19th century, 20th century, Early American History, Finger Lakes, FLX, NY, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. Yates County. A one-room schoolhouse



It’s not uncommon to see colonial-era churches, and those from the early days of the republic, surrounded by burial grounds.  In those days, churchyards = graveyards, and no doubt it was a successful business strategy, helping to keep folks on the straight and narrow.   The “rural” or “garden” cemetery movement didn’t begin until the 1830’s.


But it always struck me as odd, driving by this schoolhouse, to see it with its own cemetery, like a perpetual after-school detention for wayward and recalcitrant pupils.

The epitaphs probably have misspellings and tell of fatal miscalculations and deadly grammatical errors, “died of a dangling participle,” etc.


John Smith ~ We’re Just Spitballing Here

“Billy Schmeider ~ Never Added Up to Much ~ And Has Now Been Subtracted” 

“Here Lies Nathaniel Johnson / Under This Slate /  Lies the Late Nate / Always Late / To Class”

Jane Jones ~ Death is a Debt to Nature Due / Which I Have Paid and So Must You / Altho Death / Could Not Thwart / I Still Owe a Book Report




Never send to know for whom the school bell tolls…kind of rang a bell with me, so I never stopped, just thumbed my nose and sped by.

But finally, one autumn day, I pulled over to take a few photos, and found the explanation for the strange combo – – the 1869 building was moved to this site, along Route 14A, in 1991.



After the move and restoration, the county historian wrote “The Baldwin Cemetery directly behind the school…has recently become active again,”  which sounds mildly alarming, if you believe in ghosts, but I suppose it just means, they’d resumed burying people there again.



The new setting seems appropriate, because when I drove out to the original site – – there was another burial ground there, too, the abandoned “West Woods Cronk Cemetery.”

So now I can’t pass by with mentioning  the Cronks, a name I’ve run across before, on farms and roads all around Upstate, and while reading about the early Dutch days of this state, when it was New Netherlands.

When I visited Pixley Falls (north of Rome, NY), there was a historical marker not too far away, for an old-time countryman named Hiram Cronk.

Even though he was a small-scale farmer, in an area that seems like the hind end of beyond, when he died in 1905, Hiram rated a funeral procession through Manhattan, and reportedly 50,000 people paid their respects as he lay in state in New York’s City Hall.

It was not just his extraordinary age.  When he passed away, at the age of 105, Hiram was the last veteran of the war of 1812.  He’d joined the army on August 4, 1814, as a drummer boy.

Another branch of the family kept a longer version of the original Dutch name, something like Krankheyt, and eventually produced a famous newscaster of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, Walter Cronkite.

And that’s the way it is.


About 20% of people in Yates County are Amish, and many others are Mennonites. Two buggies going up the road in front of the schoolhouse.



37 thoughts on “Walks Around the Finger Lakes. Yates County. A one-room schoolhouse

  1. Thanks, Robert, for this interesting information. 🙂 Btw, we have a lot of historical schools with just one classroom around here, among others the school LBJ went to.

  2. George says:

    It’s normal for churches to have graveyards over here, though not schools admittedly. I love your imagined epitaphs (or at least I hope they’re imagined). A graveyard becoming active again conjures images of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

    • Hi Neil – Yes, I’ve read about him, and it sounds like everyone trusted, respected, and also liked him. I don’t think there’s anyone around at this time who commands such a positive reaction.

  3. Last year I bought a little book of humorous or otherwise interesting inscriptions found on tombstones. As far as I recall, however, none took a schoolhouse turn at the end. (And if only I could recall the name of the book, or where I put it, I’d tell you.) Especially in British English, a churchyard is still a cemetery.

