Town of Brookhaven One-Room Schoolhouses
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, most American students attended a one-room schoolhouse. A single teacher would typically have students in the first through eighth grades. The number of students varied from six to forty. At one time, there were over 90,000 active one-room schoolhouses in America. In the Town of Brookhaven, we have research on 10 historic one-room schoolhouses that existed. Some are still used for teaching students about what school was like over 150 years ago. Here is a list of the 10 historic buildings:
- Bald Hill Schoolhouse, Farmingville
- Coram Schoolhouse, Coram
- Holtsville School, Holtsville
- Ride Schoolhouse, Ridge
- The Academy, Miller Place
- Shoreham School, Shoreham
- North Wading River School, Wading River
- Nassakeag School, South Setauket
- Swan River School, East Patchogue
- South Haven District #30, South Haven
Bald Hill Schoolhouse, Farmingville
The 1850 Bald Hill One-Room Schoolhouse, located at 505 Horseblock Road in Farmingville on its original foundation, was the first one-room schoolhouse in Farmingville, Long Island, New York. It served the Farmingville and Holtsville communities. The one-room Greek Revival 1850 Schoolhouse served the community of Farmingville from 1850 to 1929.
The Schoolhouse was heated by a pot-bellied stove that was fed with cordwood. Older boys were responsible to feed the stove during the day. Children brought their lunch in either a tin pail or a tin box, a cane basket box, or the lunch was simply wrapped in a cloth. Some students would bring soup for lunch and put it on the stove to keep warm. Baked potatoes were often heated on the stove to serve to warm cold hands as well as provide hot lunch on a cold day.
There were two outhouses behind the Schoolhouse; one for boys and one for girls. After the invention of chemical toilets, the outhouses were replaced with a small addition to the rear of the Schoolhouse containing the chemical toilets.
The Schoolhouse was originally furnished with long wooden benches for seating. Students rotated to the front of the class when it was their turn to take lessons. Older pupils sat facing desks attached to the wall. Toward the end of the century-long benches were replace with double-wide wood and metal desks nailed to the floor.
A water crock held drinking water for the students who brought their own drinking cups from home. Older boys were responsible to fill the water crock each day. Recollections of former students, Elmer Fogerty and George Holms tell the story of frogs being put into the well to scare the girls. They also tell of the harsh punishments they received by their teacher for their pranks.
Education focused on reading, writing, arithmetic, and morals through stories and the Bible. Memorization was important for spelling bees. The rules were to be on time, do your homework, be quiet, do as you were expected to do, not speak unless you were spoken to, and the 3 most important words were to OBEY THE TEACHER. Teachers had to be strict to show the strength of character or the unruly boys would take advantage.
Teachers who did not live locally would room within student homes. 11 teachers lived in Farmingville through the years.
In later years, the children pledged the Allegiance to the Flag and prayed each morning. Bible readings were also held as the Bible was used for many lessons. The students of the one-room schoolhouse were probably better prepared to read the literary works of writers such as Walt Whitman. Operas, hymns, and Greek choruses were a normal part of general education.
Coram Schoolhouse, Coram
The first record of a school in Coram is found in 1811 when Dr. Samuel Norton purchased the meetinghouse “used for a schoolhouse.” It stood in the triangle in front of what is now the Methodist Church. The original school was taken apart and used in the construction of a home.
In 1813, the Town of Brookhaven was divided into school districts. The boundaries laid out were measured by the distance a boy could walk to school. In the original division Coram was district 10 and is described as follows: ” No. 10 is to embrace the inhabitants of Coram as far west as James Norton’s.” The eastern boundary although not clearly defined included up to Swezeytown.
Coram One Room Schoolhouse Built in 1813
The Coram One Room schoolhouse built in 1813 was used until 1900 when it was condemned and a new schoolhouse was built to replace it. A beautiful wooded knoll known as Mt. Tabor rising sixty feet formed the background of the new school’s property.
The first record we found of Coram hiring a teacher was in 1814 when Elijah Terry was hired to keep a Common English School. The people of Coram agreed to pay him one dollar and seventy-five cents for each student sent to school. Each parent agreed to provide ½ cord of firewood as payment for each child sent to school. Another form of teacher pay that Mr. Terry enjoyed was to receive one week’s board at the home of each student who attended the Coram School.
School furnishings were sparse with students working on a high slanted desk attached to the wall. Backless benches served as chairs. The student’s ages ranged from 5-21 in this Coram One-Room schoolhouse. Edwin Hawkins, a student of the one-room schoolhouse in the early 1930s, remembered “the older children helping to teach the younger ones” a system he recalled, “that seemed to work.” The old schoolhouse was a simple structure measuring 20 feet by 30 feet. It had twin outhouses in the back and Hawkins remembers “pushing on the girls’ outhouse when it was occupied.” In the same breath, he recalled having to “go out and cut hickory switches (branches) which would be used by the teacher for striking the hands of poorly behaved students.” Doris (Faron) Bayles recalled the “water fountain as being a bucket of well water with a ladle in it.”
