Wilmington has five old one-room schoolhouses. At the corner of Federal and Woburn streets is the East School. Some memories of that school are to be found in a memoir written by Susanna “Aunt Suzy” Hale in 1951.
During World War II, Aunt Suzy Hale returned to Wilmington, where she had been born 83 years earlier. She was born in 1860 in the McKittrick house on Eames Street.
She was the daughter of Jimmy Hale and Mary Ann Eames and was descended from the first settler in North Wilmington, Richard Harnden. Her grandmother was a Buck.
Her father came to Wilmington about 1845 from New Hampshire. He worked on the construction of the Boston and Maine railroad from Boston to North Wilmington as a mason and a blaster. He enlisted in the Union Army and fought in the Civil War, only to return home as a deserter after several horrendous battle experiences.
Susanna Hale left Wilmington about 1876, and worked as a domestic in Haverhill. She later lived in Mattapan, and worked in the Walter Baker Chocolate factory.
Upon her return to Wilmington, she recounted some old stories. She wrote her memories of her school days at the old East School.
“When I was a little girl, six years old, my mother took me down to the East School and introduced me to the teacher,” she wrote. “I went to this school for six years, from 1866 to 1872.
“There used to be a stove at one end of the school, with a long stovepipe going to the chimney at the other end of the schoolroom. In the winter, the first person to get to the schoolhouse would build a fire, and I remember many times when I was the first person there, and had a roaring fire by the time that Miss Eames arrived.
“Miss Rebecca Eames was our teacher, and she was a very nice lady. She lived further up Woburn Street, across the railroad, on the right-hand side of the road. We children used to go to her house on Saturdays, and she would play the piano. We would sing and have a good time.
“I remember one Christmas when we had a Christmas tree in the school. My mother, who was Mary Ann Eames before she was married, and my two sisters had made a rag doll for me, and they bought a rubber head for it. When I came into the schoolhouse for that Christmas party, that was the first thing that I saw, that rag doll, hanging in the middle of the tree. I didn’t see anything else and I didn’t want anything else.
“I was so happy when my name was called and my present was that doll. I don’t know how long I had been sitting there when Mr. Tolman, who was at the party, came to me and said, ‘Aren’t you a nice girl... isn’t that a nice dolly?’ I never forgot it.
“Mr. Tolman, who was the minister of the Congregational Church and chairman of the school board, used to come around to the school once in a while. We were always glad to see him. We used to talk to him, and he was very nice.
“Every child had to buy his own books in those days. Mr. S.B. Nichols used to keep the books for the children to buy, and when we needed any, that is where we went to get them.
“In those days, we would go to school for three months in the summer and three months in the winter. Of course we walked. In the winter time, the roads used to be plowed, generally with an ox team and plow, unless the snow wasn’t too heavy, when horses were used.
“My route to school was from Eames Street, down Woburn Street, past my uncle Ben’s house (Buck). My Grandmother Eames, who was Ben’s sister, was his housekeeper after Mrs. Buck died, and I used to stop in there after school for a cookie or something. I often used to do the butter churning for Grandmother Eames.
“Sometimes we used to see Dr. Toothaker. He had a very nice way with children, and we used to wish for him to come. He carried a big black case with his medicines, and he always had some candy in the case. He lived somewhere near the center of town and was the town’s only doctor then.
“We always had a good time down there in the East School. Rebecca Eames was the nicest teacher any little girl could wish for. Those were the happy days.”