Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site

Centennial History of Delaware County, New York : 1797-1897
edited by David Murray, LL.D.

Transcribed by Tamara Sanford


THE PIONEER settlers in Delaware county were almost uniformly intelligent and possessed of the elements of education. The descendants of the Hollanders and Huguenots who came into Middletown although not at first hand from Holland, yet they brought with them the traditionary regard for schools, and early established them in their midst. It will be remembered that the first outbreak of the Revolution in Middletown was among the schoolboys at the school, where the one called the other a "rebel." The New Englanders who came to Harpersfield, Roxbury, Franklin and Delhi, always after becoming settled in their homes made it their first duty to provide schools for their children. Nor were the Scotch immigrants, who came into Andes, Delhi and Bovina, behind the other nationalities in organizing schools, and maintaining them for the benefit of the rising generation.

The State of New York almost as soon as it was constituted, began to legislate concerning education. In 1795 the sum of $50,000 annually was granted for five years for the encouragement of public schools. In 1811 five commissioners were appointed to organize a school system. In 1812 a public school system was organized with Gideon Hawley as superintendent. District schools were instituted to be mainly supported by rate bills. In 1821 the office of State superintendent was abolished and the administration of the school system entrusted to the Secretary of State. In 1849 a free school law was passed and submitted to the people who sustained it by a large majority. In 1851 the free school law was repealed and rate bills again introduced. Finally in 1867 a free school law was again enacted which with occasional amendments has remained to the present. No dues are required from the attending children. The schools are supported, first, by public moneys received from the State, and second, by moneys raised by local taxation.

It may not be uninteresting to recall the district school of the early decades of the present century. It may safely be asserted that nearly all the schoolhouses of that time in the county were of logs. Indeed in the annual report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for 1892, there were still forty-five log school-houses in the State. And at a time when the greater part of the dwelling houses were of logs it is not probable that the school-houses would be better. The log schoolhouse was a building almost square. It was made by notching the logs into each other and laying them so that the successive logs would be as close to each other as possible. The spaces between the logs were then plastered both on the inside and outside with a mortar made of common clay.

A chimney was built at one end of the oblong building, and an open fireplace furnished the only means of heating the room. A door was cut in the logs at one side of the chimney, and the corner on the other side was used for the storage of wood. A window was cut in the logs opposite to the chimney, which furnished the only light for the little room. Along this end was placed a high slanting shelf at which to write, with a slab seat for the accommodation of the writers. The seats for the other scholars were placed on the three sides of the room, but not across the chimney end. They also were roughly hewn slabs, each supported by four wooden legs. The teacher had the dignity of having a little separate table and chair, which stood at the end of the scholars' bench on one side. There was an open space in the middle of the floor, where the scholars stood up to recite their spelling and reading. The girls sat on one bench and the boys on another; and it was one of the terrible punishments for a mischievous boy to be sent to a seat among the girls.

In the wintertime this school was attended by the larger boys and girls, as well as by a part of the smaller ones; but in the summer the work on the farms kept the older children busy, and then only the little ones were able to attend school. In consequence of this the teacher in winter was always a man and in the summer a woman. They were respectively called Master and Mistress. The wages* of the winter teacher were probably about $10 to $15 a month for three months. And the wages of the young woman in summer were about a dollar a week. In both cases the teachers besides their wages in money, usually "boarded round"; spending about a week at each of the families in the district. (* In a history of the Settlement at Fall Clove in Andes there is a record that Robert Craig in 1842 was hired to teach the district school for three months at $12 a month; also that Miss More was paid $17 for teaching seventeen weeks. This same record also gives the information that $34.34 was received from the State as public money for the support of the school; and $8.63 as library money. History of Delaware County, 1889, p. 109).

School life at this little country schoolhouse was most delightful and fascinating. There was a little brook near by where the boys used to wade and float their make-believe boats. There was a forest where they wandered, climbing the trees, picking wild flowers, and drinking from a cool spring. There was a wild honeysuckle shrub which grew in these woods, and in the season the boys would bring back from their excursions a little bunch of honeysuckle blossoms for the school mistress, which to their great delight she would put in an old ink stand and keep on her little table.

