In the Days of the Old One-Room Schoolhouse

Footnotes to Long Island History

In The Days of the Old One Room Schoolhouse


Thomas R. Bayles

         A typical example of the old one room schoolhouse in which most of the boys and girls of small communities received their education during the last century is shown in the picture at the right. This schoolhouse was located in the present Wes Middle Island district No. 16 just east of the Presbyterian church, and was built about 1813.

        The earliest education movement in Middle Island is reported in 1800. When Mr. Hubbard "frequently taught social and business meetings." This is supposed to have been the beginning  of the first school. The Rev. Ezra King also taught pupils at his home on the corner opposite the church.

       When the town  was divided into School districts in 1813 this district was formed as No. 11, "to embrace the inhabitants of the North part of Middleton and Swezeytown." During the early years the district was known as "Middle Island Church District No. 11." On October 24, 1842, it was changed to District No. 16 and has been so known since that time.

      The school census of 1818 reported 72 children of school age which was then 5 to 15 years. As most of these early school buildings were not over 20 by 24 feet in size it may be wondered how so many children could be accommodated in one room. This is explained by the custom of the older pupils attending school during the winter months when the farm work was slack and the smaller children coming during the spring and fall when the weather was good. In this way probably no more than one half the total number registered attended at one time.

     A high slanting desk was attached to the wall and extended around the sides and end of the room, at which the pupils had to stand in order to use it. For seats sawed slabs from the local mill, with two legs at each end were used. These of course had no back. Heat was furnished in the first years by a fireplace at one end of the room and in later years by a stove with a long firebox that took in a large chunk of wood and threw out lots of heat. Plenty of heat was needed to offset the cracks around the side of the building.

      School was usually held eight or nine months of the year, and the monthly pay of the teacher in those days was about $8 to $9 dollars which also probably included board as the custom of "boarding around" prevailed at the time.

      Among the heads of families residing in the present limits of this district in 1818 were the following: Albert S. Davis, Sylvanus Overton, Isaac Hulse, John Buckingham, Daniel Overton, Israel Smith, Daniel Petty, Lewis Ritch, Isaac Gerard, George Brown, Gershom Overton, Benjamin Hallock, William Swezey, Nathaniel Hudson, John Hudson, Daniel Woodhull, James Swezey, Stephen Swezey and Jonathan Edwards.

         The old schoolhouse was abandoned in 1914, after having served its purpose well for hundred years and a new one was built in that year a short distance north on the Swezey town road. This was an up-to-date building containing one classroom. Which was sufficient for the needs of the district at that time. No great bond issue was sold to finance the construction of this building as it was built and paid for in one year. The old building was sold to Daniel R. Davis of Coram who moved it to his farm for as a tenant house. Several years later it burned down.

     About five years ago the school was closed by a vote of the district and all the pupils were sent  to school in Port Jefferson by bus. During the summer of 1947 the present  building and land was sold at auction and purchased by Christian Krabbe for $3,200, which was about three times the original cost in 1914. At the present time the district has no building and owns no property although the school population is growing rapidly caused by the growth of the Gordon Heights development.

         According to a report in the Advance of April 14, 1877, the number of children of school age in the district in that year was 46, and the daily average attendance was 17, the salary paid of that teacher for that year was $112.36 and $1.55 was allowed for library purposes. In 1947 $13,710 was raised by the district for tuition and bus transportation of the pupils to the school at Port Jefferson which is more than it cost to run all the schools in Brookhaven town in 1877.

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