Burrillville Then & Now: The Esten Schoolhouse

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BURRILLVILLE – Welcome to Burrillville Then & Now, where we take a glance back at how the town used to look, then show how the same space looks today.

With photos and information provided by the Burrillville Historic & Preservation Society, we look now at the Esten Schoolhouse.

This old schoolhouse located in the, “Esten Neighborhood,” was constructed in 1806 around the same time that the town of Glocester split into two, where the northern half became a new town called Burrillville. The original dimensions were 18’ x 18’ and the structure was 8 feet-high. 

In 1848, William A. Mowry was the teacher with 31 students; 20 boys and 11 girls. He was only 19 years old. He described the school as drafty, with holes and large cracks in the floor, the walls and the ceiling.  Long rows of desks spanned the entire length of the room. If a student wished to leave, he had to either jump over the desk or make everyone between him and the end of the seat move so that he could pass.  Each seat was made of a 2-inch thick chestnut plank. A stove stood in the center of the room. The teacher’s desk was two feet wide and nailed to the wall. There was a blackboard at the front of the room and natural lighting from the sun illuminated the classroom. 

Mowry taught all subjects: spelling, reading, geography, grammar, mental and written arithmetic, penmanship, book-keeping, algebra, and philosophy. He taught all these subjects to children of all ages in one room. Most of his students were descendants of the Honorable John Esten, a former judge. Back then, it was common for the teacher to stay at a private home within the school district. Mowry boarded in an old house, the home of George Walling in the vicinity of what was called, “Cripple Corner.”

After 1860 there was a rapid decline in attendance. By 1864, an average of seven students attended daily.  In 1867, the schoolhouse was badly in need of repairs. The number kept dwindling, and by 1869 there was only one student and the school was closed. The old schoolhouse still stands and is now a private dwelling. It is located at the corner of Ironmine Road and East Ironstone Road. Just south of the old schoolhouse on Ironmine Road are two Esten cemeteries: Cemetery #30 and #31.

Betty Mencucci is president of the Burrillville Historic & Preservation Society.

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