South Waterville School sign preserved at Northville Farm Heritage Centre

Kirk Starratt
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SOUTH WATERVILLE - The building that once served as the South Waterville School and community hall might be gone, but thanks to the initiative of a former student with personal ties to the property, its legacy won’t be forgotten.

After reading in the Kings County Register that county council had deemed the property dangerous and unsightly and planned to demolish it, historian Richard Skinner of Cambridge, a former student of South Waterville School, decided to take action.

The 85-yeear-old said a personal interest prompted him to preserve the sign at the old school. Skinner's brother John and Merrell Lloyd, both former students who were killed overseas in the 1940s, were supposed to be remembered with a flag pole erected and a tree planted at the South Waterville School, he said.

“Just as the school is now gone, so is the flag pole,” Skinner said. “Now all we have is the school sign. By preserving this sign and a record of the school, I feel the sign now becomes the memorial.”

Lloyd was killed in action in the Second World War in Belgium on Feb. 26, 1945, while John Skinner was killed in a flying accident at Lancaster, England, March 5, 1945.

“Am I ever glad I put the effort into it,” said Skinner, who attended the school until Grade 11. “We knew someday this would happen, but we really had short notice.”

Skinner said he called Coun. Dale Lloyd about the building, which later served as the South Waterville Community Hall. Lloyd was able to salvage the community hall sign that used to hang over the front door.

Lloyd put the 12-and-a-half-foot sign in the back of his car and brought it to John Eaton, who delivered it to the Northville Farm Heritage Centre. The sign will be given a home there as an area artifact.

“They’ll decide which building to put it in,” Skinner said.


Forgotten history

Skinner says it would have been nice if younger community members had taken a greater interest in the former school and community hall earlier, so a piece of built heritage could have been saved.

He thinks that the deaths of several older community members who had helped with the hall’s upkeep, a shift in interests and out-migration of other community members probably led to the hall being forgotten by many.

According to information from Skinner published in the book Kings County Schools, compiled by Nelson Labor and Linda Hart, the South Waterville School, school section #110, was built in 1901. The Lloyd family contributed the lumber and Adelbert Strong donated the land, about half an acre.

Presumably, C. Wallingford Skinner and others put their carpentry skills to work to erect the building. The inspector of schools approved the site March 30, 1901, and classes at the school likely began in the fall of 1901.

In 1952, with the opening of Central Kings High, Grade 7 and up started attending the new high school. The building closed as a school in 1961 when Cambridge Elementary opened.

Skinner said the old school then became a community centre and Sunday school and church services were sometimes held there.

The Women’s Institute of Prospect and South Waterville later obtained the property from the municipality, but in September 1987, this organization disbanded.


The story of the site selection

Skinner said that according to oral tradition, the first site selected for the school was disputed. The trustees decided to use a wagon wheel with a rag tied to it determined the South Waterville School district boundary lines.

Starting at the Rockland boundary, the drove a wagon through the community counting the number of rotations of the wheel. Turning at Sharp Brook, the boundary with Prospect, they divided the number of rotations by two.

They went back in the opposite direction until they reached the halfway mark. It was decided that the lot for the school would be located near this point.


Memories of a plane crash

Richard Skinner recalls the day an airplane crashed near the school. He had gone home for dinner on his bicycle, about a mile away. His brother Bill was talking on the telephone when the line went dead.

Skinner said the sound of small aircraft flying over the top of the mountain from the south was nothing unusual. They heard the roar of an engine stop around the time the phone went dead, but they didn’t think anything of it at the moment.

“The kids that were in school, they were sitting in their seats eating their dinner and someone said, ‘Oh look, there’s an airplane, it’s on fire’,” Skinner said. “They could see the fire and smoke coming from it.”

Skinner estimates that the crash site was less than a half-mile from the South Waterville School.

