teacher is busy at the benches.

Some of the lessons might include Geography. Here, I show Happy Hitty our world and point out Africa to her on the globe.

Unfortunately to do this, we had to climb on top of the supply cabinet, a rather dangerous place for us to be.

Unfortunately to do this, we had to climb on top of the supply cabinet, a rather dangerous place for us to be.


Happy Hitty isn’t as interested in the globe as she is in checking out the edge of the cabinet on which the globe sits. She is young and a risk-taker with little sense sometimes, and she is totally fearless. This little escapade nearly got us into big trouble.
We were too small to wear the dunce cap, but we did experience sitting on the stool in the corner next to it as our punishment for climbing without permission.

We were too small to wear the dunce cap, but we did experience sitting on the stool in the corner next to it as our punishment for climbing without permission.


After that, people began to fill the school, and Happy became concerned about keeping an eye on us. She made us wait in the supply cupboard for our safety. From our little corner, we were still able to peek through the crack in the door and listen to her speak about the school with visitors and answer their questions. She asked each tour group the test question: who was the President of the United States on October 5, 1880? Only a very few people knew the answer. One man who answered correctly turned around on his way out of the school to confess that a previous guest had called his cell phone to warn him about the test and to tell him the answer. Someone accused him of cheating, but another said he had just done his homework. By the way, we learned that the President then was Rutherford B. Hayes. President Hayes did not seek reelection, and on November 2, 1880, Republican James Abram Garfield was elected to be the 20th President of the United States, barely edging out the Democrat, Civil War General Winfield Scott Hancock by fewer than 2,000 popular votes.

As we were leaving the Second Street School, a man took Happy aside and told her that, although he had visited the school many times during the Fair over the years, this was the first time he really learned about the school. This was a great compliment to her knowledge and ability to share what she knows – but then, she is a teacher by trade.

Hi-ho!  Come to the Waterford Fair next year, October 2, 3, & 4, 2009.

Hi-ho! Come to the Waterford Fair next year, October 2, 3, & 4, 2009.


After that, we snacked on fried portabello mushrooms dipped in a horseradish sauce and then went on our merry way, back to the 21st Century. Farewell Waterford. We hope to return again. Maybe we will even see you there.

Advertisements

One Response to “The Waterford Adventure, Part 2”

  1. Martha Says:

    Hi Happy! Just found your blog! I love it here! I’ll be back!! ☺

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: