LITCHFIELD — In New England, buildings are meant to last, even if that involves reimagining them for a new purpose or two. One of the earliest schools in greater Litchfield was noted in a news clipping from December 27, 1774: “Titus Turner was appointed School Committee man for South East Farms district, No. 147, by the town of Litchfield.” In 1840, a new school for the village of Northfield was needed, so Daniel Catlin built a one-room school and donated its rent for the use of the district.
In 1885, what would later become the first Northfield firehouse on Main Street, was created as a two-room schoolhouse with no heat or running water. Upper classes were in one room facing the town green, and first-to-fourth grades were in a separate area — a huge improvement. There was a hot lunch served in the basement, and mothers helped put the food on the table.
Longtime resident Lillian Olmstead remembers her grade-school days at this school, and noted that her mother Ann Zutaut went through to 8th grade here. Olmstead said “We had fantastic teachers with all kinds of enrichments: boys and girls both learned about science, everyday life, how to weave baskets from foraged colored grasses, while studying the culture of Native Americans. We learned how to decorate Easter eggs, make elderberry jelly, and know the names of birds, trees, and everything in Nature. Our teacher Mrs. Bitner taught us songs in French and we had a music teacher once a week.”
She noted that it was just a short walk for all the students to visit the Gilbert Library, the first public library in the area, housed in the parlor of the church parsonage. In 1955, when larger schools were built in Litchfield, the building became the home for the first volunteer fire company. When a new larger firehouse was created, the building offered affordable housing as a duplex.
Meanwhile, in Kent, on a dirt road that at first appears to be a one-way passage since it is so narrow that only those who live there can deftly pass another vehicle with inches to spare, a surprising sight appears — a charming former one-room schoolhouse.
In 2017, the circa 1900 schoolhouse was on the market and purchased by a couple that wanted to completely gut and remodel it to flip to a new owner. When the husband died, those plans ended, with 75 percent of the gutting already done.
Paul Yagid and his wife Angela, who own a 3,400 square foot home on ample acreage just two miles away, somewhat impulsively purchased the property. The one-room schoolhouse won’t quite be a tiny house, but definitely a is significant change for the couple.
Michael Foss of Mo Foss Well Drilling in New Milford, had his equipment drive down 230 feet and pulverize solid ledge to put in a new well for the schoolhouse. His grandfather had also worked on the same property many years back.
Yagid’s son took a class from Brookfield Arts in forging, and became so proficient at it that he was able to help get the original forge in Brown’s Forge in Gaylordsville running again. The pile of bricks that was carefully salvaged from the former chimney will go there. Yagid is dedicated to re-using as much of the original structure as possible and will be installing new windows that are tall and in rows, the same as the originals. There was a plan to have Yale University Archaeological students conduct a “dig” on the property to unearth relics before the bulldozed lot was seeded for lawn and gardens. Unfortunately, once the new septic system was in place, the available grounds were too small for that purpose. Yagid was excited to find two artifacts himself while working in the crawl space: two small blue bottles of Bromo-Caffeine, which were prescribed in 1923-1940 for “remedy for nervous headache or depression following alcoholic excesses.”
Yagid is now planning on a mid-February completion, ahead of the worst of winter. One week before Christmas, the house had a wreath on the front door, rough mechanicals and plumbing that passed inspection, no heat, and no furniture or appliances. He plans to have the building insulation finished after the holidays and will be replacing the original cupola with one more suitable for a home. His wife plans to retire from her job in Danbury and he will be cutting back on his remodeling business, Paul Yagid Carpentry.
When asked if this would be their “dream house,” he smiled and said, “Maybe.”