1972 Noted Bethlehem School, Hazardous, Torn Down - by Paul Johnson

The Hard Hill School, a Bethlehem landmark erected well over a century ago, has been torn down by town workmen under orders of the building inspector because of its hazardous condition.

The building was the most picturesque and historical of the more than half dozen one-room district schools which once represented the educational system of the rural community. On top of Hard Hill it had a commanding view of the community. The location in Civil War days is referred to as "Rebel Hill" in town records, a name derived from the fact that several families of the section were regarded Confederate sympathizers.

The school was constructed of locally produced brick, turned out by a kiln from a bank of red clay on the nearby Magnolia Hill. The brick is distinctive by being considerably smaller than standard and production was limited to a few years. Christ Episcopal Church was built of similar brick, and is the only remaining structure made of the material.

The small one-room building was used for school purposes for well over a half century, its classes being moved to the two-room "Center School," which is now the American Legion Hall, shortly after 1900. Like other district schools of the town the Hard Hill school was administered by a district committee, formed of residents of the immediate area, who met its full cost and had full autonomy over its operation. School costs were met by distribution among district "subscribers." Compensation to the only teacher required was $1.50 weekly if board was provided by a district subscriber, or $5 weekly if the teacher was self-sustaining. A fringe benefit was an agreement by parents of the district to provide firewood to the teacher. Hard Hill School land was limited by deed to that occupied by the building. The deed carried a provision that the school had the right to maintain an outdoor privy on adjacent land so long as the building was used for school purposes.

The building stood idle for some years after classes discontinued, with the school district holding a final meeting to turn over the property to town administration. Selectmen held a sale of the one-room schools, with the Hard Hill School being acquired by its present owner, Joseph Famiglietti, Waterbury, who has not made use of the structure in recent years. Building Inspector Earl Meister said orders to raze the school were issued after many months of negotiations with the owner. The inspector has endeavored to obtain repairs to the structure without success.

In its final years the old school has not been entirely friendless. Offers to purchase the building and restore it as a museum or for some similar use have been made by individuals and by the town historical society, but the negotiations proved unsuccessful. After more than a century of withstanding the elements, including the high velocity winter winds that sweep the hilltop, the school building has entered a period of rapid deterioration. Windows, some installed only a few years ago, became victims of vandals who are attracted to unoccupied buildings. A portion of a wall collapsed several years ago, and the roof of the structure shortly thereafter.

Town officials expressed concern for safety of children at an adjacent bus stop, who sometimes visit the building. The end is obviously not far distant for the historic structure. Arrival of the end has produced expressions of regret that it could not be avoided and that memories of the school's service to the community will hereafter be restricted to written history.

Residents include a number whose knowledge of the three R's was obtained as pupils of the school. Meister said that he has notified the owner that the rubble from the building must be cleared away, and that this work will be undertaken by the town at the owner's expense.