Caretakers hope to solve mysteries of Hot Potato School

Caretakers hope to solve mysteries of Hot Potato School

Junior docent at the Hearthside House, 9-year-old Inara Gardener of Woonsocket, sits at a desk in the Hot Potato Schoolhouse at Chase Farm in Lincoln. The building was opened to the public for the first time in years on ”Great Road Day,” held in mid-September. Gardener says she’s excited to learn more about the historic one-room schoolhouse, and what a day at school was like when it was still open before its closing around 1922. (Breeze photo by Brittany Ballantyne)

LINCOLN – There are plenty of mysteries to still be solved about the Hot Potato Schoolhouse in Lincoln, where renovations are finishing up.

Caretakers of the circa-1850’s building say discoveries yield more questions, and they’re hoping to hear from people in the community to piece together the school’s history – including pencil art “graffiti,” at least 100 years old, found in the shed that was located behind the schoolhouse.

Kathy Hartley and John Scanlon of Friends of Hearthside said two pieces of wood saved from the shed are nearly exact sketches of teachers pictured in two historic class photos taken when the school was still in operation. The shed was likely used to house animals, including cows or goats, that produced food or milk for students at the one-room schoolhouse, Scanlon said.

One of the class photos was from 1916, the other from 1918, Hartley said. She and Scanlon said it was likely that students at the school created the drawings and were not allowed to be in the shed – never mind drawing on its wooden walls.

Scanlon said markings on the shed’s floor appeared to be that of farm animal prints, and said at the time the school was open, Lincoln and the surrounding area was a farming community.

When the Hot Potato Schoolhouse was moved from its original location on Angell Road to Chase Farm in 2015, the shed was unable to be saved, Scanlon said. The building had been sitting unused for several decades, and was not protected. Water stain damage was apparent on the wooden walls of the shed, and somehow did not reach the pencil drawing sketches.

“They lasted,” Scanlon said.

Another building at the site on Angell Road that could not be saved was an outhouse, but caretakers of the Hot Potato Schoolhouse plan to build a replica outhouse behind the schoolhouse at Chase Farm sometime in the spring, as long as they’re able to secure enough funding.

The pencil drawings found in the shed and historic photos, Hartley and Scanlon said, could become clues as to which teachers are photographed. After their years researching the schoolhouse, they have yet to find out who the “real” Estelle Collier was – a woman whose name appears on historic documents from the school, listing her as the teacher.

According to documents they’ve found thus far, Hartley said Collier taught at the Hot Potato School until moving on to the Lincoln Community School, where she became the principal. Once that school opened, Hartley said, the Hot Potato Schoolhouse closed in 1922 – at least that’s what research had always pointed to.

Hearthside volunteer Doris Myers Cotnoir’s father was a student at the Hot Potato Schoolhouse, Hartley said, but graduated from 8th-grade at the school. He was born in 1915.

Hartley said there’s a chance the schoolhouse remained open until the last of its students graduated.

The Hot Potato Schoolhouse was built with as little money as possible, she said, and past School Committee meeting minutes show that there was discussion about repairing the building or tearing it down to build new, even back in the 1870s.

Hartley and Scanlon said they are hoping to hear from people with connections to the building, to learn more about those who attended school in the building or taught at the school, and which local families have ties to the building. Anyone with additional information is asked to call Hearthside at 401-726-0597.

The schoolhouse, which recently saw repairs and renovation work, is expected to open for educational classes in the spring, including cursive writing workshops that are now being held at Hearthside, Hartley and Scanlon said.

Hearthside House junior docent Inara Gardener, 9, of Woonsocket, said there is much to learn about the schoolhouse’s history, and what a school day was like back when the Hot Potato Schoolhouse was still open.

To take classes or learn about the building’s history while sitting inside it, “it feels like you’re learning more once you step in. … I feel like I am a student,” Gardener said.

Above, is a photo from 1916 of a teacher believed to be Estelle Collier and her class at the Hot Potato Schoolhouse. Behind the group, the shed where ‘pencil art’ graffiti was later found can be seen.
A drawing on a wooden panel found inside the shed is believed to depict the teacher in this photo.
At left is a photo of the Pullen Corner Schoolhouse, dubbed “Hot Potato Schoolhouse,” when the building was still open for classes.