Some of the projects the Bergland/Matchwood Historical Society are taking on are periodical articles of Persons, places and things. One of such projects are the country schools in our two townships, most of them being long forgotten. We will attempt to bring these schools back to life starting with the Norwich Schools. Yes, There were more than one. The first one being the home of Katherine (Kate) Motherway. Later, a school was built of log. It sat at the base of the Norwich Bluff in the mining community of the Norwich mine. Trying to find information of these schools can be a little frustrating. Fortunately, I have close family ties with the Norwich and still have family and friends that remember these schools. So this article will have to fall under the heading "As remembered by".
At the base of the Norwich Bluff there used to be a road. The harsh winters and time have turned it into a foot trail at best. Along this trail, there was a road, (now a path) leading down to the remains of St. Francis of Xavier
Catholic church and Cemetery. The Norwich School was located just inside the corner of this road. Please be advised, the only cemetery you may see is the family plot of my relatives. My Grandfather Bernard and Grandmother Catherine O’Rourke, Grandmothers, Aunts, Uncles and mothers are laid to rest there. The Family plot is still being maintained by their descendants. There are two remaining artifacts from this school. One being an copy of a photo of the O’Rourke family standing in front of the old log schoolhouse, and the old school dictionaries. Margaret Livingston’s father, Bernard Cummings helped tear down the school. He managed to save the dictionaries. These were passed on to his descendents.
Not much of the community of the Norwich it's self is available. A few pictures and some facts still remain, thanks to My living relatives and extensive research of Joseph R. Papineau on his book of the Norwich Mine. In 1854 Charles B. Hawley was the first Postmaster. On August 24th, 1856, Bishop Baraga dedicated the little church "St. Francis of Xavier". A 3 story boarding house was built (some of the timbers are still being used for a small barn at the Livingston homestead). In 1864 the Norwich even sported a Saloon! At one time the Norwich had around 300 people living there. As the years passed and the mine closed, the timber industry came and went, farming communities surfaced. More years passed, some of the buildings of the Norwich sold, some torn down and used for other structures and the rest went back to mother nature. My Great Uncle Ben Webb moved part of the church about 1/2 mile west and used it as his home. He was the last person living at the Norwich. I helped bury him in our family plot at the Norwich Cemetery in 1964.
The last Norwich school was built on the southwest corner of the Norwich road and Livingston road, about where the Rocking Chair camp sets today. Please take note. Country Schools were referred to by the name of the familys that lived near the schools. IE: The Vivant school, the Cole school and the Livingston school. I cannot pinpoint the exact year the School at the Norwich was torn down or the new one was built. The closest I can come was around early 1920’s. Too many fires have sadly destroyed so many records in our county.
I must confess, I’m not old enough to remember this school when it was at the end of our road. I’m fortunate enough to have some living relatives and friends who have attended the school to help me out.
Lyle, Ross, and Faye Davis (Paulson), and my Aunts Pat Rohem have many memories of that old school. The horse barn behind and the his and hers outhouses stood out in their minds. Again, the dates I’m mentioning are close approximations and may not be exact. Time and age gets to us all eventually. Ross Davis believes his sister was the one of the first students to attend the new school in 1924. Some of the family names attending were the Servio, Miller, Botkins, Davis, Cole, Weinburger and the Livingstons. In attempting to name some of the teachers I may not have the correct spelling or the order in the years they taught. Betty Roloff, Marie Lingren, George Dukloux, Loren Handfields, Loraine Menagose, Viola Kempenon, and Clair Sein. There were approximately 23 to 24 students.
The age old cliché “Back when I was a youngster going to school” sure applies here. Children walking to school in the winter and arriving with their lunches frozen in their syrup pails. The frozen water pump outside. Chopping wood and building a fire in the old wood stove. Shoveling paths to the horse barn and outhouses as well to the school entrances. The above mentiones chores were done by some of the students. Those who were lucky enough to have horses rode them to school, otherwise you walked.
Alvin Davis would hitch up his fathers team of horses and take some of the kids to school. (The early school bus?) When he arrived, he would turn the horses around and they would return home by themselves. After school, Their father Harry Davis would return and pick up and return the children home. The distance was about 3 miles one way.
Now, as one might imagine, being country kids they had to invent their own kind of fun. Not like today, they did not destroy property, They respected others belongings. It seemed fighting was one of their favorite pastimes. Of course, after school was out they were the best of friends again. Free to do a little hunting and fishing on the way home. Yes, some brought guns to school. One always tried to bring home supper. When one went to the store, it was a day trip and had to be planned.
Ross Davis tells of the time some of the boys shot a bear and it seemed the best place to dress the bear out was in the school house loft of all places! The teacher loved that one. And then the time the boys put the porcupine down the hole in the girls outhouse. This was set up for one of the teachers. It seemed this teacher used the facilities at a certain time each day. Well, just try to imagine this scene if you will. The teacher goes into the outhouse and the whole student body assembles outside. The next scene is of the teacher busting out of the outhouse screaming, her dress still held up around her waist. And, of course, the audience was hollering, yelling and laughing! No wonder they went through a lot of teachers!
The school closed in 1939-1940. It was purchased by my Grandmother Mary Livingston and moved to the Garvin sheep ranch (now owned by Pat Kitzman), just a few miles south where it still stands today. My father, John Livingston and uncles Mike and Ben, along with Walt Cole and Cecil Botkins moved the school with a team of horses and skids. The horses were named Nel and Bud. What a sight it must have been!
I’m sure there are many other stories about the old school. Life goes on and memories fade away. Records lost or destroyed. Time marches on and mother nature takes over again. We always tell ourselves there is still time. The next thing we know the ones who have the memories have passed on. Now we scramble for any scrap of information we might be able to obtain. We, at the Bergland/Matchwood historical society are trying very hard to preserve our history. Please, if you have any old photos, documents, records you would like to share, contact any member. We do not nessicerly want the originals, we have the means to make copys. If you do want to loan, donate any item, it would be sincerely appreciated.
Keep an eye out for future articles to appear in the Herald. Some of our projects are articles on people, places and things.
Bergland Matchwood Historical Society