In 1759 construction began on the Crown Point Military Road to connect Fort No. 4 in Charlestown, New Hampshire, on the Connecticut River with the Fort at Crown Point on Lake Champlain. The Military Road was to become a major route for settlement and Springfield, Vermont was its "southern gateway."
The first village settlement in Springfield was in the northeast section of town, just off the old Military Road. The settlers began construction on a schoolhouse in 1785, however the small building was not completed until 1790. Today this building is the oldest one-room schoolhouse in Vermont and one of the few surviving eighteenth century public buildings in the State.
The Eureka Schoolhouse is a square pyramidal hipped roof structure sheathed in pine boards scored to simulate "Ashlar" or cut stone blocks. Tradition says this building was erected through the efforts of four families and constructed by William Bettergneau, an early inhabitant of the area. Bettergneau settled in the region during the French and Indian Wars to trap beavers along the river banks. He was befriended by an Indian, Skitchewaug, for whom a mountain ridge parallel to the Connecticut River was named.
Today the Eureka Schoolhouse is unpainted, but early records report that the building was originally painted a golden yellow with cobalt blue roof. The unusual name, Eureka, was given to this district of Springfield by the first teacher at the school, David Searle. Upon graduation from Yale College, Searle headed north to the newly settled frontier area. When he reached Fort No. 4, the residents told him of the new building in Springfield and the need for a teacher. Following the Crown Point Military Road, he reached the new settlement, saw the new school and exclaimed "Eureka!" which in Greek means "I have found it." The name stuck.
Originally the one-room schoolhouse was heated by a brick fireplace and lighted by windows on four sides. The windows contained 24 small panes of glass. The wooden desks were lined up facing the fireplace with the teacher's desk in the right corner. All grades were instructed in the one room with a number of the students going on for further study at Dartmouth and other colleges.
About 1837, the building was moved across the road and extensively altered. The old Ashlar siding was covered with clapboards, the hip roof converted to a gable roof, and the 12 over 12 light sash replaced by 6 over 6 light sash. The basic structure remained, however, and the town proudly celebrated the school's centennial on October 30, 1885.
As the century progressed, the population in the Eureka District of Springfield dwindled, and the once busy school closed in 1900. The building stood vacant and neglected until 1958 when its historic and architectural significance was recognized by a local dedicated group of citizens. Spearheaded by Anna Hartness Beardsley, the structure was carefully documented and disassembled for erection in a new location with greater exposure for visitors.
The careful reconstruction was completed in 1968 by the Eureka Schoolhouse Restoration Committee and the Vermont Historic Sites Commission. The building was dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Beardsley who died shortly before the completion of the restoration. Architect Andrew Titcomb planned the restoration and utilized much of the original fabric to restore the building to its original appearance. Many period antiques were donated to appropriately furnish the structure which today reflects its eighteenth century heritage while offering information to visitors.
Today the Eureka Schoolhouse and the Baltimore Covered Bridge are owned by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation and are operated under a cooperative agreement by the Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
Baltimore Covered Bridge
This Town Lattice Truss bridge, with arched portals, originally crossed the Great Brook in North Springfield on the road leading to the small town of Baltimore, Vermont. The thirty-seven foot long bridge was built in 1870 by Granville Leland and Dennis Allen. In 1970 the bridge was moved to its present location, adjacent to the Eureka Schoolhouse, by Milton S. Graton and dedicated in memory of U.S. Senator Ralph E. Flanders who was actively involved in preserving the bridge and the schoolhouse.
Covered bridges were common features on the landscape of Vermont and were covered to protect the wooden trusses from the elements; today only 106 covered bridges remain in Vermont. The Town lattice truss was patented in 1820 by Ithiel Town and each timber, or truss, forms a series of triangles which is a stable geometric form allowing stress and weight to be evenly distributed throughout the bridge. Ed Barna, in his book Covered Bridges of Vermont, gives the how, when, why of each covered bridge in Vermont and says this truss design resembles a garden trellis fence.
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