The school assembled at nine o'clock and was dismissed at four. There was a short recess at eleven o'clock; and then at twelve there was an intermission of an hour. Some of the scholars who lived near went home and got their dinner; but most of them brought lunch baskets with them, and at this intermission proceeded to enjoy what their mothers had provided for them. By far the most interesting part of school was this intermission. Nothing ever tasted so good as these simple lunches of bread and butter, a slice of cold meat and perhaps a raw apple. No enjoyment was ever so intense as the plays and races and frolics which were indulged in during this noon hour. Although ball playing was not reduced to the system which has since made it the national game, I venture to assert that these school-boys got as much pleasure out of playing "two old cat" as the great professionals now derive from the most scientific game.

There is a queer subject of regretful remembrance which has remained with me to this day. Once the supply of lunch was more than I could dispose of. On my way home I hid a surplus piece of bread and butter in the chinks of a stone wall beside the road. No doubt the squirrels found it and made short work of my surplus lunch. But for a long time it worried me to think that I bad thrown away this good bread and butter.

The plays and frolics outside of school were, as I have said, far more enjoyable than the exercises inside. There was a blackberry patch by the side of the road where we stopped to gorge ourselves. The patch was on the land of a farmer who being old and fat was accustomed to sit on the porch of his house. He would call to us to "clear out"; but knowing that he was too fat to chase us and too good-natured to catch us, we did not remit our berry picking until we had enough.

What shall I say of what we learned in this little country school? Reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic, were the subjects on which we were employed. Webster's spelling book was the textbook for beginners in reading as well as in spelling. The scholars stood in a row and read or spelled before the teacher. Their ambition was stirred by "going up" and reached its supreme fruition by "standing head". Shame and disappointment followed them as they went down and reached the climax when at last they "stood foot".

Besides the reading matter which was in the spelling book, the older scholars read the English reader. Those who used it will remember the excellent, although somewhat difficult selections of which it was composed. The New Testament was, however, the highest and chief reading book. They skipped the genealogies and some other hard chapters; but the sermon on the mount, and some of the chapters in the gospel of St. John were read and re-read until the reading was half of it reciting from memory.

Writing was only second to reading in respect to the amount of attention which it received. Copybooks with engraved copies had not yet been introduced in this country school. It was the duty of the teacher to set a copy at the top of each page. The pens were made from goose-quills, which preceded in universal use the more modern steel pen. It was quite an important and not always an available accomplishment of a country schoolteacher to make good quill pens. We still have a reminiscence of this ancient and necessary skill in pen making in the word "pen-knife", which persists in being used, although the thing itself has passed away forever.

Ink too was not so easily obtained as now. In the stationery stores ink-powder was sold, which could be mixed with vinegar and water and thus made into a writing fluid. But more often the ink of the country children was made from the sap of the soft maple. This sap was drawn from the tree in the spring, at the same time as the sugar maple is tapped for its sugar-making sap. This sap when exposed to the air becomes black, and when boiled down and treated with copperas makes a dye for coloring black. When it is still further concentrated it forms a very respectable ink. This was what the scholars principally used; but occasionally some high-toned boy put the rest to shame by bringing ink to the school made from the ink-powder which his father had bought.

Arithmetic was never taught in classes. Each scholar proceeded on his own account to cypher through the arithmetic. The book in use during the early part of the present century was Daboll's Arithmetic. It was arranged under successive rules; for example, the rule of addition, the rule of subtraction, the rule of compound numbers, the rule of three, the rule of square root, etc. A scholar was expected to learn each rule by heart, and then work out all the examples under it. The teacher's business was to help him when appealed to. He usually had a manuscript book containing all the examples correctly worked out, to which he turned in case of need.

Here is an advertisement of G. & R. White, 38 Maiden Lane, New York, 1804, enumerating some of the books and articles which were in use during the early part of the century.

Webster's Grammar. Copy-books. Murray's Grammar. Writing Paper. School Master's Assistant. Pen Knives. Cyphering-books. Lottery Tickets and Shares. Copper-plate Copies. Bibles. Ink-powder. Testaments. Dutch Quills. Catechisms. Sealing Wax. Wafers. Morse's Geography. Slate-pencils.

