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, March 28, 2006

More Reminiscences of Isaac C. Hill of Early Public Schools in Pelham

On September 27, 2005, I published to the Historic Pelham Blog a posting entitled "I.C. Hill's Reminiscences of Early Public Schools in Pelham". In it, I transcribed an article published in The Pelham Sun on December 20, 1913 recounting the recollections of I. C. Hill who was then the principal of the Hutchinson School in the Village of North Pelham.

In 1926, Isaac Hill authored additional recollections that appeared in the local newspaper. Below is an image of Isaac C. Hill and, beneath that, the text of his later recollections of early schools in Pelham.

Isaac C. Hill, Former Principal of North Pelham School and Member of Board of Education

Looking backward almost half a century, many changes have taken place in the growth of our public school system. My thoughts now revert to the times when the Pelhams consisted only of Pelhamville (now known as North Pelham) and of Pelham Manor. In the entire town, I doubt if there were over fifty-five houses. . . . Most every family kept a horse, a cow, chickens and geese.

Few trains on the New York and New Haven road stopped at the Pelhamville station, which was situated on that piece of land now occupied by Burke Stone's real estate office. Fifth Avenue went up grade over the New Haven tracks to Wolf's Lane.

There were three schools in those days. Few of the people here know that the brick building, the old town hall, situated on the Shore Road, just beyond the road leading from City Island, now used as a residence, was a school fifty years ago. It was also the voting place of the town, and on election days the few men voters would drive from all parts of the town to cast their vote on national, state and town matters. In 1889, this building and surrounding lands was [sic] taken over by the City of New York and is now a part of the Park System.

Another school was the Prospect Hill School, now the residence of Mr. O'Neill of the Split Rock Road.

The pupils were compelled to sit on rude home-made benches, with legs dangling in mid-air: no attention being given to the size of the occupant. Drinking water was supplied from the nearest neighbor's well, and drank [sic] from a rusty tin dipper. Microbes were unknown in those primitive days.

A large bar room stove occupied the center of the one roomed building, the fortunate pupils sitting near the stove were 'par-baked' while those at a distance were suffering with the cold. The Hutchinson School was erected in the early [eighteen] fifties, as near as may be ascertained by diligent search through the archives of the State, Town and District, and from the memory of its earliest inhabitants. It was a frame structure on top of the rocks where nothing but ideas would grow. The exact site was just back of the new addition now in the course of erection. A second room was added to this building in 1873. This school was also heated by large stoves in the rear of the rooms, around which the children would gather at recess time on stormy days to play games and eat their lunches. On clear days, the site of the present building was the playground for the children. Ball, old money, moss, tag and hide and seek were the favorite games. The well was at the foot of the hill, and a pail full of water was carried twice a day up the hill and placed on the bench of the front entry by the honor pupil of the day. Blackboards were painted on the walls. During the first few years of my teaching the attendance was greater in the winter season, as at planting and harvesting times the big boys and young men were needed in the fields. My assistant taught three grades while I had five grades in my class room. I have quite a complete record of happenings during my period of teaching, and I find that in 1889 there were but 59 pupils in the entire Hutchinson School. This school contained the largest number of pupils in the district, and today the number of teachers alone surpass the number of pupils of those days. In 1897 there were but 104 pupils. In 1889 the first stone building was completed at a cost of about $6,500. Studying this figure you can readily see the difference in the cost of erecting buildings in those days as compared with the present time.

The opening of this school was a gala day in Pelham. Parents, teachers, pupils and friends met there and inspected the building, listened to addresses and to class exercises by the teachers and pupils. Refreshments were served in the old building. Money was donated for a piano by public subscription . . . .

The greatest growth of our Pelhams is due to our present Congressman, the Honorable Benjamin L. Fairchild. He conceived the idea of developing Pelham Heights into a restricted residential section. This resulted in the building of our beautiful Pelham Heights, and with the ingress of new people it was deemed necessary to build a school there which was termed 'The Colonial School.' Later an addition was placed to this school.

A school was built in Pelham Manor on Jackson Avenue, and in recent years this plant was sold and the children sent to the new school at Siwanoy Place.

So many children wished to attend high school that it was found extremely necessary to have one of our own. Mount Vernon and New Rochelle High Schools required the room for their own needs, so the new Memorial High was erected.

In the case of all the schools, the growing need of the community for greater accommodations has necessitated the building of additions to every building, and later a huge addition to the Memorial High School. These buildings are completely finished. At present extensions are being erected to the Colonial School in Pelham Heights and to Hutchinson School in North Pelham.

We have now four wonderful buildings that may vie with any in the county or state."

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