By 1950 Coram was “busting at the seems,” Grades one and two had 30 students. An additional 120 students for grades 3-12 were transported to the Port Jefferson Schools. In 1951, the Board of Education, Edwin Hawkins, Hugh Fingar, and William Nilsson outlined a plan for a new school. The school built in 1900 cost $700. This new brick building with 4 classrooms and an auditorium would cost $115,000. This would serve grades 1-6, with the secondary students still going to Port Jefferson. This structure would be the first unit of a 28-room school. The new school was built on Coram Mt. Sinai Road on a 10-acre parcel of land given to the district by the estate of Winfield Davis. In 1959, Coram joined with Yaphank, Middle Island, and Ridge to form the Middle Island School District. The name would later be changed to Longwood Central Schools. The one-room schoolhouse, built in 1900, still stands next to the Coram firehouse and serves as the Commissioner’s office.
Holtsville School, Holtsville
The first Holtsville School was located at Waverly Avenue and Long Island Avenue in Holtsville. In 1907, the one-room schoolhouse was built of cement blocks for a cost of $1250. For 20 years it educated students from grade one through high school. Mr. Chris Meyer, a former student of the school, recalls that the farmer across the street would start the fire but it was usually out by the time school started.
In 1929, after its use was over, it became the community’s meeting place, then the Post office and then the Fire Department’s headquarters. Fire Chief Jack McDonald says that the land the schoolhouse stands on is needed for a parking lot. Unless someone wants to save it, it will be demolished. We believe that it was demolished but there is no history supporting that.
Ridge Schoolhouse, Ridge
When Brookhaven Town was divided into school districts 1n 1813, the Ridge school was organized as district 22, according to town records, “No. 22 is to embrace the inhabitants east of Thomas Aldrich in Middletown (Middle Island) , extending east to the Wading River line. The territory covered by this School district was covered with thousands of acres of woodland when it was settled sometime before 1750, and for a great many years the cutting and shipping of cordwood was an important Industry with the farmers In this locality. Most of it was hauled to the Sound shore where it was loaded on sloops and shipped to New York and also up the river ‘to the brickyards at Haverstraw.
The early settlers in what was then an isolated section were mostly of the Randall families. A few of the men received their early education in this school and, in later years, made their mark in the world. These men included:
- Capt. Sylvester Randall, who for 33 years conducted a sailing packet line between Fort Jefferson and Bridgeport, before the steamboat line was put into operation.
- Sylvester Randall who made a strike in the gold fields of California during the “forty nine” gold rush.
- Josiah B. Randall, who for years was manager of a large general store in Port Jefferson.
- Joseph Lewis Randall, who was working for the U. S. Christian Mission during the Civil War. and who lost his life at Newbern, N. C.
- Jason Randall who took a load of supplies up the Yukon during the Klondyke gold rush to the miners who were In danger of starving In the frozen north.
- Captain Henry M. Randall, who was, a sea captain for many years and afterward became President of the Bank of Port Jefferson.
- Elbert Smith, who managed a sheep ranch in the Cascade Mountains of California.
- J. Sturgis Randall, who helped build the city of Norwalk, Connecticut.
- Stephen M. Randall, who was a contractor and builder and helped develop the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn.
- William G. Miller. who was a bank President and Representative in the State Legislature from Queens-Nassau counties for several years.
- John 0. Randall, who is called the “Father of Freeport,” and was influential in the building and development of Freeport.
The Ridge schoolhouse that is now in use was built in 1872, and was also used for holding religious services in connection with the Presbyterian Church at Middle Island. Services were conducted on Sunday afternoons for many years. The first schoolteacher In the present schoolhouse was Miss Cynthia Hutchinson, who was Postmistress in Middle Island for several years.
The district Includes “Longwood,” with its famous old Manor house built before 1790. The old homestead is still maintained by the present owner, Miss Helen Tangier Smith, a direct descendant of Col. William Smith, who settled in Setauket in 1686. He acquired a vast territory extending along Middle Country Road eastward from the Connecticut River in Middle Island, to Horn Tavern, and extending south to the ocean. This was known as the Manor of St. George and was not annexed to Brookhaven town until 1788.
The Academy, Miller Place
An educational landmark in Brookhaven town a hundred years ago was the Miller Place Academy, which was organized and built in 1834. A meeting of the residents of Miller Place was held on April 8, 1834 “for the purpose of taking into consideration the building of an academy in this village.” At that meeting, a committee was appointed to circulate a subscription paper, and the appointed men were Samuel Hopkins, Charles Miller, Conklin Davis and Thomas Helme.
