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, January 02, 2007

The Little Red Schoolhouse In Pelhamville -- Predecessor to Today's Hutchinson Elementary School

The files of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham contain an undated eight-page typewritten manuscript prepared by Town Historian William R. Montgomery entitled "THE OLD SCHOOL HOUSE ON THE HILL PELHAMVILLE". The manuscript deals with the history of today's Village of Pelham and, more particularly, the little red schoolhouse built in the mid-19th century that was the predecessor to today's Hutchinson Elementary School in the Village of Pelham. Below I have transcribed the manuscript.



It might be of interest to state at the beginning of this article that a large part of North Pelham was originally owned by Colonel David J. Pell, who lived in the Old Stone House near Wolf's Lane Pelham Manor. The land adjacent to Hutchinson Creek was used as a stock farm and a race track. On February 1, 1833, we find that the estate of Colonel David J. Pell sold part of this land to Anthony Wolf. Mr. Wolf built a homestead where 5th Ave. and 3rd Street intersect and conducted a farm for many years until he sold it to the 'PELHAMVILLE VILLAGE ASSOCIATION' in 1851. From that time a good part of what is now known as North Pelham was called Pelhamville. Pelhamwood and Chester Park were not developed up to this time. Pelhamwood was owned by Col. Richard Lathers of New Rochelle, being part of the estate well known at that time as Winyah Park.

In 1896 a mass meeting was held in the Town Hall, Mr. John H. Young acting as chairman and Mr. Isaac C. Hill as Secretary at which, after considerable discussion the proposition to incorporate the village was carried by a vote of 65 to 2 and the name PELHAMVILLE was changed to NORTH PELHAM. Jacob Heisser was elected its first President.

In mapping out the original village of Pelhamville, a park was laid out, in size about 300 x 500 feet and named 'Pelham Square'. This was located between 4th and 5th Streets and 2nd and 3rd Avenues. For some years the children of this fast growing village had to go nearly two miles to the school on the Split Rock Road in Pelham Manor, it being the only school house at that time in Union Free School District No. 1, the District No. 2 being City Island.

The inhabitants justly complained about the remoteness of the school and finally persuaded the Trustees of the Pelhamville Village Association to deed part of the square previously mentioned to School District No. 1. On November 19, 1860 a deed was duly executed for 250 x 150 feet of the Pelham Square by the Hon. Lewis C. Platt of White Plains and Mr. Henry Marsden of Brooklyn, as Trustees, representing the Pelhamville Village Association to the Board of Education of Union Free School District No. 1 of the Town of Pelham, represented by the following trustees:

Rev. Wm. B. Coffey
Mr. Wm. S. McClellan
Mr. John M. Lockwood
Mr. James Hinman
Mr. Edward A. Campbell
Mr. J. W. Tavina

We might add here the fact that in March 1912, the title to this school site was pronounced perfect and was duly [Page 1 / Page 2] insured by the Lawyers Title Co., 160 Broadway, N. Y. City. This was necessary as the Board of Education intended issuing bonds to the extent of $25000 covering this property.

In 1861 a school house was erected as pictured in Cut No. 1. This building was a typical school building of its period, one large room, poorly lighted and badly ventilated. It was heated by a large round stove in the center, which nearly roasted those unfortunate enough to be near it, while giving no heat to those at a distance.

We are greatly indebted to the late Mr. Edward Penfield, who after many months of research succeeded in drawing a picture of the old school house on the hill, as it probably looked at that time. Cut No. 1 shows the porch which was added in 1873 and the room to the right added in 1875 for the primary department.

In 1874 a well was sunk at the foot of the stone steps leading up the hill to the school. Previous to this time two boys were usually sent for a pail of water. They would sometimes take this opportunity to waste a couple of hours of precious time. Therefore the Board of Education decided to spend a few dollars of the taxpayer's money. Even the emergency of the situation did not appeal to many of the taxpayers. The estimate of the cost of the school can be judged from the Insurance policy taken out in 1867 for $1200.

After the Civil War the Board of Education seems to have been a close family corporation judging from the names of the Trustees:

Mr. Peter Roosevelt
Mr. James W. Roosevelt
Mr. Fred Case, Sr.
Mr. John Case
Mr. David Lyon, Sr.
Mr. Joseph Lyon
Mr. Charles H. Roosevelt Counselor
Mr. Ebert I. Roosevelt Treasurer

Many of the old records are missing and it is not possible to give the names of all the early teachers who taught in the old school house. We are indebted to the late Mr. Wm. Allen Smith, President of the Board in 1888, and to Mr. Isaac C. Hill for such as we have now.

