Less Was Far More

by Green Deane

in Blog

Atop Bradbury Mountain State Park, Pownal Maine

West of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, I stopped today and collected some thistle and took a few pictures. More than 50 years ago I marveled at the same plant growing across the road from my home in Pownal, Maine.

Pownal Town Hall, now with water and electricity

Back then the town had five one-room school houses with no running water. That meant an outhouse, drinking water collected from an oak-barrel spring, and an old stove in the middle of the room. It was an education system that had worked well for about a century, open classroom ahead of its time. Four of the schools had two grades each. One, in West Pownal, had all eight grades in one room. There was usually less than a couple of dozen kids in each school.

Every spring, it seems, we’d take the closed tops of the thistle to school — no easy feat — and hang them upside down in the windows, watching them turn over time into big puffs of cotton. It was something the teacher, Mrs. Tryon, had us do. Mentioning windows… Above is Pownal’s town hall, the same building when I was there 50 years ago except then it had a two-story outhouse attached to the back. (Years later I would wonder about the engineering involved in a two-story outhouse as they were over/under each other.) Downstairs it had one big room for the annual townhall meeting. Upstairs I attened Boy Scouts for a while. Not more than 100 feet to the our right was one of the schools just outside the picture. It was for seventh and eight grade kids, and once an overflow of four sixth graders, of which I was one along with Diane York, Peter Goss, and Bruce Spencer. The school was unusual in that it had several windows, but only on the north side of the school.

Things were certainly different then. On May Day we’d hang a basket of candy on the teacher and disappear into the woods for the entire afternoon, sometimes getting as far as the top of Bradbury Mountain, the rocky knob of the local state park more than a mile away. Hanging a May basket and scattering had been happening on May Days for decades and no one thought a thing about it. Now days, two dozen kids running into the woods at noon to disappear for three or four hours would be cause for dragnets and law suits. Never was a child lost or hurt.  It really makes you believe that less is indeed more.

And let me tell you about Mrs. Arlene Frances Tryon, the teacher: A hundred pounds wet and in her 60’s was more than able to put a teenage boy in his place. Of course, back then the teacher had rights and was right and when you got home dad took you down another notch for being a pain in the class to the teacher.  There was a lot to be said for that one-room school… and yes, I did get to the top of Bradbury Mountain on May day, three years in a row.

As for the thistles, they would puff out and hang in the sunless windows for a few weeks until they began to fall apart, another sign school would soon be over for the summer.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna JT Smith August 14, 2015 at 10:57

I was searching for Bradbury Mountain, to find a photo that would show someone how it compares to the view in Greece, when I came across your site. Love the descriptions…btw my maiden name was “Thistle” so I could have come across it doing genealogy, too!
Live in Maine, have been to Pownal and Bradbury Mountain, am a retired teacher, am a writer and blogger…Love your site. Will be back! Stop in for a visit to see the photo I was comparing:
Have a great day!


betsy nelson May 14, 2015 at 16:04

I’m going camping at Bradbury this weekend!


Green Deane May 15, 2015 at 19:44

You means Bradbury Mountain in Pownal, Me.? Been up there many times, went to school in Pownal Center about a mile away, lived five miles away, walked to school even.


Matthew Deming January 31, 2012 at 23:32

Hi Deane
Hope all is well. Funny thing, was directed here searching for thistles and read the story. We mentioned genealogy in past correspondence, there are several Tryon’s (I’m positive there is a Frances or Mary Frances) in the kith & kin. I’ll have to look back in the book but it would be an interesting coincidence.


Green Deane February 1, 2012 at 07:37

I assumed Tryon was her married name, that is, I know she was married but the topic never came up. Back then, early 60s most women did not keep their maiden name. In Pownal Maine is Bradbury Mountain State Park. It’s a hill, really. Behind it is “Tryon Mountain” which is so high one can’t see it.


kathy October 25, 2011 at 12:43

I am wondering if you could help me out, in 1965 or so I lived in Pownal Maine, I would have been 6 years old and in 1st. grade. Now in my memory I attended a one room school house, for that year. I have trying to acess info. @ this, just for curiosity sake. and came upon your website. Can you lead me to any other sites, books etc. It would be very apprecited. Thanks in advance. Kathy p.s. I am going to persue your website, as well.


Green Deane October 25, 2011 at 14:05

Wow, you found me in a roundabout way.. via Pownal Maine. My mother still lives there, in the same house, as I did some 50 years ago. As I say in the article Pownal had five one-room schools then, no running water, attached outhouses, and one oil stove in the middle of the room. There was what I knew as Mrs. Perkins school on the Hudsdon Road, first and second grade, two in Pownal Center, third and fourth near Best’s General Store and the seventh and eight next to town hall. In North Pownal was the fifth and sixth grade, and in west Pownal a one room school that had all eight grades. As I lived in southeast Pownal the west Pownal school was one I never visited. The Hudsdon Road was what we called the back way to Yarmouth. The town of Pownal has a website and a historical society. Last I drove by the Hudsdon Road school was still standing.


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