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Southbury History

Bullet Hill School/A Living Museum Program


Bullet Hill School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest public building in the town of Southbury. It is treasured by all who have entered as students and teachers in its history as an active school, and now by visiting classes and groups as a "step into the past" of early schooling.

According to research in Ancient Woodbury Town Records, Bullet Hill School was built in 1762. It was in operation for 179 years until December 1941 when it closed and all 206 students from Bullet Hill School District, and the remaining five other Southbury School District Schools, began classes at the new Southbury Consolidated School, now Gainfield Elementary School, in January 1942. The era of District Schools in Southbury ended in great part due to motorized modes of transportation.

In 1986, plans were made to utilize Bullet Hill School as a unique historical site for a Living Museum Program for students to learn about a local historical landmark and the educational experience of an earlier time period.  members of the Board decided to focus on the mid 1800's as the reenactment period for visiting students, as that was the mid-point in the life of the school.

The Living Museum Experience

In April and May, students and their teachers of the Region 15 school system, and neighboring towns, arrive at Bullet Hill School to experience a day in the life of an 1850's student.  The boys wear hats, short pants and suspenders, when possible, and the girls wear dresses or blouses and long skirts with aprons and bonnets. They all bring their period correct lunches with them in baskets, pails, or boxes to enjoy later in the day.

Groups are greeted by a costumed Docent who welcomes the children and provides a brief history of the building and a tour of the outdoor grounds, including the 'convenience house'. After proceeding into the school, students are divided into a girls section and a boys section; where they sit at long benches and tables with ink wells and quill pens. The docent continues with a history of the school and, to the degree requested by the teacher, explains the nuances of 1800's school life. After a brief tour of the upstairs museum, the docent leaves the class for a few hours while their teacher and parent assistants conduct a typical school day - 1850's style.

Students have use of quill pens and ink, reproduction second grade McGuffey Readers, slate boards, slate pencils, and a multitude of visual aides that highlight the school districts and history of Southbury and Middlebury.

During recess time, children play games that were typical during the 1850's; the graces, hoops and sticks, red rover, spinning tops and hide the timble are just a few examples.

At the end of the day the Docent returns to the school to answer any additional questions and bid good bye to the visiting class.

Program Background

In 1987, "Bullet Hill Schools Days" - Living Museum Program began at historic 1762 Bullet Hill School. Founder and Co-Director Catherine A. Palmer, a Gainfield Elementary School teacher, now retired and former chairman of the Southbury Historic Buildings Commission, wrote the curriculum.

The program is an enrichment of the history curriculum of Region 15 through utilization of one of Southbury's most valuable historic resources, the 1762 restored Bullet Hill School, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From 1987 to today, students arrive at the school to participate in a reenactment day. The entire focus in this ancient school setting is on lessons appropriately presented with tools of the time period. Slates, slate pencils, quill pens, horn books and reproduction McGuffey readers are utilized by the students. Subject matter, school decorum, lunches and recess games are in keeping with the 1800's era.

The program's success since its inception is due to the commitment and involvement of Region 15 educators, the Southbury Historic Buildings Commission, Southbury Historical Society, community volunteers, and the Bullet Hill School Days - Living Museum Board of Directors. Over these 24 years, over 6000 Region 15 students and students from within the state have participated in this program.

The program and program's founder have received many awards over the years: The State of Connecticut Celebration of Excellence, the Connecticut League of Historical Societies Award of Merit, and the Southbury Historical Society Community Service Good Citizenship Award and a State of Connecticut General Assembly Special Citation.

The program is indebted to the Heritage Village Woodworking Club for the reproduction desks and benches; the Robert A. Brinley Memorial Fund which provided financial assistance to purchase slates and other materials from Sturbridge village; Mr. & Mrs. Robert Loiseau and their children Eileen & Matthew for the handmade hornbooks; and of course - the "Friends of Bullet Hill School" who, in 1968, formed the group to restore Bullet Hill School.

Invitation to Participate

Individual classes and their teachers of Region 15 are invited to visit Bullet Hill School in the spring.  Registration for a day occurs at the end of September for the upcoming spring. Typically one class and teacher utilizes the building for the day.

If you are interested in registering your class, learning more about this program, or assisting as a volunteer, please contact Bullet Hill School Director, Melinda Elliot.