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Middle Island History Repeats Itself

Footnotes to Long Island History

MIDDLE ISLAND HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

MAY 19 1960

by

Thomas R. Bayles


         It was back in 1872 when the little one room school in Ridge was build on Middle Country road on a half acre of land donated to the district by William Sidney Smith of Longwood, which lies south of Ridge and north of Yaphank. Now history repeats itself as Elbert C. Smith, the present owner of the Longwood estate is donating 50 acres of land to the Middle Island Central School district to locate the proposed new $3,000,000 junior and senior high school. This tract of land is on the south side of Longwood road a short distance west of the main entrance to the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and nearly opposite the old Manor house built in 1790 by William Smith, son of Judge William Smith of the Manor of St. George, Mastic.

       This proposed school site is a part of the immense tract of land purchased by Col. William Smith from the Indians in 1691 known as the Manor of St. George and extended from the Middle of the Island south to the ocean and from Carman's River on the west to the Mastic River on the east. A patent was issued for this tract by the King of England through his agent, Gov. Fletcher of New York in 1693.

       Elbert C. Smith who is donating this school site is a great grandson of William Sidney Smith who was born at Longwood in 1796, and a direct descendant of Col. William Smith who was the first mayor of Tangier Africa, and came to America in 1686 and settled on Strong's neck in Setauket. Elbert C. Smith who lived in California, inherited the estate at Longwood after the death of Miss Helen Smith in 1955. He and his wife were both teachers in the public schools and colleges of California before coming here. They now live on the ancestral estate with their five children and Mr. Smith is president of the school board of the Middle Island Central School District of Ridge, Yaphank, East and West Middle Island, Coram and west Yaphank.

       The school population of these districts has grown from a total for the six districts of about 100 pupils in 1900 to over 1,800 at the present time and at the present rate of growth will reach 3,000 by 1965. About 550 junior and senior high school students attend the Port Jefferson schools as they have been doing for many years but Port Jefferson will not accept any more students from these districts, which leaves no choice but to build a high school here as proposed to take care of the rapidly expanding school population.

       Brookhaven Town was first divided into school districts in 1813 and within a few years small one room schoolhouses about 20 by 24 feet in size were built in each of the districts mentioned. These had a fireplace in one end at first, and later on stoves which took in large chunks of wood and threw out lots of heat which was necessary to offset the cold air coming in around the sides of the building. High slanting desks were built around the room, at which the pupils stood and in the center were benches made from slabs sawed at the Yaphank saw mill, with wooden pegs in the ends for legs and with no backs.

       Only about half the enrolled pupils attended school at one time as the older boys went during the winter months when the farm work was slack, and the smaller children attended during the open season, as they had to walk some as much as two miles to school. The teacher taught all grades and about 75 years ago received eight to ten dollars a week. Before the school districts were formed not much attention was paid to education by the town. In Middle Island, the Rev Ezra King, pastor of the Presbyterian church, taught pupils at his home across the road from the church around 1810, and similar instruction was given in other places.

       The one room school in Coram was built in 1900 to replace the first one and was used until the new one was  built now serves as a library. In west Yaphank the present one room school was built in 1907, after the previous one burned down. It has been closed for several and all the pupils sent to Port Jefferson, The original school house in West Middle Island stood east of the Presbyterian Church and served until 1914, when a new one was built a short distance north on Church Lane. This was closed and all the pupils sent to Port Jefferson for several years before the new school was built in 1957.

       In East Middle Island the old school house stood on the Yaphank road a short distance south of the post office and was in use until the present school was built further south on the same road in 1928 at a cost of $19,000. A school house was built in Yaphank in 1854 to replace the first one that stood a quarter of a mile north of the corner on the road to Middle Island. The second one was octagonal in shape and was used until a new one was built in 1926, which is still in use and recently the Charles E. Walters school was built. In Ridge the school built in 1872 replaced the original one that was located in the hollow to the east about across from the state game farm. This was used until the present school built a few years ago.

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