Wood, brick, or cobblestone, one-room schoolhouses still dot the Finger Lakes region.
Some are simply boarded up and slowly collapsing. Every week, I used to drive past an abandoned school on Route 96, a small but handsome brick one, like the photo below, but it has fallen down and disappeared, since I was in high school.
Some have graduated to new roles, like this first photo, as cottage homes, or farm storage, like the second.
I haven’t known that many people, who attended one, but have read of countless famous folks who did, and they all have nothing but praise and appreciation for the experience.
But they’re really not completely ancient history, are they. One of my teachers, who retired three years ago, attended a school like this in Cayuga County. And there’s plenty of Amish schools all around us that are still active, for grades 1-8. One of my grandmothers, who graduated from teachers college around 1950, was still required to do a term of student teaching in a one-room school. But there are only a few hundred left in operation in this country.
I’d thought Herbert Hoover held the record, but actually Lyndon Johnson was, I think, our last “one-room schoolhouse” President.
LBJ, like nine other Presidents, did some teaching himself, before going into politics. And he achieved some important gains for education, like Head Start.
He briefly attended a one-room school at the age of four, and when he signed the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” in April 1965, he was sitting next to that school again.
“In this one-room schoolhouse Miss Katie Deadrich taught eight grades at one and the same time. Come over here, Miss Katie, and sit by me, will you? Let them see you. I started school when I was four years old, and they tell me, Miss Kate, that I recited my first lessons while sitting on your lap.” LBJ
But according to his biographers, apparently his conception of “domestic affairs” was a pretty broad, er…I mean, a pretty broad one, so to speak, and I think Miss Katie might have been a tad dismayed, if she’d learned just how many women LBJ invited to sit in his lap, throughout his married life.
I doubt public schools would hang these pictures anymore – – bare feet! no adult supervision! dangerous single-sex game! head coverings! unstructured play! possible bees in the wildflowers! children having fun! etc.
I love both versions. The mountains make it look more secluded, like it’s probably a small community, in a little valley.
In the other one, without the mountains hemming them in, the scene looks giddier somehow, and the open sky makes it seem like one of those kids might just escape the gravity of their little town, and get airborne, if they can just spin fast enough.
47 thoughts on “Walks Around The Finger Lakes. April, Italy Valley Schoolhouse #4”
I found it very touching how President Johnson gave honour and credit to his former teacher in a one-room school. Before I retired, I taught in the two-room school here in Fauquier, BC. I was lucky that I had only grades 4 to 7 in my classroom. The school is closed now but is still in use for community functions.
Thank you, Peter, that’s great to hear. I haven’t read a post where you describe your teaching days, have you posted about it in the past, before I’ve been on WP? I went to a public school with a “multi-age” program, where two grades worked together, and older kids assisted younger ones, etc. and it was a wonderful experience. I’ve always wondered what it would’ve been like, to have gone to a school with even more grades in the same classroom.
A couple of years ago I published the story of the events of my childhood from the time of the expulsion of the Germans from the eastern provinces to the moment when I immigrated to Canada. You find this account in Book 1 under the tab: Klopp Story. Book 2 still needs to be written. So you haven’t missed anything. Best wishes! Peter
My mom went to a one-room school (at the end of our dirt road) until she graduated to junior high. It had been abandoned for years by the time I came along but us kids used to crawl through a hole in the back so we could play inside. Quite a few one-room schools given over to home residences, around my folks. Many pretty badly remuddled but plenty tastefully preserved in their new life. I love that little red school above, I know the stovepipe probably got added later but I’ve always really liked how they look, there’s so much character about ’em.
One of my sis and brothers read the The Years of LBJ books and they told me it was pretty fascinating read. I like the first, Philadelphia version of Snap the Whip better but the “less regional” one is a lot cheerier, to me. do they call a valley a holler at all in the east or is that strictly a southern thing?
Hi Jason – You’ve mentioned coming from Upper Penninsula, was/is your family there farmers? Did your mom enjoy the one-room grade school?
