Darnestown One-Room Schoolhouse (1898)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to attend a one-room school, to be in the same classroom as your older brother or younger sister, where all the kids, no matter how old, are in the same class? One-room schoolhouses are all but a memory now. But at the turn of the 20th century, they were where most rural students received their educations. One room schoolhouses were the pioneers of the early education period. At the period’s peak, just under 100 one- and two-room schools existed in Montgomery County.

One of the most amazing photographs in Lewis Reed’s collection is of the one-room schoolhouse where he and his brother, Edgar, went to school. This photograph is the only one known to exist of this school. The schoolhouse, now long gone, was located on Thomas Kelley’s Farm at Pleasant Hill (which today, would be located in the center of the Spring Meadows community). Lewis Reed grew up on a farm in rural Darnestown and for much of his young life had no running water or electricity. His father was an early settler and worked as a Cabinetmaker and Blacksmith. The Reed family farmhouse and blacksmith shop was located in off Route 118 in Darnestown.

Darnestown School One-room schoolhouse

Darnestown One-Room Schoolhouse. The chimney was probably to a wood-burning stove that was used to heat the building. Note the outhouse on the left. Photo from the Lewis Reed Collection

This small, one-room schoolhouse was within walking distance of my grandfather’s farmhouse. In those days, walking distance generally meant within a few miles. Lewis Reed attended this school with his brother, Edgar. First through sixth grades were taught by one teacher (Minnie McAtee) to about thirty or more students. Few students went beyond sixth or seventh grade; in fact, Lewis Reed’s education stopped after the sixth grade. He would later be home-schooled by his wife, Ethelene Thomas, who was a teacher in the Maryland public school system.

The age range for students was 6 to 16. The students were separated roughly by level of study in each particular subject, rather than by age as they are now: a child might have studied 3rd grade math while also doing 6th grade reading or history. Gender separation was maintained by seating girls and boys on opposite sides of the room. The larger boys were expected to help bring in the wood or coal and carry out the ashes. Misbehavior begot corporal punishment.

School usually took place between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The youngest children sat in the front, while the oldest students sat in the back. The teacher usually taught reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography. Students memorized and recited their lessons. The teacher’s desk may have been on a raised platform at the front of the room, however, and there would have been a wood-burning stove since there was no other source of heat. The bathroom would have been outside in an outhouse.

1898 class photo

Circa 1898 class photo taken at Lewis and Edgar Reed’s one-room schoolhouse (Darnestown School). There were six grades in the school with one teacher. Minnie McAtee, teacher (right rear). Photo from the Lewis Reed Collection.

As for Minnie McAtee, according to The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) 05 June 1901, Miss McAtee resigned from the Montgomery County school system in 1901.

Born in Darnestown, Miss McAtee attended the Andrew Small Academy in Darnestown, after which she completed correspondence courses to further her education. For eight years, she taught in the one-room schoolhouse at Pleasant Hill, Darnestown.

The undated “Get Well Story” below was posted on the Find A Grave website in her memory. Anybody who took such good care of flowers as she did, most certainly must have been a great school teacher.

Minnie McAteeAt least 34 schoolhouses of this bygone era still stand today in Montgomery County, an astounding total considering how developed Montgomery County is today. The five schoolhouses in Montgomery County restored as museums — Boyds, Brookeville (one-room school), Kingsley, Seneca, and Smithville — are open to the public at various times during the year. Most are open during Heritage Days; check www.heritagemontgomery.org for the schedule.

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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