Old Milford schoolhouse to be torn down for Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot

MILFORD – News that one of Milford’s remaining old schoolhouses will be demolished to make way for a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot is unfortunate but perhaps unavoidable, because the building has been altered so much over the decades, says the former state architectural historian.

“We’ve run into a lot of one-room or district schoolhouses, but there are not very many in New Hampshire that retain their original appearance,” said James Garvin, who spent 24 years as the state architectural historian and working with the New Hampshire Historical Society before he retired. “A few have been set aside as museums and operated by historical societies, but most that remain are private homes.”

The old Pine Valley School building on Elm Street, one of six old-time district schools that operated in town, was extensively renovated in the early 2000s to become the Santos Dumont coffee house. It was most recently a barbecue restaurant, which has been closed since last year.

“It’s difficult to fathom what it even looked like to begin with and work out its architectural history over time,” said Garvin, after seeing photos of the building.

The site is owned by Carlos Andrade, who owns the Dunkin’ Donuts next door, at 764 Elm St.

In November 2013, the Milford Planning Board gave Andrade approval to expand his parking lot at 764 Elm St. and extend the drive-thru onto the neighboring property. The Planning Department expects to receive a request for a demolition permit soon.

The Milford Heritage
Commission is resigned to the demolition of the building, said its chairman, Chuck Worcester, who said he regrets that “another beautiful building will be gone.”

“We tried to interest someone in moving the building, but nothing came of it,” he said.

Worcester said it would cost more to move than the building is worth, but it has aesthetic value and “we hate to see it gone … it sets the tone of Elm Street.”

“Obviously, we think it’s a loss to Milford,” he said, especially since it will become a parking lot.

Worcester said commission members approached Andrade and asked if he could find some other use for the building or relocate it, but that turned out not to be practical.

Garvin was sympathetic.

“Milford has put a huge effort into historical presentation. … This doesn’t lend itself to easy preservation,” he said.

When public education began in New Hampshire in the mid-1800s, New Hampshire towns created a series of small schools that would educate all the nearby children, who couldn’t get to a “center school” in the main village. These usually featured elementary grades in one room taught by a single teacher; high school was largely a private affair at that time.

“Most towns had five or 10 of these district schools,” Garvin said.

Until 1885, each school was a separate self-supporting institution with costs covered from local families; that year, New Hampshire passed a law making every town a single school district and starting the process of winding up the one-room schools.

“By the early 20th century, (we were) getting into an era of consolidation, with a grading system by age group. Once the automobile, or later the school bus, began to be available in 1920s or ’30s, kids were bused into central schools,” he said.

As they were abandoned, many outlying school buildings fell into disuse or were destroyed. A few were preserved around the state, such as Schoolhouse No. 12 in Merrimack, which houses the town historical society.

In Milford, three old school house buildings still exist: North River Road at River Lea Road and the Federal Hill School, both private homes, and the Laurel School in East Milford. Gone are Shedd School and the Osgood School.

Worcester said he thinks the Elm Street building was the third or fourth school on the site and was built in the early 1900s of cut lumber and nails, “not as old as we first anticipated.”

Garvin said that while judging from photos, the Elm Street building doesn’t look like an old school house any more, one thing stands out.

“Those ranks of windows side by side – that is absolutely typical of a one-room schoolhouse or so-called consolidated schoolhouses. They tended to emphasize strong natural light so the kids could see to write, do their lessons,” he said.

One of the state’s earliest educational standards from the late 1800s all but mandated side-by-side windows, he said.

“It emphasized that light should come in over left shoulder of students, and there be good ventilation, fresh drinking water,” Garvin said.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).