No, I think “holler” is Tennessee/Kentucky. Some folks from there moved to my dad’s town, in the ’70’s, to work for a big pre-fab housing company that operated there for a few years, and they say that.
Nope, we’re just trolls, grew up under the bridge. Used to be farming on the side with Continental Motors, other auto and labors. Oh, I think my mom liked it pretty good at that school. She has a lot of funny stories. It was the land before time up where they were. She didn’t even have indoor plumbing at her house until junior high. That was the late 50s going into the 60s.
Do you call the U.P. people yoopers? Moving to this region, it’s a whole different vocabulary sometimes. Until last year, one of my aunts was living in an old farmhouse, in Maryland, and her husband was the guy who installed the indoor plumbing, for the family who lived there before, when those folks got elderly. The male farmers would still never use the new bathroom, they thought it seemed gross, to go to the bathroom inside the house.
But holler is exactly what I was thinking, a small insular valley. If insular is the right word.
Very nice post Robert, and interesting. My earliest learning was done remotely, through Correspondence School and therefore supervised by my mum. From 8-10 yrs old I attended a small country school: a single-building, two-classroom affair with small staffroom plus space for girls/boys toilets and area in between to hang up satchels/bags and coats. Further away, up the driveway was the headmasters house. Quite quaint really but a nice place.
Thank you, Liz, for your interesting response, and that does sound nice. My sister has been telling me, how many of her classmates in college were home-schooled, all the way through high school, and they seem to have gotten fine educations. Almost all of them had exchange clubs, not sure what to call them, where they’d share some “class time” and socialize a bit, with other home-schoolers. I went to a small school, not in the country, but what had been a tiny school district, squeezed between two towns, so it was called “Border City.” It was “multi-age,” where two teachers worked together, and sometimes we moved back & forth from 3rd & 4th grade classrooms, depending on how you were progressing in a particular subject. It was great, we loved it.
That flexible approach to education sounds a wonderful process for learning and very supportive.
It really is a wonderful concept, for both teachers and students. My sister & I both loved it.
Now I am wishing that I had a chance to sit in the Ainsley school for a day when I was a kid in Geneva.
I know it was grade school, but don’t remember exactly when they brought us over. I was going to the Border City school, which had just been absorbed into the Waterloo district. My (younger) sister didn’t go there, but was taken instead to the Rose Hill Mansion, where they had a cooking class. She still uses the simple cake recipe they learned there, I think it’s called a 1-2-3 cake. I was amazed when I read they were still using that school into the 1950’s, it’s only a couple minutes south of town, on PreEmption Rd.
Oh this is stirring up some ghosts for me. I just looked at Google maps and couldn’t find any possibility of border city schools to existing and couldn’t find the Ainsley school on PreEmption Road. I vaguely remember 1-2-3 cake as a kid. I went to North Street school for K-3, West Street school for grades 4 and 5, High Street school for grade 6 and then Geneva junior high for the first part of grade 7 before we moved to California. The original North Street school is no more, and what was the Geneva junior high is now called North Street school. I see that the High Street school building is still there, but it’s no longer labeled as anything. The more things change, the less they stay the same.
Border City School was sold some years ago, to an evangelical church. They also sold the Main St. school, on Lafayette Park in Waterloo, to a property developer.
So sorry, typo on the name, it’s spelled Ansley. The school is 4921 County Rd 6 (PreEmption Rd) at the corner of Reed Rd, and isn’t on Ansley Rd, although there’s an Ansley Farm on Reed, too. (Or if you were heading south on Rte 14 along the lake, it’s the turn before you get to Kashong Point.)
I don’t think directions are really my strong point!
A-ha! Found it! Thank you.
Your comment on school authorities’ worries that children are in danger when they play in traditional ways reminded me of a sarcastic definition by H.L. Mencken: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
Ha! 🙂 Very pithy. And funny!
I know Steve G. was saying there’s an issue with comments, I’m having trouble, too. I have to click into “Comments” to see them.
And paradoxically I’m seeing the comments for this post of yours right here where I normally see them.