    As soon as you mentioned the Cronks I thought about Walter Cronkite, only to find that you then mentioned him, too. The Dutch original, krankheit means ‘sickness, weakness’ — hardly an auspicious family name. In addition to “And that’s the way it is,” Walter Cronkite was known for “And you are there.” “You are there was the name of a television show from the 1950s, with Cronkite at the host. The program acted like a news show and took viewers to the scene of famous or infamous events:


    • Thanks, Steve, I hadn’t known about that program, I’ll see if anyone’s put up videos from the shows. I’ve seen clips of Cronkite announcing Kennedy’s death, Vietnam, and of course the Apollo landing, he had a very pleasant, avuncular manner.

      • I know about “You Are There” because I used to watch it as a kid. I found the episode about the Chicago fire [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebLhijWHB6g] and the signing of the Declaration of Independence [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wAO2gAz9qc] (there’s a pause in that one, but the program does continue).

      • I laughed at your epitaphs, especially, “We’re just spitballing, here.” That points to another reason to stick with pen and paper in the classroom. Chewed up bits and bytes just don’t have the same effect. Perpetual detention made me smile, too. I had a couple of grade school classmates who spent most of their time in detention, but even they got out eventually.

        I grew up watching You Are There. It was must-see tv in our house, along with Kraft Television Theater, Dragnet, and Alfred Hitchcock.

        I really like the cobbled base of that building. Your description of how they were constructed brought to mind the expression about something being “cobbled together.” Now, it makes sense — it doesn’t have anything to do with shoe cobblers!

        • That’s great, right, hard to get digital bits & bytes to stick to the cafeteria ceiling.
          There’s a few cobblestone houses in Wisconsin, but I read that the biggest concentration of them are in the Rochester, NY area – -I’m going to take some shots when I’m there for Thanksgiving.

    • And you know what? I too have a little book of interesting epitaphs from old tombstones, and I too have no idea where it is. Should be easy to spot, I think the book is shaped like an old tombstone, with a curved top, but I cannot find it. Maybe something mysterious is happening with this books!

  4. This is a fabulous post I laughed out loud at least twice! And I enjoyed reading about the local history of the Cronk family. Here we have the Yake family. One of the contemporary Yake women lives across the road from us. She came from a large family of 15 and she is married to a Mennonite gentleman. They are farmers and drive cars and combine harvesters so they are not the carriage driving Mennonites. Thanks for your post I enjoyed it !

  5. The price I paid for being late in writing a comment is that everything that I wanted to say has been said before. So I just say that I find it curious that the writings on the tombstones were clever statements very much linked to school work although the cemetery did not originally belong to the schoolhouse.

  6. Darts and Letters says:

    Cronks reminded me of conks, the brown seeds inside the spiky green things that fall out of Aesculus hippocanastum. Sorry, there I go again throwing around my Latin 🙂 I didn’t get to see Cronkite on the news ever because we only had reception for two channels (ABC and PBS) when I was growing up. My grandparents next door had a tall tv antennae on their trailer and got channels pretty good but they must have preferred ABC and NBC.

    It’s really nice how they did the cobbles for the school foundation after the relocation. Whatever community or other source of funding allowed for the move could’ve easily plopped it onto some plain cinder block and just left it like that but this is much nicer.I’ve always loved masonry with cobbles and river rocks, I’m going to do a bird bath one of these days with a cobble base.

    Happy Monday.

  7. Happy Monday – I’m going to see if I’ve got any shots of cobblestone houses, there are still a lot of them around central/western NY. – the whole house done that way, I mean. Almost always, somebody sorted the rocks, so they’re sized amazingly consistently, and sometimes they’d put in a course of pebbles for decoration. Don’t know how they did all that sorting (just eyeballed them? or rolled them down a slide with sized holes in it? or heavy wire screens, like for gravel?) The oldtime lime mortar is amazing, these are all pre-Civil War, and mostly it’s held up through all those freeze-thaw cycles. Sometimes when they did a Greek Revival house with cobblestones, it came out kind of ugly, like troll-built, but mostly they’re really nice. I’m headed to NY for Thanksgiving, I’ll take a couple of snaps if I don’t have any.

