A History

New London Community Schools – A History

New London has always been a community that put a high premium on education.

The village of Dover, New London’s original name, came into existence in

approximately 1837, after Abraham Dover built the first log cabin here in 1833 or

1834. Schooling for the settlement’s children quickly followed. The first school was

held in a log cabin that had been built for the Methodist church in 1839. In 1844,

a one-room log school was built northwest of the square. This school was held only

in the winter months because the children helped with farm work the rest of the

time. About 30 students attended this little school. The second school was the select

school. It was a private school that operated out of two rooms on the second floor of

a store that stood south of the park facing Main Street. Noah Cook, New London’s

first lawyer, was the teacher. He taught five days a week and practiced law on

Saturday or when it didn’t interfere with his teaching.

By 1856, the schooling of the town seemed inadequate for the needs of the

community. A three story brick building was erected on Pine Street northwest of the

square, approximately where the Pence family now lives. The new brick school cost

$4500. The three R’s were no longer considered adequate and geography was added

to the curriculum. It remained an ungraded school with the lower grades and the

upper grades taught as a unit, each with their own teacher.

This three-story building did not serve as a school for too long. It was declared

unsafe in about 1880 and abandoned. In about 1878, public school classes were

moved to the Academy building in the park. This academy building had an

interesting history. In 1865, a group of citizens formed a stock company to build a

private high school or Academy to extend the amount of schooling available to New

London young people. The town of New London gave a lease of ninety-nine years

duration for use of the public square for educational purposes only. The two-story

brick building was completed in 1872. Declining interest and financial difficulties

forced the closing of the Academy as a private school in 1878. The building reverted

back to the town. So for several years the public school was in the park.

In 1880, townspeople interested in building a new school called a public meeting. At

the meeting most of the opposition to a new building were present, while those in

favor were not well represented. While the opposition tried to adjourn the meeting,

people were dispatched to get supporters there for the vote. The blacksmith hurried

in still wearing his apron, and Petersen’s department store closed so all the clerks

could attend. With a vote margin of only three, the supporters of a new school won

the day. The school would be built.

The new school was built on Lincoln Street at the north end of Division Street,

the current site of New London Wood Products. The Lincoln School was a frame

building that architecturally had a Victorian flavor, complete with a turret. The

first four rooms were completed in time for classes to move into them in 1882.

Miss Hester Barr, the first principal, is credited with introducing the first “graded

system” to New London Schools. The graded system was a startling innovation at

that time. It was dividing students into several grades, depending on how much they

had mastered, with the teaching done on several levels.

In just a few years, the school was crowded enough to need an addition. So as

early as 1896 and certainly by 1898, the school was expanded to six rooms. Lincoln

outgrew this by 1904, probably because the high school had been started, using one

room, and then expanding to two. In 1910, the town voted to bond the district, and

build a new school building at the south end of Division Street.

This new modern school, on what is now Wilson Street, was the pride of the

community. The New London Farmer-Times of 1911 commented: “Last year

(1910) a new high school was erected, constructed of pressed red brick at the cost of

$16,000. The new building is fire proof and is modern in all its appointments…” But

as with all public endeavors, the educational system was not without its critics. The

New London Journal of February 24, 1911, noted a meeting of the Parent-Teachers

Association that entertained a discussion on “Why Aren’t High School Graduates

Better Qualified to Fill Positions?”

By 1916, the school was interested in playing football and basketball against other

schools. So in the spring of 1919, a vote was taken on a bond issue of $12,000 to

build a gymnasium on the west side of the high school building. An interesting side

note of history involves this vote. Women voted in this bond issue although they

could not vote in other elections at this time. In 1923, a balcony was added on the

west side of the gymnasium, and in 1930, the balcony was extended to the north and

south sides also.

In 1920, New London consolidated with several rural schools. Now the first

school buses were involved. In 1922, the Board of Education was taking bids for

transporting students to school in closed conveyances furnished by the driver. By

1923, the school had its own buses. But muddy roads remained a problem until after

WWII with horses needed often, and “mud vacations” used as often as “snow days”

are today.

