For many people, the first thing that comes to mind about Sandy Pond Schoolhouse is its role as one of Ayer’s first two schoolhouses. This was certainly a significant role, one which extended from the founding of Ayer in 1871 through the school’s closing in 1906. However, the little red schoolhouse has also had a vibrant second life.
Initially it was unclear what would happen to the building after its closing as a school. It was not long before a local newspaper article reported “This old school has not been in use since the electric car line was built…consequently the building is somewhat out of repair…” Faced with the prospect of spending additional money on maintenance, the Town decided in 1908 to sell the building. This led a group of local residents to plan and hold one last reunion at the school. The date for the outing was June 27, and everyone had such a good time that it was decided to form an association and raise money to buy the schoolhouse and preserve it.
This was done, and on December 22, 1908 the Town of Ayer sold Sandy Pond School to the Trustees of the newly formed Sandy Pond School Association for the sum of $1.00. The original Board of Trustees consisted of five individuals, all of whom had been students at the school: Patrick Donlon, Daniel W. Fletcher, Frank S. Pierce, and Oliver Kendall Pierce, all of Ayer, and Franklin S. Pingry of Littleton.
The Association's initial goal was simply to preserve the building in order to make use of it for reunions, and it quickly put the building to use for that purpose. The third annual reunion on June 25, 1910 brought 100 people to the schoolhouse. Meanwhile, the Association was also developing plans for improving the building and began collecting dues to pay for the building’s “purchase, care, and preservation”. A new narrow tongue-and-groove birch and pine floor was installed in 1912. A rough kitchen was created in July and August 1912, and a platform for a piano was added in the southwest corner of the schoolroom.
Together these improvements and others, which are still in place today, left the interior of the classroom largely unchanged while creating an enlarged building suitable for a broader range of activities. And so, began the little red schoolhouse’s second chapter, during which, even as reunions continued, it came to function as a de facto community center, hosting a variety of events that included lectures, concerts, dinner dances, and at least one art auction. These activities were all organized and overseen by a thriving SPSA whose organization chart ultimately included four standing committees: Program, Membership, Entertainment & Activities, and Building.
Over time however, as people moved away or passed on and volunteers became an increasingly scarce commodity, SPSA's membership and resources slowly declined. Class reunions continued into the 1940s, but attendance slowly fell as original students passed on. The last annual reunion was held in 1956 or 1957.
During the second half of the 20th century, building maintenance was reduced, open houses became an occasional event, and SPSA's mission slowly evolved to its current one--preserving and interpreting the history of the Sandy Pond School and its role in Ayer history.
Meanwhile, ss the Association's resources slowly declined, so did the condition of the building. By 2014, it was clearly in need of major restoration and preservation work. But beneath the discouraging surface, change was afoot.
Portrait of the schoolhouse showing the new ell added by SPSA circa 1912.