The first teacher was Miss McClellan 1861-1863
2 - Mr. Watson E. Knox
3 - Mr. Amos Towle
4 - Mr. Gore
5 - Mr. Orrin Baxter 1866
6 - Mr. Edward Gallagher 1867-1869
7 - Mr. Bartlett
8 - Mr. Jared Barhete 1869-1870
9 - Unknown

[Page 2 / Page 3]

10 - Mr. Francis A. Lafferty was appointed in 1870 at a salary of $1000 a year, and Mrs. Agnes Lafferty Nov. 17, 1871 as an assistant at a salary of $200 a year. The first night school was held for four weeks, from Nov. 21, 1870, also for the month of January 1871. Mr. Lafferty was appointed teacher at one dollar a night. This night-school was a success and the Board of Education on November 6, 1871, directed Mr. Lafferty to open it again for a period of 100 nights, for which he would be paid $100 in addition to his salary. The Board also ordered that a fee of two dollars be paid in advance for all persons of 21 years and over who attended the school. Mr. Lafferty retired in 1872 and the following teachers came after him.

11 - Mr. Charles J. Carlisle 1872
12 - Unknown
13 - Mr. D. H. Campbell 1873
14 - Mr. L. Reynolds 1873
15 - Mr. Thomas C. Clark 1873
On January 9, 1874, Mr. Clark made the first report that we have been able to locate. 'The number of pupils in Pelhamville school registered was 68 with an average attendance of 86%' Miss S. H. Sparks was appointed assistant teacher. Mr. Clark resigned December 31, 1877.
16 - We come now to the period of our most successful teacher Mr. Isaac C. Hill, who was transferred from the school in Pelham Manor on the Split Rock Road and assumed charge on January 7, 1878. Mr. Hill was succeeded in the Pelham Manor School by our esteemed citizen Mr. John M. Shinn. The Pelhamville School had evidently declined insofar as the number of pupils were concerned, as we find in Mr. Hill's first report April 1878, the average attendance was 39. The December record, however, showed an improvement, the average being 53. Miss Kate Donlon was appointed assistant teacher in 1878. At the annual meeting which was held October 8, 1878, a large bell was voted for and the same was bought from Fairbanks & Co. for $71. It is interesting to note here that the total budget in 1884 for the three schools, one at Pelhamville, one at Pelham Manor and one at Bartow in the Town Hall was $4135.

The question of the education of our youth has been uppermost in the minds of the people since the original settlement of Pelham. The span of 66 years, since the first house of Pelhamville was erected, has seen a complete revolution in the education of the children: from the old Red School House of a single room and one teacher to the massive structure of Hutchinson School, containing 20 rooms or more, with its large corps of teachers.

[Page 3 / Page 4]

The Old Red School House had some advantages as well as many handicaps. One outstanding advantage was the fact that the school master had complete supervisiion over the child from the lowest class until he graduated. He knew the pupil and he knew his weak points as well as his strong ones, which is not possible under a larger system. It was under the above conditions that Mr. Hill made such a successful teacher, beloved by all his pupils. Mr. Hill had full supervision over the course of studies until about 1905 when the State adopted a syllabus for all schools.

The old school house became so crowded that even the window sills had to be used to seat the pupils. It was not until Dec. 20, 1887 that the Board of Education decided that a new building was needed.

A special meeting of the voters of the District was held in the Pelham Manor School on May 8, 1888. Rev. C. Winter Bolton was elected chairman, and Mr. Henry C. Dey as Clerk of the meeting.

The District voted $6000 for the erection of a new school building at Pelhamville. On May 15, 1888 a building committee was appointed consisting of
Mr. Robert C. Black
Mr. E. H. Gurney, and
Mr. Henry N. Babcock

The Architect selected was Mr. F. C. Merry.

The new school (see Cut No. 2) was completed at a cost of about $6500, the size of the building being 67.4 x 64 x 58. It was finally dedicated with much ceremony. The terra cotta tablet which was placed on the building to the right of the entrance, is now set in the south wall of the assembly room of the present Hutchinson building. This tablet bears the following inscription.

