Committed to the education of their children, the early settlers in Greenwich built the first school house in Sound Beach as early as 1667. By 1756, there were nine school districts in town, including a school on North Street.
In 1803 the decision was made to erect a new building on North Street for first to eighth graders. A public school committee composed of Amos Hobby, Jonathan Rundall, or Rundle and William J. Mead bought a small plot of land from Horton Reynolds as a school site. At the time, the property was directly across from the Abraham Reynolds homestead.
The building, a residence now for more than two centuries, is the oldest structure built as a school that still stands in Greenwich.
The Hobby family has been represented in Greenwich since John Hobby arrived in the 1650s and became one of the original patentees of the town. The name has been variously spelled Huby, Hubbe, Hoby and Habby. Hobby married Sarah Grey and was the father of nine children.
Fellow committee member Jonathan Rundall fought in the War of 1812 as a Sargent in Captain Horton Reynolds’ company. Reynolds’ family arrived in America in 1633 and followed the frequent pattern of living first in Massachusetts, then Watertown, Stamford and Greenwich. Horton Reynolds was a corporal in Capt. Joseph Hobby’s company during the American Revolution.
William J. Mead, from one of the first Greenwich families, was a trial justice and First Selectman of Greenwich for a number of years.
The school building itself was a one and one-half story side-gabled structure, sheathed in clapboard. The elevation facing the street is two bays in length and displays a nearly full-length, shed-roofed dormer added after the building became a private home. At the north elevation, the original section is one-bay wide and has no window on the second story.
Most of the North Street students came from surrounding farms. [As late as 1866, the Greenwich population of 7,000 was still primarily farmers, with only 20 men commuting to New York to work.]
At the turn of the 19th century, the children walked to the one-room school and lined up outside in good weather, waiting for the teacher to ring a hand bell, calling them inside to say the Lord’s Prayer, sing one or two verses of America and begin their daily studies. There were rarely more than 25 students in all eight grades, and the teacher usually boarded with one of the parental families during the week.
There was a well in the schoolyard, along with a pail with a tin dipper for drinking water, and the usual “sanitary conveniences.”
As one late 19th century pupil, Ivy Winfield S. Mills, said “We learned to read, write, figure and spell and we were kept at it until we knew our lessons.” Corporal punishment was not unusual in those days, and Mills recalled a bundle of hickory or hornbeam switches often hanging near the teacher’s desk.
William Bridge remembered one child who had a little team of ponies pulling a long, low wagon to school, and nearby there was a one-half-mile-long track on North Street where “farmer boys of those days were accustomed to test the speed of their colts,” said Frederick A. Hubbard in Greenwich History: the Judge’s Corner. The trials were timed, since the sandy track was too narrow for side-by-side racing. The races most often featured colts of less than two years.
The North Street schoolhouse was closed in 1866, probably for insufficient space, and the land and building were sold to Amy M. Reynolds for $590. By 1967, the price was $25,000 and in 1992, the property with two additions went for $440,000.
Written by Susan Nova for the Greenwich Landmarks Series