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.
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.