Ridgefield museum to reopen after long-drawn pandemic closure

Photo of Shayla Colon

RIDGEFIELD — The Peter Parley Schoolhouse, known as the West Lane School, is reopening its doors to visitors. It has been closed since 2019.

The 18th-century building-turned-museum is a historic place for Ridgefield residents to see what a one-room school from decades ago was like. Although the museum is open on a seasonal basis, it has been closed for the past year and a half because of the pandemic, according to Ridgefield Historical Society board member Sally Sanders.

“It’s only open during warm weather months, so the season for it is May through October,” she said. “October 2019 was the last time we (were) open, and obviously in 2020 we couldn’t.”

Today, visitors can still find old desks in the classroom and see some of the textbooks that were used then. The building, however, lacks running water and the outhouse was done away with long ago.

Sanders said the schoolhouse will reopen to the public June 27, with open houses from 1 to 4 p.m. on the last Sunday of the month. Those who are fully vaccinated will not be required to wear masks, but those who aren’t will.

Schoolhouse history

The original schoolhouse was built in the mid-18th century and replaced with the “larger, current building” in the 19th century, according to a news release from the society.

It was named after Peter Parley in recognition of Samuel G. Goodrich, a former student who studied there between 1799 and 1803. Goodrich went on to become a renowned author and wrote several children’s textbooks under the pen name Peter Parley.

Students can find Parley’s name on the covers of various textbooks addressing history, literature, nature and more. Notably, each one is written in a more “charming” manner than the more traditional texts from that period.

“His point in writing the books was he wanted children to be engaged by them,” Sanders said. “The early textbooks were pretty dry, and his were written more as stories to convey the information.”

The building served as a schoolhouse until 1915 when it closed, but remained under the town’s control. Its students were transferred to the new East Ridge School.

Members of the Ridgefield Garden Club restored the old schoolhouse and converted it into a small museum. In 2012, the club handed off the responsibility to the society, which has taken care of it since.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the landmark has served the southwest portion of town for many years. While school looked different for him, his mother attended a one-room schoolhouse similar to Peter Parley.

“(It) certainly has a lot of historical significance, and I appreciate the historical society reopening (it) and getting things back to normal,” he said.