Mencken wrote a lot of good stuff. In the same vein as his definition is Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary. If you’re not already familiar with it, you may want to check it out:
Seems to be functioning OK this afternoon.
Yes, I’ve read the Dictionary – funny but really steeped in bitterness. I was excited to find an old movie (fictional), with Gregory Peck playing Bierce “The Old Gringo” (I think) and Jane Fonda. But the reviews weren’t encouraging, so I’ve never watched it.
I’ve also got a collection of his Civil War writings, some of which are amazingly graphic and bloodcurdling for their time. Much more so than Crane’s “Red Badge of Courage” which is almost always the one people mention for its realism.
I really enjoyed this post. I did not go to a one room school house . But to the south of us there is a huge tract of land that was bought up by the Federal government for an airport. This was in the 1970s. Protests stopped the airport and the land is now a “green space”. Much of it is farmed. And the houses that remain are rented out. I have friends who live in what would have been a one room schoolhouse.
Thank you, Anne, that’s interesting!
There’s some waterfront on Lake Ontario, that was a similar situation, on a smaller scale. The land was purchased years ago, for a nuclear power plant, but plan was abandoned, and a chunk of the land is now a preserve. But just one farmhouse, now HQ for the preserve, no schoolhouses that I’ve seen.
This post reminds me of the Little House on the Prairie series. Laura Ingalls Wilder left a great perspective on the one-room schoolhouse with Miss Beadle handling her classroom. I’m sure there were challenges during these pioneer-like times, but it also somehow seems more unified and bonding. Having taught first grade for 17 years I can’t imagine how teachers were able to teach all grade levels, but it is wonderful to imagine children all together, learning and playing. Love this post.
Thanks so much, so glad you enjoyed it.
We have one such schoolhouse still standing outside of town. The Stanstead County Women’s Institute still maintains it and opens it up from time to time for modernday school kids to experience what it was like. Women’s Institutes, of course, have mostly gone the way of one-room schoolhouses.
I heard of those Institutes from reading WWI history, and thought they were a British/Presbyterian thing, kind of like the Women’s Clubs or “Chautauquas” they used to have around here, But I just looked on Wikipedia, and see the Institutes were a Canadian invention. Geneva (the “big” town next to mine) has a very active League of Women Voters, that sponsors talks, etc. and my grandfather was there all the time. He said, to meet chicks. (Actually he was one of their “Eyes on the Court” keeping the local judges & JP’s honest.) The Amish one-room schools are still going, of course. I feel for those kids, when it’s below zero and they’re running for the outhouse.
We have plenty of those schoolhouses still here in Gillespie County [ https://historicschools.org/ ], and in nearby Stonewall, on the LBJ Ranch, we have the one-room school [ https://is.gd/CeNaOF ] LBJ himself went to.
I really got to liking this man after I had moved here and got to learn more about him.
He was a chronic womanizer, but also achieved a lot of good stuff, and really cared about education. We should elect more former teachers!
My take on him: he could be an ornery SOB, but he always was a Mensch.
The one room school seems to be a good use of local resources. No travel. No school bus. Local teacher. Bit tricky if the class is aged between 4 and 16 though.
It seems to have been very successful for many people, which is surprising to me. The teachers must’ve possessed some serious skills.
My great-aunt Inazel taught in an Iowa one-room school. She graduated from the state ‘normal school’ in 1906, and presumably began teaching shortly thereafter. We have a historic one-room school here in town where classes of kids go for the same sort of experience that you had, and they always seem to enjoy it.
In my travels around Kansas, I was amazed by the number of one-room schools that have been preserved. Many of them are stone, which helps. At the Tallgrass Prairie, the Fox Creek school has been restored and preserved, and is part of the attractions that can be visited.
I’ve read that in one-room schools younger children often heard the older ones reciting their lessons (hence: the existence of the “recitation bench”). By the time they reached the upper grades, they’d already picked up a good bit of what they were intended to learn.
I love that painting, and I laughed at the list of activities that would be proscribed today. I know of one private one-room school in Texas that has teeter-totters and a merry-go-round that’s designed to fling weak or unsuspecting children right off as it picks up speed. Now and then I hear a rumor that the grade-schoolers are going to rise up and demand Dodgeball.
