Although a few schools in the DC area are still closed, thanks to last week’s earthquake/hurricane double whammy, for most local kids it’s Back To School time. In honor of the occasion, here is an 8.5″ tall brass and wood handbell, used to summon students to the one-room Etchison School in the early 20th century. It came to us from the estate of E. Guy Jewell (1902-1984), who was a teacher, administrator and planner for the Montgomery County Public School system for fifty years.

Mr. Jewell attended the Barnesville School and Poolesville High School, and during his career worked at a large number of county schools (starting at the one-room Comus School, in 1921). As far as I can tell, he never worked at the Etchison School. Instead, he most likely collected this piece during his extensive research into the history of the county’s public schools.

Thanks to Mr. Jewell’s research, we know a little about the school where this bell was used. The Etchison School was a one-room school for white students in the small community of Etchison, near Damascus. It was in existence at least as early as 1899 (possibly as early as 1868) and it closed in 1937; I believe the students were then sent to Damascus Elementary School. One source in our vertical files claims that after Etchison closed, the building was dismantled and used to construct a Home Economics building at Damascus High School.

The Etchison School, 1929.  Originally published in the Maryland News.

Unfortunately, so far I have not found too much more specifically about the students or teachers at Etchison; the original ringer(s) of this bell are still unidentified.  In the early days of MCPS many schools opened, closed, and/or changed names, sometimes repeatedly. Some of the smaller community schools were short-lived, and were recorded only in an occasional reference in the School Board minutes, or the memories of a student or teacher. Thanks to the work of historians such as Mr. Jewell, Nina H. Clarke, and Lillian B. Brown, the sometimes-confusing traces of these schools – and the people who attended and taught in them – are set straight. They pored through one hundred years of School Board minutes so you don’t have to! If you’re interested in the history of your school, or the schools-that-were in your community, take a look at Jewell’s From One Room to Open Space: Montgomery County Public Schools from 1732 to 1965, and Clarke and Brown’s History of the Black Public Schools of Montgomery County, Maryland, 1872-1961, available in the Montgomery County public library system and our own research library at the Society.

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