Union Free School District No. 1
Town of Pelham erected 1888
Mr. Allen Smith
E. H. Gurney
Frank Beattie
Robert C. Black
Wm. Barry
H. N. Babcock
Architect - F. C. Merry
Masons - John New & Son
Carpenter - James Thompson.

We reproduce here for future reference the program of this eventful occasion.

(1) Prayer - Rev. C. Winter Bolton [Page 4 / Page 5]
(2) Hymn - 'Father in Heaven' By the Children of the District
(3) Address Wm. Allen Smith, President of the Board of Education
(4) Chorus 'The Mellow Horn' By the pupils
(5) Class Exercises Conducted by Principal I. C. Hill and Miss Julia L. Wilson, Assistant Teacher
(a) Algebra - Class A
(b) Grammar Analysis - Class B Chorus: 'Aim High' by the pupils Miss Rachael Heisser, at the organ
(c) Reading Primary Class C
(d) Arithmetic Fractions Class B
(6) Chorus 'Sweet and Low' 'The Laugh of a Child' By the Pupils Miss Ida E. Hill at the organ
(7) Address Jared Sundford, School Commissioner
(8) Chorus 'Chiming Bells' By the pupils
(9) Address Rev. D. N. Freeland
(10) Benediction Rev. Charles Higbie

President Smith, in his address, spoke of how much the district needed the new building and brought out many interesting facts regarding the history of the school in the Village of Pelhamville.

School Commissioner Jared Sandford was then introduced by President Smith. It might be interesting to state here that this ceremony was the only dedication of a school building which Commissioner Sandford had the pleasure of attending in the seven years he was commissioner. It is quite evident that building school houses was not a popular occupation in those days. Mr. Sandford delivered a very interesting address on this occasion. We quote from the Mount Vernon Chronicle, January 11, 1889, the following, relative to the Town of Pelham:

'The material wealth and prosperity of the district warranted the inhabitants in indulging themselves with pleasant and commodious school surroundings. Good school buildings, good teachers, and the best teaching add greatly to the prosperity, moral worth and greatness of communities, and contribute to the true glory of the State.'

Commissioner Sandford completing his address paid a glowing tribute to Principal I. C. Hill for his great work in building a most efficient school.

After the exercises were completed a very welcome surprise was in store for the town people. A reception committee consisting of:

Mrs. I. C. Hill
Mrs. E. H. Gurney
Mrs. J. Baugh
Mrs. Robert H. Scott
Mrs. R. C. Black
Mrs. Geo. Pearson
Mrs. Wm. Allen Smith
Mrs. A. Anderson, and
Mrs. G. Scott

[Page 5 / Page 6]

were busy in the old school (Cut No. 1) which was only a few feet north of the new one, preparing a fine collation which was served for the benefit of the inner man. This affair lasted until early in the morning, every one going home happy, and glad that he was a Pelhamite.

In September 1889, there were 59 pupils enrolled with Mr. I. C. Hill as principal and Miss Julia L. Willson, assistant teacher.

The new school house (Cut No. 2) was greatly admired, and many came from all parts of the State to see the arrangement of the rooms.

Notwithstanding the appearance of great durability, many questioned the safety of the roof and the architect was finally ordered to add more uprights to support it. The building had no lighting system and oil lamps were bought in 1891 at a cost of $12. A new pump was installed in the building. In 1891 the Board of Education insured this building for $5000.

Mr. & Mrs. I. C. Hill, in 1892, arranged an entertainment for the purpose of raising funds to buy a flag pole and flag. The pole and flag were duly dedicated with patriotic ceremonies on July 4, 1892 and many of the leading citizens of the county were present. This flag pole was placed directly in front of the entrance and was supposed to have been the incentive for the legislature of the State of New York passing a flag law: Chapter 222 Laws of 1895, 'Compelling school authorities to display the U. S. Flag on or near school houses during school hours on fair days and holidays, also specifying the standard sizes required as follows:

Garrison Flag 36 x 20
Post Flag 20 x 10
Storm Flag 8 x 4 1/2

The newly formed Fire Department of Pelhamville requested permission of the Board to use the school bell in case of fire, which was duly granted on March 7, 1893.

Still Pelhamville kept on growing and it was necessary in 1894 to make a new class room in the building and two more in 1897. there were 147 pupils attending the Pelhamville school in 1899.

