Florence Rideout fourth-graders go hands on with history

WILTON – Last fall, Heritage Commission Member Deb Mortvedt said she was concerned by how few children (and their parents) visited the history rooms at the library. She decided to try to do something about it.

Since the Florence Rideout Elementary School fourth grade has a unit on government, she started there. Teachers Bridgette Fuller and Sandra Reid were enthusiastic but said Lyndeborough needed to covered as well since Lyndeborough students are about one-third of the school population. Mortvedt contacted the Lyndeborough Heritage Commission who agreed to join in.

It took much of the winter and early spring to work out the logistics, arrange for presenters and hopefully get it all together. On June 7 they did it, and everyone agreed it was a success.

The students were told to pretend they were reporters, take lots of notes and ask questions. They were expected to write a report of the days, what they liked and learned.

Selectman Kermit Williams handled the Wilton Town Hall part, the town offices, the court room, and the vault, “but I concentrated on the Theater part,” he said. “There is a lot of history there, town meetings, and vaudeville shows, and they used to play basketball in there.”

As a state representative, Williams also guides the annual tour of the statehouse. “That’s an important tradition important, too, but they need to know local history. It was a great idea.”

Main Street merchant Dick Putnam agreed. “They were all well behaved and asked good questions,” he said. The Putnam family has been on Main Street for more than 100 years.

In Lyndeborough, Town Administrator Russ Boland was also impressed by the students’ good manners. “It was nice,” he said. “A good idea.”

The event began at the school with Historical Society Member Jane Bergeron answering the question “Who was Florence Rideout?” Bergeron was one of her students in the 1940s. The group was then divided into two sections with the two classrooms combined in each.

In Wilton, the students walked Main Street with Michael Dell’Orton talking about its history, with Putnam and Williams adding their parts.

In the History Rooms at the library, David and Marcia Potter and Stanley Young were the guides through the Society’s large collections.

They then took a bus to historic Wilton Center where Felice Fullam led a walking tour of the town’s former commercial center.

In Lyndeborough, the bus stopped at the town offices in Citizens’ Hall where historian Stephanie Abbot presented a concise history of the Village and how it was created by the building of The Forest Road (now Route 31) and the coming of railroad in 1873 which moved all commercial activity there from Lyndeborough Center.

In the Center, they visited the old Town Hall where Walter Holland presented a short history of the Lyndeborough Glass Factory plus an overview of glassmaking from a chunk of white quartz to the finished bottles.

Long-time resident Clayton Brown presided over a selection of antique farm hand implements. Although students recognized some of the old tools, most did not and asked a lot of questions.

All of the studenst, teachers and chaperones gathered at Lyndeborough’s Town Pound for a picnic lunch and the day’s events ended in Wilton at Carnival Hill where Nancy Clark told the history of the Winter Carnivals. The area now contains several athletic fields.

All the students walked back to school to catch their buses home.

The weather was just about perfect. Mortvedt said, “What a beautiful day to make our own history!” She added, “With the help of local history enthusiasts, we tried what I hope can be an annual part of the curriculum.”

Teacher Sandra Reid said she was taking notes to prepare for next year. And next year the committee will have a much better idea of timing, what works best, and what can be improved.