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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Granby's Old Schoolhouse Repurposed As A New Home For Town History

Exterior of Granby Central School, a white building
Amy Kolb Noyes
The Granby Central School hasn't been used as a schoolhouse in more than a decade. Soon it will reopen as a town history museum.

There will soon be a local history museum in the Northeast Kingdom town of Granby. The organization opening the museum — inside a 19th-century schoolhouse — is the same group responsible for bringing electricity to the town decades ago.

Sixty years ago, two Essex County towns – Granby and Victory – were literally still in the dark. Every other town in Vermont had electricity, but those two tiny towns didn't have enough homes to make stringing wires there an attractive business venture.

So residents formed a group called Holiday in the Hills to raise awareness about their plight. They started an annual fall festival and invited politicians and the press, putting pressure on the power company. They finally got electricity in 1963.

Rodney Noble in Granby
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Rodney Noble stands before the Granby Central School in late March 2019, not long after the library assets were turned over to the Holiday in the Hills group.

Rodney Noble was chairman of Holiday in the Hills from 1961 until he stepped down last month (now his brother Calvin has the reins). After the group won the fight for electricity, Rodney said, they found another cause.

"Our main interest then was to preserve Victory Bog. … And in the early 1970s, the state bought all the land down there and that was achieved," he said.

Granby Central School sign
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Granby Central School was built in 1885 and served as a school until 2006.

The group held its last fall festival in the 1980s and was inactive until its recent reincarnation as the Victory Granby Holiday in the Hills Historical Preservation Group.

Now the group's latest project is opening a history museum in Granby's 1885 schoolhouse. 

Rodney Noble said the school closed more than a decade ago: "It got down to where they had just two students," he said. "So, they had to close it."

Last year, the town turned the schoolhouse over to Holiday in the Hills.

Granby Town Clerk Nellie Noble
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Granby Town Clerk Nellie Noble sits at the teacher's desk in the old schoolhouse.

Nellie Noble wears many hats in her town of about 75 residents. Among them are Granby town clerk, secretary for Holiday in the Hills — and Rodney's sister-in-law.

"The new Holiday in the Hills group there, we discussed and said: 'Well, you know, we'd like to keep it [the schoolhouse] preserved. And maybe that's something that we could really do for the town,'" Nellie explained. "And so we approached the selectboard at one of their meetings and they went, 'Yeah, sure.'"

The town library was still housed in the school building. But on Town Meeting Day this year, Granby voters decided to close the library and give its assets to the group as well.

Walking into the schoolhouse, the classroom space is on the right. A door on the left leads to what was the library. 

The children's section of the former Granby library.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
This shelf is the children's section of the former Granby library.

The space is musty and cluster flies seem to have replaced patrons some time ago. Nellie Noble said they'll keep some of the library books as part of the museum.

As for the classroom, it looks much like it did on the last day of school.

"Yeah, when school closed in June of 2006, a lot of stuff was just left as is," Nellie said.

There are rows of desks, and student artwork still hangs on the walls. High up near the ceiling, a chain of presidential portraits starts with George Washington and ends with George W. Bush.

Desks inside the former Granby schoolhouse
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Student desks are still lined up in rows inside the schoolhouse.

Nellie said the plan is to keep some of the classroom set up as part of the museum.

"We're gonna keep one half of it pretty much like a little school," she explained, "with the desks, the teacher's desk, some books, different items. Then maybe have, like, one section designated for different historical things of Granby."

Locals in town have already pledged items from their attics: photographs, diaries, antiques and, of course, programs from all those Holiday in the Hills festivals. Nellie said the next steps will be applying for grants, figuring out a budget, lining up volunteers and maybe slapping on a fresh coat of paint.

Amy is an award winning journalist who has worked in print and radio in Vermont since 1991. Her first job in professional radio was at WVMX in Stowe, where she worked as News Director and co-host of The Morning Show. She was a VPR contributor from 2006 to 2020.
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