New Longon, Conn. (AP) - It appears students in a classroom in the mid-1800s were not so different from kids in a modern-day classroom. When the teacher is away, the kids will play.
At the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse, where renovations of the 1773 building are continuing, workers have uncovered carved initials and chalk drawings on old boards on the inside of the roof.
"It was kids being kids," said Stephen Shaw of the Sons of the American Revolution, which owns and operates the schoolhouse near the Parade at the foot of State Street.
On boards that probably date back to the 1840s and were part of floors and walls elsewhere in the building, there's a chalk drawing of a single-mast sailboat; what looks like a pair of women's button-up shoes; and the name "Nancy." There are other more obscure images and initials carved into the wood, some in perfect block lettering: D.S.T., M.A.S. and A.P.D.
"I like to think they were three best friends," said Shaw.
In 2007, at the start of the restoration project, workers uncovered the original wide eastern white pine floorboards that Nathan Hale walked across when he taught school in the house in 1774. At that time they found a wall board covered in carved names and initials and the date 1832. It is on display on the first floor of the museum. The building was also a private residence for 60 or 70 years, before the SAR bought it in 1901 and turned it into a museum.
Stephen C. Marshall, a restoration carpenter from Coventry, uncovered the new images about 18 months ago.
Using evidence he found when taking down walls and pulling up floors, and looking at old photographs, Marshall is trying to restore the 1,200-square-foot building to its original condition.
"Instead of hiring an architect and following plans, I like to get the building to tell us what has to be done," he said.
The renovations have revealed the original 15- to 17-inch-wide pine floorboards on the second floor and evidence of indents in the floors where the teacher would have had his desk and chair and "dug in" his heels at the front of the classroom.
The bell tower will be rebuilt, another fireplace installed on the second floor and two dormers added to one side of the structure. The front windows on the second floor will also be replaced with the more accurate 6 panes of glass over nine.
The roughly $40,000 restoration project is being funded with grants but will cost much less thanks to sweat equity from volunteers, Shaw said.
Gas heat will be installed so the museum can stay open year- round. Last year about 4,000 people visited the museum from May to October.
Shaw said he is bringing in photographers to take pictures of the uncovered "artwork." Then new walls will go up, sealing the images again.
There are 28 schools across the country named after Nathan Hale, including eight in Connecticut. But Connecticut's state hero taught at only two - 16 months in New London and six months in East Haddam.
Hale taught here before he enlisted in the Connecticut militia in 1775 and spied on the British for George Washington. He was captured by the British and hanged on Sept. 22, 1776. He was 21.
But the schoolhouse is famous for another reason. It is sometimes called Connecticut's first mobile home because it has been moved six times.
It was originally built by a group of well-to-do New London residents on State Street and was called the Union School. It remained there, where the Crocker House now is, before being moved to Union and Golden streets in 1830, when it became a private home. At one point, 15 people lived there, Shaw said, citing old city directories.
When the Sons of the American Revolution bought the building in 1901, it was moved to the Ye Antientist Burial Ground on Huntington Street. From there it went to the Old Town Mill, then back to Union Street, and then to the Parade at the foot of State Street. A year and a half ago, it was moved a couple hundred feet back to its current location at 19 Atlantic St., which Shaw says is its final resting place.
"Nathan Hale is New London's best known figure," Shaw said. "It's facing the Parade grounds where (during Nathan Hale's time) the militia would have gathered and marched."
The schoolhouse is open 11 a.m to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
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