Notwithstanding the continual increase of pupils and the lack of proper accommodations for them, their high scholarship was not in any way interfered with. It is refreshing to read at times, what others outside of our own school system had to say especially one who was acknowledged as a leader among school men, Mr. Joseph S. Wood, President of the Mount Vernon Board of Education, made a most extensive survey of the schools in the state, especially those of [Page 6 / Page 7] Mount Vernon. He delivered a most interesting address on August 9, 1898, in which he said:

'Recently four pupils have applied for admission to the High School (Mount Vernon) form 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 only 125 pupils on register. They have been taught not only the studies taught in our (Mount Vernon) grammar schools, but algebra through quadratic equations and bookkeeping. Their average age is thirteen years.

Why can't the pupils in our (Mount Vernon) schools be taught as much in the same time? It would seem that the larger the school the greater the number of pupils, the longer it takes to complete the course of study.

The average age of graduation from the North Pelham School is 13 years and from the Mount Vernon schools 15 years. This loss of two years in each child's life not only discourages the parents and the children, and prevents the latter from obtaining all the benefits our grammar schools and high schools afford, but it causes an immense loss of money as well as of time and energy.'

President Wood's address created quite a sensation in Mount Vernon at the time, as he was recognized as an authority on school matters. Although no public report was given out concerning the High School entrance examinations in 1898, rumors were freely circulated in Mount Vernon that North Pelham's four pupils were, first, second, third and fourth out of a class of about 30. This of course is only conjecture. At that time Pelham, having no high school of its own, sent pupils to Mount Vernon and New Rochelle upon their graduation from its grammar schools and paid their tuition.

The village of Pelhamville seemed to be determined to worry the Board of Education by outgrowing School No. 2, and it was necessary to call a special meeting on May 5, 1900, for the purpose of issuing four bonds of $1000 each, for the purpose of building an annex to the school. We will not go into the details of this meeting, except to state that the proposition was lost by a vote of 31 to 4.

A resolution was passed at the meeting requesting the Board to prepare estimates and plans for an additional story with a new roof and submit the same at a special meeting to be held June 12, 1900.

On June 12th the District meeting was duly held with Mr. H. G. K. Heath, President of the Board of Education in the chair, and Mr. Harry A. Anderson acting as Clerk.

[Page 7 / Page 8]

The Board of Education submitted a proposition to issue 10 bonds of $1000 each for the purpose of adding a new story to the school from the plans made by Mr. A. G. C. Fletcher. This proposition was likewise defeated and the Board of Education asked to call another meeting for the purpose of voting $6000 for the enlargement of the school.

In compliance, the Board called a special meeting on July 10, 1900 to be held in the North Pelham School. Hon. Benjamin L. Fairchild was elected Chairman, and Mr. S. Gregoor Clerk. 75 votes were cast, 58 were in favor of the proposition and 17 opposed it.

It might be well to mention here that at the same time in 1900 the Board of Education was increased to 7 members, formerly being only 6, 3 from Pelham Manor and 3 from North Pelham, the new one was to represent the then growing Village of Pelham (Heights). Later at a special District meeting held in 1906 two additional Trustees were added, so that the village of Pelham (Heights) would have the same representation as North Pelham and Pelham Manor.

No time was lost in building an addition to school (No. 2) and it was completed by September 1900 (see Cut No. 3) This building was insured for $12000.

The following teachers were engaged for the school year of 1903, which will give an idea of the then prevailing salaries:

Mr. Isaac C. Hill $1200.
Miss Mina S. Ferman 750
Miss Flora Bass 600
Miss Etta M. Bornt 600
Miss Maria T. Raynes 400

Again the question of additional room came up and in August 1909 President R. A. Holmes recommended an addition to the school (Cut No. 3) and the Board of Education voted to call a special meeting for May 13, 1910 for the purpose of voting a bond issue of $20000. Unfortunately there was an error in the publication of the legal notice.

Another District meeting was called to be held June 10, 1910 for the purpose of voting the bond issue of $20000. The proposition was unanimously carried, the vote being 31 in favor.

The building (cut No. 3) was enlarged and opened in September 1910 (see Cut 4), but was only used a short time, when for some reasons unknown burned down on February 17, 1912. In the meantime the pupils were taught in the Highbrook Ave. school, which then was unoccupied, also at the Town Hall in North Pelham."

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