On the side lawn of The Harmon Noble House (c. 1835) sits an elegant octagonal building that likely served as an 1850’s one-room schoolhouse or office. Commonly referred to as the Harmon Noble Schoolhouse, the diminutive building may have been used to educate the Noble family children which would make it one of two remaining octagonal one-room schoolhouses in Essex. (The other is an octagonal stone schoolhouse located in Boquet hamlet west of Essex.)
While the original purpose of the building is uncertain, there is little question that this charming architectural folly that withstood the passage of time has become an iconic presence along Merchant Row in Essex, NY. The Gothic inspired building is architecturally anomalous to The Dower House, Rosslyn, The Harmon Noble House and Greystone. And yet, viewed in conjunction with Rosslyn Boathouse — a similarly lighthearted, architecturally anomalous addition to the historic Essex waterfront — both small buildings add balance and levity to Merchant Row’s austere facades and grand proportions.
Elegant Architecture: Harmon Noble Schoolhouse
The Harmon Noble Schoolhouse is a wooden structure with ornate detailing.
Of clapboard with a conical Gothic roof and slender pillars supporting the porch which entirely surrounds it, the schoolhouse is of a surprising elegance and very well preserved. (Living Places)
The peak of the roof and the porch are ornamented with elegant Gothic features. The porch encircles the small building, and the eves of the roof and connecting arches of the columns are decorated with a gingerbread-icing-like trim that is a well recognized Gothic feature. The columns of the porch are delicate, thin shafts. The overall effect being of a Gothic Revival gazebo.
However there are other architectural styles apparent in the Harmon Noble Schoolhouse as well such as the door frames and window frames which are Italianate in style (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 30).
Is the Harmon Noble Schoolhouse Not a Schoolhouse?
Recent research indicates that the Noble children may have attended school in town with the other Essex children. Instead “this octagonal pavilion may have been the Noble company office, as the existence inside of a large partner’s desk suggests.” (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 114).
Does this mean that the Harmon Noble Schoolhouse was never actually a schoolhouse? Or perhaps it only as a school for a short period of time? Please share your insights in the comments below.
Additional Resources for Harmon Noble Schoolhouse
This map (with satellite image overlay) will help you locate the Harmon Noble Schoolhouse and see how its location relates to other historic buildings in the historic district.
View Discover Essex on Lake Champlain in a larger map
References for Harmon Noble Schoolhouse
“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” Essex Community Heritage Organization, 1986. “Essex Village Historic District.” Living Places. Ed. Julia Gombach. The Gombach Group, 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. .
Hislop, David C., Jr. Essex on Lake Champlain. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2009. Print. Images of America.
“Historic Essex.” Historic Essex. Essex Community Heritage Organization. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.essexny.org/>.
McNulty, George F., and Margaret Scheinin. Essex; the Architectural Heritage. Burlington, VT: Queen City Printers, 1971. Print.
Smith, H. P. History of Essex County: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Syracuse, N. Y.: D. Mason &, 1885. Print.
John H. Noble III says
According to my grandfather (grandson of Harmon Noble), he did take some lessons in that schoolhouse in his early childhood up until about 1900.
Geo Davis says
Interesting. It would be great to learn more about your grandfather’s memories of the schoolhouse (and the house, if possible). Anything else you can fill in? Many thanks in advance. It’s like a bridge across time!