Left in Andover: Schoolhouse memories at play

By Susan Leader
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

My heart still gives a little flutter each time I drive by our old Peaseville Schoolhouse in Andover. Is it sorrow, for the sheer forlornness of it? Or mere nostalgia, bad memories softened over the last 60 years so only the good ones remain? Either way, the abandoned look of the place, plunked down at the bottom of East Hill as if carried there by the stream flowing along beside, belies the life it once held.

I scan the hillside to the back of the building, half expecting to catch sight of my child self. It is 1957, and I have started in first grade:

The Peaseville School in Andover

The instant Mrs. Hammond rings the bell for recess, we kids charge out the door and race up the steep hill into the forest above the schoolhouse. The wooded hillside is etched with winding paths beaten into the earth by generations of children during the day, but by night, owned entirely by the deer, which ornament them liberally with piles of perfectly formed pellets.

By some instinctive arithmetic, we divide into our various clans, mostly defined by gender and age, and disperse magically into the forest, not an adult in sight. Each group lays claim to one of the playhouses spaced out along the brow of the hill. Each of these woodland time-shares has been handed down from one generation of children to the next, probably since the school was built. Each has been created in the same way, the design arising from a deep primal imperative: first clearing away of dead branches, then  rearranging of them in log cabin form, walls about 3 feet tall with an opening for a door.

A commemorative plaque on the Peaseville School.

Joyfully, we girls scurry back and forth together, sweeping away the mess of spruce branches scattered by the previous night’s winds. We search out the most perfect finishing touches for our forest home – flat rocks and rotten logs out of which emerge tables, chairs and a fireplace. As we work, we nibble on the fat beechnuts carpeting the ground this time of year.

Recess time races by way too quickly. Barely has my household had time to straighten up and pay the briefest of social calls upon a neighboring bush fort, when in the distance we catch the sound of the lunch bell and the mad scramble back to the schoolhouse begins.

We kids did all this, completely on our own. I question whether the teacher was even aware of our activities.

Susan Leader, left, and old sister Rosa.

Nowadays people write books about this sort of thing. The thesis of one such, Children’s Special Places: Exploring the Role of Forts, Dens and Bush Houses in Middle Childhood” (Zephyr Press, 1993), by David Sobel, is that children need to create these sorts of spaces on their own, preferably out of natural materials, as a first step toward creating their own separate identities.

He quotes Alan Gussow’s definition of place as “… a piece of the environment that has been claimed by feelings. We are homesick for places … And the catalyst that converts any physical location into a place is the process of experiencing deeply. To experience a place deeply is to bond with a place.”

Perhaps this explains that flutter of mine as I drive by. The photos are of Peaseville School, that innocuous looking Velveteen Rabbit of a hillside behind the school, and of me and my big sis all gussied up waiting for the school bus to come.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Deborah Costa says:

    Loved this missive. My partner Ron grew up and went to school in Chester but he remembers this quintessential Vermont schoolhouse. We enjoy viewing it each time we pass on our way into Chester from Mount Holly using Andover Road. And those twig houses! What a special memory!

  2. Ellen McCullough says:

    I so loved reading the memories of your old school…I used to live in Chester for many years; always passed this schoolhouse on my trips looking for anything historic..Thank you for posting…

  3. John Hoover says:

    Thank you, Susan. Your reminiscences of the past help bring my adopted home alive.