The Westport Historical Society has its headquarters in the Bell School House, a 19th century Greek Revival structure located in a picturesque setting on the banks of the east branch of the Westport River. The Bell School is open year ’round. All researchers are encouraged to call ahead to make an appointment.
The Bell School was built in 1841 to be used as a school for District No. 14, the west side of the river. There was evidently some jealousy aroused in the other districts when the residents of the Head of Westport decided to build so magnificent a building to be used as a mere schoolhouse.
In fact, one old character from another district made this remark in the presence of one who has handed it down to us: “Them folks to the Head is gittin’ mighty high toned buildin’ a school with a ‘bellcony’ on it.”
In the mid 19th century, voters did not appropriate funds for schools at the annual town meeting, but instead the voters of each district met in the schoolhouse of their district each spring and fall and decided upon what amount of money should be raised by taxation for the support of the schools.
If we are to believe the accounts told of some of these meeting, all was not harmonious. Evidently some of the voters had forgotten their ancestors were Quakers and had arrived at the point where they preferred to settle disputes with their fists. Feuds seem to have sprung up between certain families and these often added life to the meetings, where fights occurred both inside and outside the buildings.
In 1858 the second floor of the Bell School became the private Westport Academy, a place for young gentlemen and ladies who wished to prepare themselves for teaching and for young men wishing to prepare for college.
For several years the high school of the town was held in the upper room of the Bell School and a grammar school in the lower room. In 1906, the building was declared unfit for school purposes, and at the spring town meeting it was voted to build a new school building on Reed Road (the current Council on Aging building).
In 1908 the building was sold at auction to Albert C. Kirby for a grand total of $224.50. Mr. Kirby purchased the building with funds from the alumni of the school who proposed to give the building to the Westport Library Association.
The first floor came to be known as Alumni Hall and was used for community events. A stage was added to the building providing one of the first performance spaces in town. The second floor was used as a library. In 1972 the Westport Library Association gave the building to the Westport Historical Society and so the building continues to dispense knowledge — even if in a different manner.
Read more about early schooldays on Westport.
How many schools were there?
Westport schools c.1870
District 1 Acoaxet School, Cross Road
District 2 Horseneck School
District 3 South Westport School, Horseneck Road
District 4 Eastside School, 308 Pine Hill Road
District 5 Westport Point School, Primary
District 6 Westport Point School, Grammar
District 7 Hicks Corner, 1435 Main Rd.
District 8 Riverside School, 1280 Drift Road
District 9 Macomber’s Corner School, 218 Adamsville Road
District 10 West Side School, 661 Drift Road
District 11 Kirby Corner School, 380 Main Road
District 12 Stateside School, Sodom Road
District 13 Brownell’s Corner School, 508 American Legion Highway
District 14 Bell School, 25 Drift Road
District 15 Sanford Road School, 489 Sanford Road
District 16 Mouse Mill School, 258 Gifford Road
District 17 North Westport School, south side of Old Bedford Road
District 18 Union School, 45 Beeden Road
District 19 Wolf Pit School, Old County Road