~ By Bert Wingerson, Town Archivist
The container pictured here, decorated with hand-painted flowers, was used in the Nelson village school for more than 100 years, to provide students with water during the school day. It was, perhaps, filled each day with pails of cool water carried in by one of the older students. The question that follows is, Where was the source of water, since no water was piped into the building? Water would have been needed when the school first opened, so we can date the age of the cooler by its design and by the dated completion of the village school in 1838. The water may have come from a dug well thought to have been located on the common. Certainly, one would have been needed there to serve the Hotel Nelson, built a few years later.
The “Old Brick,” as the village schoolhouse (District No. 1) was fondly called, was the first building on the present common, which saw a rapid expansion in the ten years after 1838. Old Brick replaced the original schoolhouse up the hill south of the village, opposite the old meetinghouse (site then and now of the cemetery). The new school, larger and more solidly made from local brick, had a second floor paid for by donated funds. Built at the request of the Nelson church, the second floor was designed to add space for religious and community gatherings and meetings. (This was four years before building had begun on the large church in the village.) A music teacher was added as village activities increased. Concerts were held on the second floor under the old barrel-vaulted ceiling, which can still be seen above the remodeling done later to adapt the space for use as the town office.
The Nelson village school closed in 1945, still without water and heated only by a wood stove. The Old Water Cooler was often brought out to provide water for special events held in the village. The Town offices remained on the second floor until the State required moving them to the first floor.
The village school – Old Brick – is still serving the needs of Nelson. Because of its importance to the history of the town, the Nelson Village Schoolhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.