Town Of Newburgh Piece Of Schoolhouse History
By Newburgh Town Historian, Alan Crawford
Let’s drift back say 100 to 150 years ago. Sure, we had snow and bad weather. People survived and made do. Children walked to school. Really, they did, for the younger readers perusing this. Seriously, they did. And some had two or three miles to go, each way. So, they bundled up and stayed warm. I’m sure the exercise and walking helped. Now, most of the small communities which made up our Town had their own, one room schoolhouses. The entire class, a combination of all ages, was only two or three dozen students. As they arrived, they would assist the school teacher getting the potbelly stove fired up, bringing wood in from outside. And, this wood hadn’t been dropped off by a tree service. No, it was provided by community members and parents of the students. One of the best means of heat. They got warm many times over. First, when they cut it, second, when they split it, third, when they stacked it, and finally, when they burned it. Doesn’t get any better. These one room structures were by no means the air tight, well insulated building we are accustomed to today. They were drafty and cold. The students closest to the stove would be toasted while those in the rear would still be wearing their winter gear to remain warm. Most school days were from 8 AM to 4 PM. This gave the children the time to get up early, help with the farm chores, have breakfast, and then walk to school. It got them home before dark, in time for more chores, and then supper. Remember, it wasn’t the flick of a switch to turn on lights. You had perhaps only a candle, early on. Later years would see the availability of kerosene increase and lamps would be used in the evenings.
So what was taught? It was a mix of really a little bit of everything. The basic three R’s…reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. History involved lectures and discussions. And something which is being lost, cursive writing. Slate chalk boards were the norm. The older students helped the younger ones and knowledge trickled down. Advancement was accomplished as certain skill sets were mastered.
This sense of camaraderie and family kept the entire assembly focused and moving forward. The parents wanted their children to be successful and were an integral part of the program. They supplied the school with whatever it needed. In the winter, the fire wood was obvious. The building still need upkeep. The lawns didn’t mow themselves and they didn’t have maintenance staffs. Everyone pitched in and did what they could. Fund raisers by the ladies help provide materials as well. The entire population of our Town was between 4,000 and 5,000. The local families surrounding the school made up its support system.
As a child, I could have attended the one room Leptondale Schoolhouse as some of my friends did, but instead, Mom insisted I go to Ostrander Elementary. The Town was beginning to grow after WWII and standards of education were expanding. More than just the basics were being taught and high school, even college, were achievable.
Caption: Photo of the old Savilton (Rossville) Schoolhouse. It’s long gone, but not the lessons taught to the children.