    • Darts and Letters says:

      I love the cobblestone houses. That’ll be neat to see what you find. Around here it’s mainly porches done up. The craftsmanship will vary somewhat but as a general rule the masonry has stood the test of time even if the artistry left a little something to be desired. Obviously, we have nothing near as old as you’ll find commonplace.

      • I’ll definitely drive around and take some photos. Those and the octagon houses are pretty cool, I know there’s a cobblestone octagon house (to combine both fads) somewhere near Binghamton, but I’ve never seen it.

  8. Interesting name. Krankheit in German means sickness or illness. “Cronkheyt” would be an accurate transliteration of the correct German pronunciation. (BTW, “hospital” is Krankenhaus.) In the middle ages, when people only had one name, people with the same name were differentiated with epithets — John the lame, Red (haired) Mary, Oliver Bignose, etc. Sometimes one man’s epithet became the family surname (Italian surnames like “Malatesta” (bad head) and Buonorotti (good breaks) are cases in point.) I wonder if an ancestor was given the epithet “sickly” — Krankheit. I also wonder if your Dutch folks were actually Deutsch, like the Pennsylvania “Dutch,” who are, in fact, of German origin.

    • Thank you for your comment, very interesting re the derivation of the name. The family seems to have had quite a healthy growth in the New World soil!
      Yes, New Netherlands was a very interesting and polyglot place. The Dutch West India Co. had a hard time persuading anyone to risk their necks in a helterskelter colony, when there was wealth flowing into the homeland, and focus on Indian Ocean trade, etc. many immigrants weren’t Dutch.
      My father’s family had both Dutch and “Penna. Deutsch” members, although the “Dutch” family was originally Danish, and had only lived in Holland a couple of generations. Once in the colonies, different branches of the family adopted different anglicized spellings of the surname (which I don’t use here on WP). The Dutch & Deutsch overlapped in the Delaware Valley, etc. and their Reformed churches were the first to merge in the post-colonial period.
      There’s a family in a nearby town, of Italian descent, whose name is “Venticinque” or something close to that, and I’ve met a couple of them – -they know it’s “25” but have no idea why.

  9. Hey, what’s up? I once found a 1800s schoolhouse next to a graveyard near (I think) Keeseville, NY … wondered about it: turns out it was a church originally, then when the church was too small to accommodate the local population, the town built a new church and converted the old one into a school. The folks in the graveyard wanted to stay put, apparently.

    I also found one near Peru that I wrote about a couple years ago (see https://daleducatte.com/2018/07/05/school-zone-one-room-schoolhouse-in-northern-new-york/) … it’s almost identical to yours, right down to the red color, the white trim, and the stonework foundation. Schoolhouse Red must be an actual color!

    • Oh, excellent! I wonder if the kids found it spooky. I grew up next to an oldtime burial ground, and it never bothered me, basically like a park with a huge oak tree.
      And I’d forgoten there was a Peru. NY. That’s a really quaint-looking example, I really like it.
      I’m looking at the empty belfry, it reminded me, somewhere north of there, maybe near
      near Châteauguay, QC there’s an outdoor collection of old schoolhouse and church bells, that they let you ring.

  10. pinklightsabre says:

    That’s a great, joyful lead up Robert. I like the phrase “foxed” for the book pages but prefer where you went with the monk fish. Such playful levity, thanks for this…

    • Thank you, Lynn, I grew up next to an old churchyard like that, and sometimes stop by when I see one out in the country, to look the names and epitaphs.
      I don’t take photos of the Amish usually, I’ve heard they don’t like it, but the buggies were far away and figured it wouldn’t bother them. Their #’s in NY are increasing pretty steadily, I know there’s 12,000 in WI, but I haven’t been out in the country much and haven’t run across any yet.

  11. I think I left the page before my comment was posted…what did I say? That this is well done, and the Jane Jones epitaph reminded me of so many I saw in old cemeteries, very true-to-life, or maybe not. And that I love that final photo. 🙂

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