Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I. C. Hill's Reminiscences of Early Public Schools in Pelham

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On December 20, 1913, The Pelham Sun published a series of articles about the history of schools in the Town of Pelham. Among the articles was one that conveyed the reminiscences of I. C. Hill, then principal of the Hutchinson School in the Village of North Pelham. Principal Hill's reminiscences shed interesting light on the development of today's remarkably excellent school system in the Union Free School District No. 1 in the Town of Pelham.

Below is an image of Principal Hill. The text of his "reminiscences" appear immediately below his picture.

"Principal Hill's Reminiscences


I think that I am correct in stating that no one in our little town has observed with keener interest the progress and growth of our public school system than I.

In 1877 I was engaged to teach in the old Prospect Hill School, now the home of Mr. Henry O'Neil, of Pelham Manor. In January, 1878, I was transferred to North Pelham School.

North Pelham, or Pelhamville, as it was then called, was a little hamlet of forty-eight houses. The school was a small frame building containing two class rooms, situated about fifty feet east of the present school site, and accommodated fifty pupils. The rooms were heated by two large stoves of the bar-room type, the poor victims seated near the stove being uncomfortably warm, while those occupying more remote parts of the room were uncomfortably cold. [Historic Pelham Editor's Note: Below is an image of the Pelhamville School painted by noted artist and illustrator Edward Penfield of Pelham Manor.]

On reporting for work the first day, I was accompanied to the school by one of the trustees, Mr. John Case, who prophesied that my term of service would not exceed two weeks. He said he knew, for he was acquainted with the boys. That was just thirty-five years, eleven months and twelve days ago.

I remember distinctly the class of boys, not quite as old, but just as big as I. Among the members of the class let me mention a few: John Costello, Michael J. Lynch, Robert Patterson, Thomas Patterson, Edward Patterson, Patrick J. Marvel, Philip Godfrey and Edward Barry. For obvious reasons I refrain from mentioning the names of any of the girls of that year's class.

There were no truancy laws in those days -- still the teacher was held responsible for the attendance. My immediate predecessor, in order to secure a perfect attendance of the pupils under his charge, established the rule that all who were tardy or absent should on their arrival at school present a written excuse from their parents. But alas! the principal himself was late one morning, and one of the largest pupils, Francis McDermott being a lover of law and order, to it upon himself to enforce the rule in this case. Locking the school house door, he directed the principal to apply at once to Trustee John Case for a written excuse for his tardiness. Let us draw the curtain on the climax!

From the first to the tenth of each month the teacher received a draft on the treasurer for his monthly salary. This the teacher was compelled to take to the President of the Board, obtain his signature, and then present this draft to the treasurer and demand payment. But, alas! to be informed that there were no funds in the treasury! Yet a few weeks subsequent at the annual meeting, a balance on hand from $1,200 to $1,500 was reported. Well, savings banks were paying 5% interest.

The school well was situated at the foot of the hill near the present entrance, and at recess the children raced pell-mell to the fountain for refreshment, all taking turns from a long handled, rusty tin dipper. Fortunately, there were no naughty germs in those good old days.

The trustees in charge during my first year of service were: President, Mr. Thomas Hewitt, of Fourth avenue; Mr. William Barry, of Second avenue, and Messrs. David Lyons, Sr., John Case and W. H. Sparks, deceased.

In 1889 the growth of the village demanded greater school facilities, and we entered our new building in January of that year. At the dedication excercises of this new building, President William Allen Smith took occasion to congratulate me on the fact that it was the tenth anniversary of my advent to Pelham.

On the completion of the new school much concern was manifested as to its stability. Indeed, so great was the fear of a sudden collapse of the structure, that some pupils left the school in order to avoid a sudden and horrible death. Not only was the roof thought unsafe, but the foundation also was said to be of insufficient strength to support the superstructure. I will here state that a part of that same foundation now supports our present beautiful new school.

My first graduates were Rachel Heisser (Mrs. Walter Barker) and Ida E. Hill (Mrs. David Lyon). Prior to this time, there was no course of study laid out by the Board of Education or the State Department of Education. Since 1905 all the schools of the State followed the same course of study, but now all pupils must pass Regent's examinations before graduating. The first candidate for those examinations in our school was H. A. Anderson. This was in 1893.

In 1898, Hon. Joseph S. Wood, President of the Mount Vernon Board of Education, in his [in]augural address stated as follows:

'Recently four pupils applied for admission to the High School from the public school at North Pelham. Every one of them passed the required examinations and was admitted. they came from a school which has only four teachers and one hundred twenty-five pupils on register. They have been taught not only the studies taught in our grammar schools, but also algebra through quadratic equations, bookkeeping and United States history; their average age is thirteen years.'

The pupils referred to were James B. Algie, Elmer Greer, Harry A. Stone and Ella Kavanaugh.

In 1899 a course of three lectures was given in North Pelham school: 'The Empire State,' C. E. Nichols, Superintendent of Mount Vernon Schools; 'Electricity,' Prof. A. B. Davis, Principal of Mount Vernon High School, and 'Yellowstone Park,' I. C. Hill, Principal of North Pelham School.

Figuratively and literally two generations have passed under the rod wielded by me. Let me mention a few: Supervisor Beecroft, ex-Town Clerks P. J. Marvel, James Caffrey, H. A. Anderson, John Kallenberg and Town Clerk-elect David Lyon; Mrs. F. J. Mulligan and Miss Mary Conlon, teachers in New York City schools; Prof. Frederick Ernst, teacher of English in Morris Heights High School; Frederick Anderson, D. D., pastor of the Baptist Church, at Jordan, N. Y.

If Mrs. John McGuire, daughter of the late Patrick Marvel, or her sister, Mrs. Daniel G. Donohue, of New Rochelle would send their children to our school for but one day, then I could boast of having taught three generations.

By the end of the present school year I shall have completed the thirty-seventh year of my term of service as principal of our local school, and I take great pleasure in saying that of the many boys and girls who have been under my instruction. I have not a single record of any one of them 'going wrong.' I take no credit for this upon myself, still I hope that my life and teaching through this period of time may have had some influence in shaping their future.

I. C. HILL, Principal,
Hutchinson Grammar School."

Source: Principal Hill's Reminiscences, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 20, 1913.

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