I visited the Eight Square Schoolhouse today. Built in 1827, it served students within two miles until 1941 when the Dryden school district began transporting students to the Freeville school. The History Center in Tompkins County brings fourth-graders here every year for a taste of 19th century school days. Nicely refurbished with desks and slates, it's easy to imagine the twenty-eight foot diameter room containing up to twenty students in eight grades.
The decision to build the octagonal schoolhouse was influenced by Quaker tradition making efficient use of space and maximizing light and ventilation. In 1848 Orson Fowler began advocating octagonal buildings for the beneficial effects on health. Fowler, a phrenologist, also crusaded against corsets. His advocacy for sex education contributed to his eventual downfall.
I rode my bicycle to the schoolhouse, two and a half miles from my house. That doesn't seem far by any measure. But as I rode out of sight of my house, I remembered that it's been a few years since I've ridden the bike more than a mile. Happily, it turns out that two and a half miles really isn't far. The gravel shoulder provides an adequate safety zone for those moments when pickup truck drivers insist on passing too close to me. I know I'd have to grit my teeth if Maggy insisted on riding in sandals with no helmet, but I must admit I enjoyed it.