Interior of school

Located on the Arnold Road off Route 27, the c. 1815 Colburn School is a one-story, one room brick building with an attached frame ell. It was used as a school house until 1964. There were no fewer than nineteen school houses in the community in 1803 when the town of Gardiner was created from its western half. The town had begun organizing school wards and hiring schoolmasters in 1785. In 1815 the town determined the boundaries of ten school districts, each district electing its own committee. In that year Samuel Oakman sold the small plot of land on which the Colburn School stands to the Middle South School District, as his contribution to the expense of construction. The school got its name from the area of Pittston first known as Colburn Town, on the east bank of the Kennebec River.

Riverside Cemetery borders the Colburn School property on its northern side, and is the resting place of many members of the Colburn family. In 1932 the town appropriated funds for a playground at the Colburn School. That year 1932 the school’s wooden benches were replaced with seats originally used by Boothbay Harbor schools. In 1959 the town sold the Colburn School, land and building, along with all other town school district buildings, to School Administrative District #11. Use of the school discontinued in 1964, with ownership eventually returning to the town in 1973.

Twelve years later the local government sold the property to the Pittston Literary and Historical Society for one dollar. The Society holds its monthly business meetings at the school, as well as annual fund-raising events held in conjunction with the Arnold Expedition Historical Society. The one room school house was a familiar object in the rural landscape of 19th and early 20th century Maine. It was the traditional system in which towns subdivided themselves into school districts, each of which contained a school house to serve its particular locale. Although the district school system became a target for 19th century school reformers, its effect was to produce a vast number and variety of buildings: more than 4,000 by the turn-of-the-20th century. Consolidation efforts have taken a dramatic toll on the number of these schools that survive. In 1960, for example, only 226 schools in Maine were being held in one-room buildings.