This history of the Barnard school system is nearly as old as the history of Barnard. Both grew out of the early efforts of Thomas Freeman, of Old Hardwick, Massachusetts, who brought his oldest son William, and a man named John Newton to settle Barnard in 1775. Within three years, they established a community with ten other families from Massachusetts.
Initially, children completed their studies at home, but in 1787, the town voted to create school districts, dividing them into nine districts by 1796, and finally erecting the first school on Creek Road, north of the village in 1800. By that time, there were 305 school-aged children and by 1858, additional school districts raised the number of Barnard schools to seventeen.
Kathy Wendling lists the schools in her school history, From One Room School to Union High School:
Number 1: Barnard Village School, at first the red schoolhouse on the Common, later moved to the lower part of the village, now used as a summer home.
Number 2: Near No Town and the Hayes lot, accessible via Chateaguay or Stoney Brook. Now gone.
Number 3: Near Aiken Stand on the East Barnard Road, now gone.
Number 4: East Barnard Village. The original school house burned in 1886 and was rebuilt as a two-story schoolhouse by Harley Howe. The upstairs portion of the building was used for the older grades. It is now a summer home.
Number 5: The Gambell Schoolhouse, near the four corners in East Barnard.
Number 6: On the North Road.
Number 7: On the Creek Road (Route 12 from Barnard to north of the village), now a hunting camp.
Number 8: The Mount Hunger School, now a hunting camp.
Number 9: On Smith Hill
Number 10: Central Chateauguay
Number 11: On Turkey Hollow Road, one mile north of Lime Pond.
Number 12: Where the Hoar District Road meets the Gray Camp Road.
Number 13: The South Barnard School, now a summer home.
Number 14: On the Turkey Hollow Road, just off Stage Road. Later (1969 to 1977) part of a private school run by John and Virginia Lancaster.
Number 15: Just above Pete Rottas, later used as a tea room, now gone.
Number 16: The Morgan School near Hull Four Corners.
Number 17: In Upper Chateauguay between the Eliot and John Dutton places.
Teaching could be a dangerous business in the early days. Because the year of entry into school had more to do with the student’s proximity to the school than with the student’s age, some students were as old as 21 years old by the time they graduated. The town often hired men to maintain control of the older boys, but despite the town’s efforts, the children would occasionally prove unruly.
As an example, a group of rowdy boys from one of the school districts decided they would test their youthful powers by tossing their teacher into the snow. They locked him out of the schoolhouse and refused to let him back in. The town could not let the incident go by without repercussions, so they brought in the big guns, a resident on Delectable Mountain named Daniel Lillie. The first time the children misbehaved, taking hours to accomplish what should have been a brief task, they were met at the door with Lillie’s wrath and a ferule (a cane used for punishing children). The boys nicknamed the teacher Tiger Lillie thereafter, and it is a testament to the positive power of tough love that many of Lillie’s students joined his company when he became a captain in the Civil War.
The number of children in town decreased as families moved away in search of greater adventures or more lucrative business opportunities and by 1927, the town was down to eight schools: Creek, East Barnard, Gambell, Morgan, Mount Hunger, South Barnard, Turkey Hollow, and Village.
As World War II inspired war efforts across the country, Barnard pitched in by collecting scrap metal. Students in East Barnard collected 22,566 pounds of steel and all proceeds went to school improvements. The students continued the war effort through the purchase of thrift stamps, which they used to fill a special book that they then converted into savings bonds. In 1954, the U.S. Treasury cited the Creek School for its record war bond purchases.
After the war, the number of schools dropped to four: Creek, East Barnard, South Barnard, and Village. The quality of the schools did not drop, however. East Barnard was designated a “Superior” school in 1949, which meant that it was ranked best in the state for its equipment, grounds, and curricula. At that time, the school’s hot lunch program was one of many “Projects Unlimited” initiatives set in place by the women in town. Maude Laura, a teacher who had been with the school for some time, received the plaque of recognition from Superintendent Clarence Amsden.
Nearly a decade later, in 1957, the East Barnard School closed and in 1958, state requirements found the Barnard schools lacking. The town voted to construct a new, two-room school on the Barnard Common and by early December of 1959, children from Creek School (Grades 1-4), and from the Village School (5, 7, and 8 ) moved into the new building. The South Barnard School continued to school the sixth graders for one more year, but the Barnard Central School (now Barnard Academy) was thereafter the only elementary school in town. In 1969, grades 5 and 6 went to Woodstock Elementary and remained there until 1991, when significant renovations to Barnard’s school building provided sufficient space for incoming fifth and sixth graders.
Possibly Barnard Academy’s greatest recent claim to fame is its contribution of Vermont’s state insect, which also happens to be the school’s mascot. In 1977, Barnard Central School’s fourth grade class, led by their teacher, Mrs. Gena Holden, lobbied the State Legislature to adopt the honeybee as the state insect. Richard Snelling signed the bill into law in 1978 and welcomed the students to attend the signing ceremony in Montpelier. It is not surprising that Holden was subsequently named State Teacher of the Year.
The town has never had a high school. Until the town joined the district in 1967, Barnard students attended high schools in Bethel, South Royalton or Woodstock. Students from Barnard now attend Woodstock Union Middle School and High School after they graduate from Barnard Academy.