Organizations: South Waterville School, Kings County Register, Northville Farm Heritage Centre Kings County Schools Nelson Labor Institute of Prospect and South Waterville

Geographic location: Northville, Belgium, Lancaster England

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Recent comments

  • Joanne Light
    December 30, 2015 - 16:49

    So happy to read the history of the school researched by my mother's cousin, Richard Skinner. There exists a photo of the students and teacher outside this school. My grandmother, Mildred Skinner White, is in the picture. I referenced the school and cousin John Skinner in a poem about my grandmother. THE DAHLIA QUEEN I. Flower Grandmother, your father built a school for you. On the back South Mountain, the old, worn Appalachia ridge, Will and his brother, Wall Skinner built a school. I see you in the picture, shy dark girl with endless hair, watching Will and Wall hammer in your better future. I imagine you walking down the mountain to learn piano; playing “Daffodils” octave chords like a vast field of them stretching out in Wordsworthian vision, the melody upward, sprouting and multiplying in spring, full of trills like pollen travelling. It was a big piece. I have the sheet music, brown and disintegrating, but the daffodils on the cover are still yellow, like a pound of butter yellow. I churned out the piece, too, a lump of sunny love, it joins us even now. I place the butter pat design—a shy flower afraid to bloom —and stamp us the same. I imagine you skipping down, stopping to search each flower face— vetch, clover, Queen Anne’s Lace, buttercup, daisy— vibrating with each in turn. You wanted to be a botanist but there was no money to go to Acadia like your cousin, Evelyn. You lived through two wars and the Depression and the only time anyone saw you cry was when your beloved nephew, John, was killed over England. The poppies from his mother’s garden still stream down the mountain near the school like a never-healed wound.
When you moved to the little house outside Annapolis Royal, you didn’t get a piano. I never heard “Daffodils”. You found your music in blooms. Prehistoric ferns in front—just green, green. Sweet peas by the garden for pink cheek rouge and tinted lips, a delicate, theatrical look. Pastel puffs like the scent of loose powder applied from a gold compact. Dahlias by the door, communion with crimson, orange, purple, exoticism of other places, The door into a simple cottage life, but your flowers were your higher self, beauty buffering pain of not awakening into your dream of travelling to Arabia, Australia to live a life of higher learning II. Gem A table of ash strip bent to form a circle, a flat base slathered with putty to press in broken china. Your mother and aunt spent winter evenings arranging the China blue; the pretty shards of Victorian teacups and shattered bottles that escaped becoming beach glass. You always stayed pressed in the case of propriety. Don’t waste a thing: Your tiny gems of soda pop, capped, then poured in miniscule cups—lime rickey, black cherry, cream soda, orange crush, ginger ale, root beer made with the water of Spa Springs. I remember running with jewel drinks to the looking glass table, the bubbles bursting, our hearts were beating, we searched for a tiny china head, smaller than a bottle top. Among the shattered ruins of tea parties was an embryonic face with black dots for eyes embedded above sallow cheeks. A relief decoration broken free from a dish? An early century trinket from a crackerjack box? An alien from another planet, sign for a child? A talisman—a home base— finding the doll with the shattered face. Sitting on top, half a lava bubble from the shore—agate lines finer than the finest rapidograph pen, where form reveals the hand of God, and tiny crystals, white to palest amethyst sparkled our eyes, a prism we put every gem through. On the table, the ladies had covered single oat heads with scraps of coloured foil—preservation an obsession, beauty the by-product. The Christmas collection: flat cut amethyst, Blomidon’s mauve beauties set in silver, Two crimson ear drops—petals from Austria like miniature dahlias, for the dahlia queen of the jewellery throne. A Canadian soldier fighting on the Italian front brought floral mosaics of minute stone chips, red and orange rose on olive green. On a university campus encrusted with two hundred year old maples, elms, one earring fell—a seed under a tree. The earth claimed it, buried for all time, The other on a pendant; the story of its loss has flown away. Joanne Light is the author of five books, including two books of poetry. Her work is in the Nova Scotia Library system.