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GROTON — They would enter into a small cloakroom where they hung their coats and hats and stored their lunches.

The “schoolmarm” would greet the students at the front door. The children would enter the school in two lines, one boys’ line and one girls’ line and “make their manners” to the schoolmarm.

Ages of the children would range from 4 to 18 — all learning throughout the day in a one-room schoolhouse.

Life as a student in the early 1800s was demonstrated in Groton’s recently restored Sawtell Schoolhouse. It’s part of the Groton-Dunstable 3rd-grade Social Studies curriculum, with a stop at the antique building as part of a traditional field trip to Williams Barn.

Transported back to the days of the woodburning stove, slates and slate pencils, primary readers, recitation and dip-ink pens, the Groton-Dunstable students learned about the challenges and discomforts of life in Colonial days.

The schoolmarm, Susan Fineman, a schoolhouse reenactor from Nashua, NH, shared entertaining stories.

“Books were very small as were the writing slates in front of you,” Fineman said. “You’d have to wipe your slates clean between assignments and take turns coming up for recitations.”

Fineman explained how different age groups and different genders had separate responsibilities.

“There was no electricity and the older boys had to collect wood for the woodstove fireplace to heat the schoolhouse and the girls had to sweep the floors,” she said.

During the day, the students learned reading, writing, arithmetic, history, grammar, spelling, public-speaking and music. There was a well on the property from which water was pulled with a bucket and the children would drink from it using their “dipper” or cups.

Fineman talked about the need to go outside to use the outhouses located at the back of the school.

“These little wooden buildings had wooden seats over a deep hole under the shed. They were known as privies,” Fineman said.

The students were expected to be on their best behavior at all times. Fineman shared some of the disciplines that were used when students got out of line.

“If a boy teased a girl, he would be made to wear a pink bonnet for the remainder of the day,” she said. “If a student made a face at a teacher, the paddle would come out,” which Fineman gently demonstrated to volunteer Yusuf Butt at the front of the class as she told him to “Assume the position.”

“What if I bit my nails?” asked Jacob Lee. “Then you would wear a sign around your neck all day saying, ‘I am a nail biter,’ or if you whispered in class, the sign would read, ‘I am a whisperer.'”

Affiliated with the Sawtell School Association, local historian and Groton memorabilia collector Earl Carter, with his assistant Patrick Halleran, were significant contributors to the restoration of the one-room schoolhouse.

Together, they re-built the school’s well house, installed the granite and wooden fences along the roadway and renovated the outhouses. Inside, they plastered and painted the walls.

Don Black, formerly on the Groton Parks Commission, helped in planning the renovations and replaced the roof to make the building weather tight. The full restoration project took approximately eight years.

With two granite hitching posts outside and the antique desks inside, the authenticity of the Sawtell Schoolhouse (now on the National Historic Register of Historic Places) and the tales from Fineman kept the students thoroughly engaged during their visit.

Representing Groton’s historic past, the stories were eye-opening and gave the 3rd-graders a very realistic impression of what life during the Colonial days might have been for them. It perhaps left them thinking how fortunate they are today to have all the modern conveniences to which they are accustomed.

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