Under Construction: “New” Colchester School for Colored Children
In 1998, the Town of Colchester, in collaboration with the Colchester Historic District Commission, created the first exhibit to mark the location of this important school in Colchester’s history. It was done in conjunction with celebration of Town’s 300th — Anniversary celebration. This location was between Colchester’s first fire house and a former auto dealership. The initial exhibit was housed in a lawn shed donated by Carefree Sheds of Colchester in support of the project, and Bacon Academy students helped add furniture to the interior.
Considered a vital part of African American history in the state, the school site was eventually designated as part of Connecticut’s Freedom Trail. Each year Colchester third graders walked to the school for a history lesson.
In the summer of 2016, the Town decided the shed, having served its original purpose, should be replaced by a more permanent, more accurate, structure, reflective of its historical importance in the Town’s history. Upon hearing the news, local historian and philanthropist Arthur Liverant, in full support of the proposed changes, generously offered the Town the building as a gift from himself and his sisters: Linda Liverant-Barger and Abby Liverant-Gerrity and their husbands; Donald Barger and Richard Gerrity.
On October 17, 2016 Mr. Liverant went before the Historic District Commission. He shared a brief history of the school and offered detailed plans demonstrating how the replacement building would, when completed, look more like the schools of the early 19th-century, enhancing both the historical relevance of the site and the curbside appeal of the street where the structure will appear.
“This is a great story,” said Mr. Liverant. “Our ancestors deserve a lot of recognition for building this school.” He added, “My family has roots in Colchester going back a century, and my sisters and I feel it is important to support Colchester’s history. We hope that during this process we might uncover the answer to more questions, such as who were the students, and what made Colchester so forward-thinking during this time in our nation’s history?”
He was unanimously granted application HDC#16-003 and given a Certificate of Appropriateness to replace the shed and closely replicate the school.
While the original plans are lost to time, Mr. Liverant selected as his prototype the Gull School in Hebron, which was built in 1790. “Schoolhouses didn’t change much in style, and the Gull School was just on the Hebron side of the Colchester-Hebron Town Line,” Mr. Liverant continued. “So it’s the perfect time and location. We can feel assured that this model properly represents a local school from this time in history.”
Mr. Liverant hired local builder Bill Treiss, owner of Lost Art Joinery, to construct the school. Once completed the replacement school will be gifted to the Town to share with residents, school children, and non-local visitors following the history of the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
It should be noted that all building construction and repair within Colchester’s Historic District is under the stewardship of the Colchester Historic District Commission. While the Colchester Historical Society greatly supports it, CHS has no final say or authority over this project.
To further the story of the School for Colored Children, the Colchester Historical Society is in the planning phases of an upcoming exhibit on the history surrounding the creation and operation of the school. The exhibit, which will be featured in the Colchester History Museum, is currently slated to open in April, 2018.
In November 2016, the building pieces were cut off site. Native pine and oak came from local lumber mills to be as accurate as possible. The intent was to develop a kit off-site to speed up on-site production. Pieces were cut and each part labeled. The following photos are supplied by Bill Treiss, owner of Lost Art Joinery (firstname.lastname@example.org):
In late November the Town moved the old building and cleared the site. The shed was moved to the Police Department for storage. The artifacts and other materials are being stored by the Historic District Commission for later use.
The week of December 26th the new site was cleared, graded and stones laid for the school sills.
Week of December 30th. Wall framing went up with wood plank flooring
Week of January 2nd 2017 Walls sheathing, interior walls and roof rafters
Please bookmark the Colchester Historical Society webpage—more photos and information will be added as we continue to document this exciting project!