I always loved hanging by one hand from the merry-go-round, and then running around the playground once you were good and dizzy. I guess kids crave dizziness, because nobody will buy you a drink when you’re six years old!
somewhere around my parents house, there is an old book full of “recitation pieces” and I think little drawings of how you were supposed to stand, hold out your arms, etc. it’s actually a blast to read something like “The boy stood on the burning deck”
it’s great to hear about all these old schools still standing in Kansas! if I make it down to Ithaca, while I’m visiting here in NY, I’ll go up by the Cornell ornithology place, there’s an octagonal school house near there. people around here were crazy about octagonal buildings, at one time, but I guess most of them have burned down over the years, they usually weren’t made of stone like in Kansas.
I’m a sucker for the Currier & Ives. Nice pastoral piece Homer.
thanks Bill, yeah, we’re all about pastures green in these parts.
For what it’s worth, I attended a two room school for grades 1-4 when we lived on a farm in Minnesota. About halfway through grade four we moved to the “city”, and I’ve been a city slicker ever since. Memories are vague from back then, but I do kinda remember half the room getting instruction at a time.
I’ll be darned. My school was pretty small, but did have six separate classrooms, a tiny cafeteria (that seated one class at a time), the gym teacher’s office was in the hallway to the little gym. Well, you went on to be successful with computer programming, and you’re obviously interested in lots of stuff in the wider world out there, scuba, photography, blogging, etc. so it seems like they must’ve surely started you off on the right foot!
This school did have a cafeteria, but I don’t remember if we did shifts. No gym, but a sizable outside playground. I suspect having my formative years with relatively few friends around did teach me to “entertain” myself, but probably a lot of it is just naturally being a nerd.
I hope you keep photographing these whenever you can. They make a great series and it’s important to document them before they’re gone. I enjoyed the way you interspersed the artwork here, too. A coworker of mine taught in a one-room schoolhouse (maybe they have two rooms, I’m not sure) on a remote island in the San Juan’s. She loved the lifestyle but eventually wanted to get back to a “normal” life. The island is of course, only accessible by ferry, and has no water and no electricity – still! The school’s website says they currently have about 14 students, K-8. Hardy folks!
Interesting! Is it a fishing community?
I’ve always enjoyed daydreaming about “living off the grid,” but don’t think I’d really relish it for more than a month, without electricity or running water. In college, when we read “Walden,” I seemed to be the biggest holdout, against taking the book as a manifesto for ditching civilization for a fantasy of the simple life — we all admired the language of self-reliance, simplicity, communing with nature, self-reflection and spirituality, etc. but people wanted to ignore that Thoreau also enjoyed frequent visitors, and walking to his nearby friends’ houses for a good dinner. That’s not being cynical or dismissive, it’s just recognizing that this was a wonderful experiment and way of learning, and we can appreciate it, and feel inspired to live our life less materialistically, without pretending that he or any of really want to live in primitiveness. Well, sorry, Lynn, you’d better shove me off my soapbox now!! 🙂
Great post, man. Cool photos. So much interesting history in upstate NY. Seeing your photos reminds me of my days roaming NY. Been to every corner at some point. Hope all is well Robert! 😎
Hey Kevin, thanks, all is good, enjoying a month working from home, at my parents’, hope everything’s going great Out West!
I love both versions of that painting too but wouldn’t have been able to articulate why was well as you did. Both of my parents-in-law attended one room schoolhouses, my father in law attending the one that was at the edge of the family farm. A few years back it went up for sale and the family considered buying it but someone else beat them to it. It is a little house, now.
Thank you, Melissa, the one-room schools seem like such an old-fashioned thing, until you realize how many were still in operation until recent times, it’s amazing how many people I’ve run into who went to them.
I’m glad to hear it’s a little house, that’s way better than becoming farm storage or just abandoned. My parents liked for a year in a converted school, but that was a building in a village. Some of the apartments still had blackboards in them.
I agree, it, it made me sad to see that one being used as storage.