West Pawlet schoolhouse on National Register


B y Jaime Thomas

The parents of Braintree did not want to give up their one-room schoolhouse.

It wasn’t until the state of Vermont forced the remaining nine students and their teacher out of the West Pawlet structure in 1934 that they moved.

“They defied the state and didn’t start sending their children to public school; they absolutely refused to close the school. It took quite a bit of time for that transition,” said Susanne Rappaport, curator of the Pawlet Historical Society. On Thursday she and other members of the society and the public celebrated the schoolhouse being named to the National Register of Historic Places.

That designation was the culmination of much work and effort on the part of the historical society.

“It was a matter of giving a full history of the school. We’re rather proud. As a historical society it’s our job to preserve the history of Pawlet,” said Steve Williams, president of the society. And Rappaport said their request was originally turned down, and they were told they had to show it was important nationally and not just in Vermont.

The group obtained a $20,000 grant from the Preservation Trust of Vermont to restore the Braintree School and a school in North Pawlet, which they also own, in 2008. That money went back into the building because it was an “architectural gem,” Rappaport said.

A preservation specialist cleaned up the longleaf yellow pine flooring, stripped the walls to the original lathe and finished them with horsehair plaster.

“The goal was to restore it, as much as possible, to its original condition,” Rappaport said, explaining that it had been in less-than-perfect shape before the work.

At its peak, Rappaport said the school may have had as many as 40 students in eight different grades.

“The school has gone through many, many lives. At one point after the school was closed there were bees stored in here, and the front door was completely bricked in,” she told the group on Thursday. Their restoration and detailed account of the building and its history paid off—it made it onto the register a couple of years ago.

“They realized there are not very many of these buildings left in Vermont,” Rappaport said. She said Pawlet alone once housed about 13 schoolhouses in its various neighborhoods, which dwindled down to the few that remain today.

“I think it is a great honor for Pawlet. When the sign is out front, people stop and pay attention and take interest in the building,” she said.

The historical society has also successfully placed two other buildings in Pawlet on the National Register: the town hall and the library. Look for the schoolhouse at the corner of Vermont Route 153 and Warren Switch Road.

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