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Kentiana
The Old Log School House


A synopsis of a paper by
CHARLES F. BEESTON

DEALING with early educational facilities in Kent County, Mr. Beeston says:

"The settlers in those days worked under what was entitled ‘The Common Schools Act of 1816.' Its principal provisions were that it authorized the inhabitants of any locality to convene a meeting at which provision might be made for building or providing a school house, securing the necessary number of scholars (twenty or more), providing for the salaries of teachers, and electing three trustees for the management of the school."

"Having formed a section and built a school house, the most pressing difficulty was that of obtaining a teacher, almost all males, and very often although men of some intelligence, ability and acquirements, many of them were drifters, of indifferent character, and morals, the salaries offered being too small to attract men of a better class, and small as they were, were very difficult to collect in specie. The system of boarding them around in the houses of the settlers for short periods necessitated, very often, the travelling of long distances to and from the schools, giving no sort of permanent home life, comfort or companionship. The system, too, of keeping the schools open during the winter months only, offering no continuance of employment, sent teachers away in the spring, generally never to return, giving the section trustees the difficulty over and over again of obtaining others. Then, again, there were no authorized text books, or system of teaching, each teacher pursued the plan that seemed best to himself, or no plan at all. Each child brought what books he or she had, often one book or slate doing duty for several scholars. Blackboards were almost unknown, and the small appliances of ink, pencils and paper difficult to procure. The only appliance that seemed to be in profusion was that substitute for the cane known as the ‘blue beech gad’ and that was a great deal too much in evidence."

Mr. Beeston mentions three early schools . . . one in Raleigh Township about two miles eastward of the line known as Drake Road, on the old Dolsen lot . . . another where the present Bloomfield schoolhouse now stands, partitioned off from the part in which dwelt a family and another across the river on the Dover side near Thornbury Cottage, Sheriff Foot’s home . . . this latter was first a log school, replaced later by a frame building, and finally replaced by a brick structure on the second concession.

On January 1, 1842, the "Educational Bill" came into force and under this Act we find that on March 5, the Harwich School Commissioners met and defined the sections for that Township, the number being ten, so it would appear that at that time schools were becoming more numerous. About this time, the salary to male teachers was $200. per year with board, and $250. without. To females $130. with board and $150, without.

The first common school in Chatham was on the present site of Central School. There were other schools in town, private schools for little girls, although some took small boys also. One of these schools was kept by two sisters, the Misses Pratt, in a house where Harrison Hall now stands, another was conducted by a Miss Scott.

After the passing of the Ryerson Act in 1850 municipalities had power, under certain conditions, to establish Grammar schools. The first Grammar school in Chatham was held in one of the jury rooms in the Court House under the direction of the Reverend Dr. Jameson, a scholar and disciplinarian.


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