A meeting held May 17 in the same year appointed a building committee consisting of Nathaniel Miller, Thomas Helme, Joel Brown, Charles miller, Samuel Hopkins, Charles Woodhull and Horace Hudson. Fifty-six shares were subscribed at a value of $25 each, and each shareholder had as many votes as he held shares. The shares were mostly taken by the people of the village, but among the original stockholders appear the names of Thomas S. James, Benjamin Strong and Samuel Thompson of Setauket, Caleb and Albert Woodhull of New York city, John Roe of Patchogue, and Nathaniel Tuthill of Greenport.
The building committee, who were empowered to “circulate a subscription academy, pay off the bills and complete the work,” promptly went to work and engaged the services of Isaac Hudson of Middle Island to erect a two-story building, which is still standing. The cost of the building was $1,600, and it was completed and school opened on November 1, 1894, only seven months from the date the first meeting was held. Frederick Jones was the first principal.
The Miller Place Academy private school is still in use today as a community library.
Shoreham School, Shoreham
The first school building in the district stood on the Woodville Road near the present village of Shoreham and was used until after the Civil War when it was sold and another site secured on North Country Road near the railroad station and a schoolhouse built. This was used until 1910 when it was destroyed by fire. In 1911, a new building was erected and the school opened in September of that year. In April 1926, the building was destroyed by fire from an unknown cause. At this time there were only about 10 students, so an emergency classroom was set up in the vestry of the Catholic Chapel. Shortly after this, another site was purchased on North Country Road and the Spanish-style Shoreham Schoolhouse was erected.
North Wading River School
The first schoolhouse in Wading River dates back to approximately 1813. This schoolhouse was located on North Country Road. In the late 1800s, another school was built further east on North Wading River Road. This schoolhouse was located in the Wildwood State Park area. These early schoolhouses were referred to as the “upstreet” and “downstreet” schoolhouses. From the 1930s until the construction of our present school in 1963, students were taught in a three-room wooden schoolhouse (which was located on the present site of Wading River School). This school housed students in grades K through 8.
When the Riverhead schools centralized in the 1950s, the Wildwood area children were included in the Riverhead Central School District and have attended schools in that district ever since. To make way for the present elementary school, which was built in 1963, the three-room schoolhouse was torn down and the present school was built.
Nassakeag School, South Setauket
The Nassakeag School structure was built by Frederick A. Smith in 1877 on Sheep Pasture Road, South Setauket, at the exact location of an earlier schoolhouse built in 1821. It served approximately thirty students annually, ranging from 5 to 15 years of age. The children attended winter and summer terms leaving the spring and fall free for farm duties, a typical schedule of nineteenth-century schools in rural America. The schoolhouse was actively used until 1910 when Setauket school districts were consolidated into a single central school district and a new school was built in East Setauket. The building was eventually moved to The Museums at Stony Brook in 1956 and is used for historic education.
Swan River School, East Patchogue
In the mid-eighteenth century, the surrounding area was known for its various necks of land along the Great South Bay. After a 1758 land lottery, some of these necks evolved into the villages of Blue Point and Patchogue, while the Swan River Neck and Pine Neck became part of East Patchogue. Farming, maritime trade, and lumbering were major occupations that engaged early settlers such as the Avery, Smith, Robinson, and Roe families. Cordwood being in high demand, a sawmill was placed at Swan Creek, convenient for loading vessels bound for New York City.
In 1813, Brookhaven Town was divided into 23 school districts. Another was formed in 1857 for East Patchogue, with Norton Robinson as sole Trustee. At that time Stephen S. Roe and his wife Huldah owned most of the Swan River area. Roe Avenue was then known as Pine Neck Road. Robinson purchased from them, for $25, a parcel of land which the deed stipulated was “for the purpose of building and maintaining a School House thereon for the benefit of said district.” The next year the school was ready, snugly constructed, with a bell tower and two doorways – separate entrances for girls and boys.
At first, parents paid a fee per child, but Swan River was soon incorporated into the general public school system. Its district remained intact until 1936, when it was absorbed into the Union Free School District #24 of Patchogue. In 1962, the Patchogue School District voted to transfer the Swan River School to the Town of Brookhaven for use as a museum. For the next ten years it held displays on local history in times of war and peace. Subsequently, it has resumed its principal function: old-fashioned schoolhouse. Located at 31 Roe Avenue, East Patchogue, the building dates to 1858. The Farmingville and Patchogue Historical Societies have collaborated on field trips, introducing students to their two one-room schoolhouses from the 1850s.
South Haven District, #30, South Haven
This Schoolhouse was the third building erected in the South Haven district. It was built in 1927 and dedicated in 1928. The building is of Spanish design created by Architect Lewis Inglee. With the purchase of some additional land and grading, the new building cost about $24,000.
When a new building was opened on Montauk Highway in South Haven in 1962, this building was closed as a school. It is now a private residence and looks substantially the same as when it was built in 1927. The bell tower has been removed, but the base can still be seen on the roofline of the house.
Some of these historic buildings are avaiable to tour or available for programs. Farmingville Historical Society’s 1850 One-Room Schoolhouse is also available for virtual tours.