Schoolhouse No. 17

Kent County, Ontario (Map)

Winter 2013-14


It only takes a few lazy drives in Southwestern Ontario to notice that Kent & Lambton County are more rural than neighbouring Essex County. Considering my interests, one thing that I may have additionally noticed is the greater number of old schoolhouses in Kent County, whereas I can only think of one in Essex County.

Now while that's an awfully porous statement based on foggy memories of the places I've happened to go, it'll have to do until I move home and cycle every last concession road.

Even as we would later drive away from this schoolhouse, it didn't take very long to move up the road and see a schoolhouse that was beautifully maintained. Along with an abandoned one I know of in McKay's Corners, that's three in Kent County quickly off the top of my head.

These rural schoolhouses would obviously be needed wherever there were children separated from a sizable community by a certain distance. Even where large villages and small towns existed, if a schoolhouse could be built nearer to your children, why would you send them 10km (6mi) to a place that wouldn't give them any higher level of education?

In fact, some of these schoolhouses exist less than 5km from towns which surely had larger, better-equipped schools. That leads one to believe that a small schoolhouse was built around any hamlet or dense group of farmhouses. Indeed, in trying to find any tiny morsel of information on this specific schoolhouse, there are countless references to different School Section (S.S.) #'s throughout Kent County.

For a guess at what the tower used to look like, click here for S.S. No 7.

Constructed with relative ease and at a lower cost, these buildings also came with the fact that they weren't as advanced, as shown by reference to the timeline of changes of S.S. No. 2 Morpeth:

"...slate blackboards were acquired in 1910. The blackboards upstairs, which was just plaster, were not changed until 1918. Natural gas was piped to the school in 1911 and a cement floor put in the basement." "The old board fence and out-buildings [outhouses] disappeared from the scene in 1920 when a chemical system was installed. In 1927 the hydro was brought to the school." "After the drilling of a new well in 1928 the water was piped to the classrooms..."
-from As the Story is Told: A History of Morpeth and Community, Marjorie Giddis

That quote comes from advancements at a building that looked like something out of Pennsylvania, something far greater than the modest schoolhouse I found myself at today. The same technological advancements would likely have arrived slower out here at S.S. No. 17, than they would have in the big city of Morpeth.

The opening of the elaborate, modern Howard-Harwich-Moravian School in Ridgetown forced the closure of a couple schoolhouses, and with Blenheim's Raleigh-Harwich School also opening in 1967, you would think their school also caused the closure of a few schoolhouses around that community (although, Blenheim did have an earlier school prior to 1967). The opening of these schools in Ridgetown & Blenheim, similar in size to the elementary schools you're used to today, led to the closure of the stunning S.S. No 6 Harwich, S.S. No 2 Morpeth, S.S. No 17 Harwich...

...I'm certain there's more of these schoolhouses, which were then all put on the auction block and sold with the opening of these new schools. No. 2 Morpeth was bought and torn down for the land, No. 6 lasts as a private home & No. 17 rests in the state you see here.

Walking up the surprisingly sturdy stairs, I was more surprised with the lockers left behind. A little big for grade school when I think back to not even having a locker myself, but I didn't have to store my winter jacket, sweater, scarf, winter boots and toque after a 5km (3mi) walk, like the students of Schoolhouse No.17.

A missing window towards the front of the classroom meant that photography was a one direction endeavour, but it also leant itself towards thoughts of rain and snow further deteriorating that section of the building.

We found ourselves in the dark vestibule beneath the old cupola, where surely the school's bell was long gone, but a strange piece of metal made us tell Donnie to get up into the ceiling and investigate.

After finding some boring chunk of metal, we all glanced at it and then got out of each other's way back into the one classroom.

The back of the building featured a kitchen, where I would guess the teacher would also serve as the lunch person.

There really isn't that much to a one-room schoolhouse and the only oversight in pictures would be that little hallway beneath the bell tower. (Although that would involve stitching together multiple pictures to cover the tight space of dark wood in a boring hallway.)

I imagine the future of School No. 17 Harwich is much of the same as what we saw here today. There were signs that it might have been watched with a closer eye in the past, but for whatever reason, that seemed relaxed this day.

We would continue northeast, driving on those old farming lanes and concession roads that haven't changed all that much since School Section No. 17 was open.

What a neat reminder of the past that I was so happy to visit. I have to thank my buddy RC Photography for posting about it and bringing it to my attention.


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1 - Ontario Rural Routes: Morpeth

2 - The Farmhouse Chronicles - As the Story is Told: School Section Number One Howard (Trinity)

3 - The Farmhouse Chronicles - As the Story is Told: Morpeth School, S.S. No. 2 Howard

4 - Chatham-Kent Municipal Museums Digital Collection

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