By 1925, Lincoln school, now the grade school, was overflowing, and two more

rooms were added in a 24 by 48 foot building fifteen feet away from the school.

Also, accreditation became a topic. New London was losing five hundred dollars a

year in state aid due only to the fact that it was not accredited and that was because

it lacked the required five acres in school grounds. In 1934-1935 and in 1940, the

school bought land to the south and east of the high school for an athletic field and

playground.

The present high school building came out of the government’s efforts to ease

unemployment during the depression. The federal government supplied about

$50,000 and the town voted a bond issue to pay the remainder of the $120,000 cost.

Phil Westerbeck, Lloyd Jones, and Lynn DeVore who were local carpenters directed

men with teams and hand laborers. They had been hired to make sure that only

quality materials and labor were used in the building. Work started in March of

1936. The high school moved into the new building in January of 1937. The grade

school then moved to the old high school building. The Lincoln School was sold, and

much to the chagrin of past and current New London historians, was torn down in

1938.

By 1945, there were 405 students in New London Schools, and believe it or not,

overcrowding again started to become a problem. The bus garage was taken over

for classrooms and a new bus garage was built. Hot lunch was served out of the

home economics room, nearly crowding them out of their classroom. So in July of

1953, a 75% majority voted in favor of adding on to the current high school. A 43 by

60 foot wing extending to the north, in front of the old gymnasium, was to be built.

This would be used for junior high classes, with a hot lunch kitchen and lunchroom

in the basement. In December of 1954, this wing was finished and put into use. The

bus garage across the street north of the high school was built in 1957, and the old

bus garage (which is now the music room) was taken over by vocational agriculture

classes and eventually was the industrial arts building.

The “fire-proof and modern” high school building that was the pride of New

London in 1910 was now in bad condition. So when it was decided in 1965 that

Clark Elementary School would be built in its present location, it cleared the way

for a new gymnasium. In 1967-1968, the 1910 high school was torn down and a new

gymnasium was built in its place. The old gym was rebuilt into dressing rooms and

eventually the wrestling room.

In 1977, a bond issue was passed to change things once again. The industrial arts

complex would be turned over to the music department; the basement cafeteria

would be turned into the science complex; and a new industrial arts complex and

a cafeteria would be added on at Clark Elementary. In 1982 –1983, the windows

were completely redone in the high school and middle school, greatly changing the

appearance of the building and making it look strikingly more modern. In 1987,

the old Contel building was purchased. This brick building directly across the

street from the high school was turned into administrative offices and the business

education classes. These additions once again changed the face of New London High

School.

In the 1997-1998 school year, the 1954 addition was turned into the middle school.

The sixth grade was brought over from the elementary school and became part of

the middle school grades. Also New London was wired to the World Wide Web,

giving New London students an opportunity to view the world through the stroke of

a computer key. These changes show that New London School was as innovative as

it had proven to be from 1882 onward.

Things have pretty much stayed status quo since then with the changes and

renovations being more cosmetic than substantive. Yet the most recent renovations

have been striking. Mrs. Upton and Mr. Stitcher, two high school teachers,

organized a group of volunteers that totally changed the face of a tired worn-out

auditorium in to an art deco masterpiece. Miss Ireland, during her tenure at New

London, led a group that refinished the oak woodwork that graces the main hall and

refurbished the lockers. The ceilings have been lowered and new lighting has been

added. We are still hoping for air-conditioning!

Thus ends the story of the New London Schools, but only briefly. In August, the

current students, teachers, and staff will begin another chapter in her long and

storied history. With a mission to educate the young to take on whatever challenges

confront them regardless of the century, New London Schools continue to equip

and prepare the future citizens of this town and ultimately, this country. With a

heritage that started in the 19th century and continues now through the twenty-

first, we continue to be a town proud of the commitment we have to education and a

willingness to do “what is best for our kids.”

–Gina Anderson

Source: The New London Journal Centennial Edition 1875-1975

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