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 Julian 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,
where an empty building built in the 30’s now stands. 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.
In building the new school they included a beautiful art deco auditorium. They
decided to add a balcony so the seating would be bumped up to 775. This decision left no
money for auditorium seats. Graduation could not be held there in 1937.
The students walked out in protest as reported by the April 22, 1937 Journal.
They went to the School Board President’s home and demanded the building be finished.
They returned to school and realized that marching and banners couldn’t supply the
$4000 needed for the seats. In November of 1937, the seats were installed.
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. It is now fifty years old, but continues to be one of the nicest, most
spacious gyms in the area. Thanks to the school leaders who had a vision for posterity.
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 showed that New London Schools were as innovative as it had
proven to be from 1882 onward.
In 2011, the New London School Board used SAVE monies to do much needed
upgrading to the tune of $4,285,000. They tuck-pointed much of the building, updated the
science complex, redid the business classes and moved them back to the high school, and
most importantly added geothermal heating and cooling for the MS/HS. Clark
Elementary got air conditioning too.
Many of the improvements went to the inner workings of the building such as
plumbing and water service and others addressed safety concerns. Finally, they made the
entire MS/HS handicapped accessible by adding an elevator that serves all three levels.
After many failed bond issue attempts, the citizens passed a limited bond in 2013
for $515,000 that modernized the Family Consumer Science room, expanded and
remodeled the HS library, both offices, and part of Clark.
But even with all these improvements, there were still glaring areas that needed
attention. There was no track, so the track team practiced on the streets. The football
concession stand and press box were inadequate and the bleachers, at least 40 years old,
were downright dangerous. The locker rooms hadn’t been touched in almost 50 years and
the plumbing was corroded and failing.
Then the City discovered a failing storm sewer in the middle of the football field
that required their attention. It must be fixed…now! So the football field would be torn
up. This was the time to try to pass a bond issue that would address the athletic facilities
plus a new roof for Clark and part of the High School and other needed things. A group
named On The Right Track had raised over $200,000 for an all-weather track. It was time
to put this money to use.

So leaving nothing to chance, a group of citizens formed a committee to pass a
bond issue. They went anywhere anyone would listen, from groups of three and four in
church basements to service groups and school gatherings of any size. They wrote letters
to the editors; they left no stone unturned.
On April 5, 2016, the voters of the district went to the polls being asked to pass a
2.25 million dollar bond. With no bonds passing in neighboring districts, the voters of
New London passed this bond with 88% approval…an unheard of percentage!
We now have a beautiful six-lane track, and the football complex is first rate as
we started to play 8-man football in 2018. We have security in all buildings. We have
students 6-12 with each having Chromebooks and access for the elementary. Clark is
currently undergoing a room-by-room facelift. Our students can take college classes right
along with their HS classes now.
Since 2013, we have offered a broadcasting experience called KTTV that
broadcasts weekly to the students. We have out own APP, web page, and Face Book
page. Tiger athletics are broadcast over the Tiger Cast. We are truly that “modern” school
talked about as far back as 1910.
Thus ends the story of the New London Schools, but only briefly. In August, the
current 530 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