Town leaders look to give an old schoolhouse in Ridgefield new life

RIDGEFIELD — The Old Branchville Schoolhouse could soon be given new life as officials mull different ways to repurpose the building.

Tucked behind the treeline on a small lot off Old Branchville Road, the 191-year-old structure was established as one of Ridgefield’s 14 school districts in the early 19th century. In 1849 it had 38 pupils, records show.

It was constructed in 1830 with a post and beam wood frame, clapboard siding and a gabled roof with asphalt shingles. Its portal, which now features a screen door, has a transom topped with a horizontal pediment similar to those found on barns in the southern Connecticut valley.

Although it’s almost 200 years old, the distinct red schoolhouse has remained a well-preserved landmark in town. It currently serves as storage space for the Ridgefield Little League, but that function could soon change.

The organization is planning to move its equipment into the new clubhouse at Jensen Field, leaving a vacancy at the schoolhouse.

“We definitely want someone to go in there ... to take care of the building,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “Whoever would do it, we would do a dollar a year lease.”

Marconi said the Ridgefield Fathers Club expressed interest in using the building, which dismayed neighboring residents who live on Old Branchville Road. A Sept. 29 letter addressed to the Board of Selectmen outlined their concerns about the prospect while suggesting other alternatives. It was signed by 15 people.

“We feel that dedicating the space for a local social club would be an inappropriate use of such a historical landmark,” the letter reads. “(We stand) behind the restoration of the Old Branchville Schoolhouse and support any use … that will benefit our community, preserve the historic nature of the building and add to the culture the town of Ridgefield prides itself on.”

Other interested parties include the Branchville Civic Association and the Ridgefield Historical Society, which is working with Connecticut’s Historic Preservation Office to place the schoolhouse on the State Register of Historic Places.

Little League Board President Bryan Ward agrees with this approach, saying, “It should be restored and deemed a town landmark in my opinion.”

Marconi said he would follow up with Ridgefield’s Yankee Council to see if the site could be of use to local scouts. He also plans to contact Weir Farm National Historical Park to see if it may be interested in potentially converting the schoolhouse into an art gallery.

“People who have invested a lot of money in their home and in the neighborhood should have a voice in” whatever becomes of the schoolhouse, Marconi said. “The historical significance is very critical to the future of our community.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com