Middletown Historical Society
preserving the past to inspire the future
The Paradise Schoolhouse represents a unique opportunity to examine the evolution of a school building through over one hundred years of technological advancement.
The 4th School District bought one-third of an acre from the Whitman family for $450 on August 30, 1875. The deed included the right to the loose stones along the wall; also, "there must be a good and lawful fence around the property and the crops that were then growing on the land be allowed to ripen and be harvested." The property is recorded in the Town Hall as lot 99, Plate 120.
Mr. Joseph Coggeshall was contracted to build the schoolhouse for $2,394. The building was to measure 38 feet long, 25 feet wide and 15 fee high.
The present Paradise School, built in 1875, has remained virtually untouched through the years. The building is a classic one-room country school edifice. It is of wood, "balloon" construction, consisting of a one-room, one- story, bracketed style structure with bell tower, two separate entries in the gable end with bracketed hoods, flanking a joined pair of windows. A small brick chimney Rises near the rear. Bracketed hoods protect the side windows.
The exterior of the building is painted in its original yellow with brown trim and green doors. The bell tower, blown down in the 1954 hurricane, was meticulously reproduced and replaced. The original school bell, mysteriously missing for many years, was found and re-hung. Original inside woodwork, plaster, shutters and blackboards are in place. Original ceiling lights from another old schoolhouse replaced the modern fluorescent lighting.
This single building illustrates the conversion from a wood and coal pot-bellied stove, to a coal, then oil fired hot water, central heating system, to today's oil-fired, hot air central system; interior plumbing replacing the outdoor "privies' and drinking water drawn from a well in tin pails with a communal ladle; and from natural daylight to electric light for illumination. The original classroom had a platform at the front (east end) to elevate the teacher’s desk and a raised platform in the rear (west end) to allow the children to reach the bookcases.
A typical Middletown one-room schoolhouse was a heavy responsibility for one teacher who may have had as many as 42 students and who was expected to teach all subjects to all ages from 7 to 16, while maintaining discipline. Regular studies pursued included: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic (mental and written). Geography, Grammar, History, Physiology, Drawing and Spelling, almost the same curriculum as a well staffed scholastic institution. The school was in session from 9 a.m. to 12 o'clock and from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m.
Older students regularly helped younger pupils. Discipline was firm; orderliness and efficiency the rule. The first-graders sat in front and worked their way up to the rear desks by the time they reached Grade 8. For the most part, Middletown parents staunchly supported their children's opportunity for education that few of their parents had enjoyed.
At the school's dedication, the Newport Mercury of December 18, 1875 reported: "For the accommodation of the rising generation, forty-two desks and chairs were placed in the room, which is elegantly and substantially furnished, the walls being finished in ash and the desks in cherry."
On the occasion of handing over the building's keys to the Trustees, the Chairman of the building committee, William F. Peckham, expressed "to a hope that the girls and boys who were to be educated here would turn out to be ornaments to their fellow townspeople and their immediate relatives."
The first class in Paradise School was conducted on December 20, 1875 by Peleg Taylor Coggeshall.
Paradise School's significance lies in the fact that it is one of five one-room schoolhouses built in Middletown before the turn of the century. Four have survived: Witherbee School (1892) has been fully restored and equipped as a turn-of-the-century classroom for a school fourth grade program entitled "Those Dear Old Golden Rule Days." Oliphant School (1823) has been drastically altered from one to three rooms and now serves as an adjunct to the Middletown school administration department. Peabody School (1794) was converted to a private dwelling about 1928, and Wyatt School, since demolished, is now the site of the town's police and fire headquarters. Paradise School served as a classroom until 1955, then as a school administration office and storehouse, until vacated by the school department. In 1976 it was acquired by the newly formed Middletown Historical Society. The Society has restored the building for use as a Society headquarters and as a small museum.