I will close this sketch of the country district school with an incident which I am sure none who experienced ever forgot. The summer school-mistresses were usually young girls and often very bright and winsome; and of course the boys were devoted to them. One of these attractive schoolmistresses was presiding among her uneasy little subjects on a summer afternoon in July. The air grew close and sultry, and the sky became covered with thunderous clouds. A fierce shower broke over the little valley. Lightning fitfully illuminated the dusky interior of the schoolhouse. A deluge of rain poured itself upon the roof and walls, and easily found its way through a hundred gaping cracks. Both mistress and children were thoroughly frightened. They stood about crying piteously and pale with fear. Every blinding flash of lightning, followed almost instantly by the splitting and terrifying thunder, aroused a now paroxysm of weeping.

But the young girl was equal to the occasion. She got the school Bible from her desk and in the darkened room read with trembling emphasis the 18th psalm:

Then the earth shook and trembled: The foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, Because he was wroth. There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, And fire out of his mouth devoured: Coals were kindled by it. * * * * At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, Hail stones and coals of fire, The Lord also thundered in the heavens, And the Highest gave his voice; Hail stones and coals of fire.

And as the comforting verses of the psalm were read the fierceness of the lightning and the rain abated:

With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful; With an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright, With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure. * * * * The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness, For who is God save the Lord? Or who is a rock save our God?

The fright which had disfigured every countenance gradually faded away; and with the sunshine which followed the storm came back the bright cheerfulness which naturally belonged there.

In addition to the district schools which were established everywhere throughout the county, a number of schools of secondary grade have attained much prominence. The oldest of these is the Delaware Academy at Delhi. It was chartered in 1820, General Root being then a Member of Assembly from Delaware county. An appropriation of $6,000 for its benefit was made by the legislature from the proceeds of the sale of the lands of Robert Leake, which had escheated to the State on account of his disloyalty in the Revolutionary war. The site for the first building was given by General Root, adjoining the site of the court house. Here it stood until the street was to be cut through, when the building was moved back to the place where it now stands, occupied for private uses. In 1856 the present superb site was secured, and the three buildings erected, where the Academy has since been conducted. About $40,000 was raised for these purposes, mostly on scholarships. Below is given the successive principals from the establishment of the Academy until the present time.

1. John A. Savage................ 1821-24 2. Frederick A. Fenn............. 1824-26 3. Thomas Farrington............. 1826-27 4. Stephen C. Johnson............ 1827-29 5. Robert Tolefree............... 1829-30 6. William J. Monteith........... 1830-32 7 Rev. Orange Clark............. 1832-34 8. Rev. Ebenezer H. Cressy....... 1834-37 9. Rev. Daniel Shepard........... 1837-46 10. William R. Harper............ 1846-47 11. Merritt G. McKeon............ 1847-54 12. John L. Sawyer............... 1854-63 13. Rev. Silas Fitch............. 1863-67 14. Levi D. Miller............... 1867-69 15. William Wight................ 1869-75 16. Sherrill E. Smith............ 1875-85 17. James 0. Griffin............. 1885-90 18. Willis D. Graves ............ 1890-98

The Delaware Literary Institute at the village of Franklin, was chartered by the legislature in 1835. The sum of $7,000 was raised to purchase a site and erect a building. It was of stone, eighty by forty feet, and four stories high. The following were the rates of tuition at the beginning: For arithmetic, English grammar, geography and other common English branches, $3 a term; for surveying, mensuration and other higher English branches, $4 a term; for Greek, Latin, Algebra and Geometry $5 a term, and for French $2 extra.

Up to 1837 the male and female departments were conducted separately. Since that time they have been classed together. In 1838 the institution was received under the visitation of the Regents of the University and shared in the division of the Literature Fund. In 1851 a ladies boarding hall was erected, of wood fifty- five by forty feet and three stories high. In 1854 the chapel was begun, eighty by forty feet and three stories high. In 1856 the original stone building was destroyed by fire, the insurance being $3,000. And in the same year the chapel building which was in course of erection was blown down, so that it was necessary to rebuild it from the foundation.

The Delaware Literary Institute has from its beginning enjoyed a wide popularity, and has been the pride of the people of Franklin. Below are given the names of the successive principals:

1. Rev. William Frazer .......... 1836-38 2. Silas Fitch, jr. ............. 1838-46 3. Rev. George Kerr, D .......... 1846-60 4. Stephen Holden and Rev. Milan L. Ward .......... 1860-61 5. Oliver W. Treadwell .......... 1862-65 6. George W. Jones .............. 1865-68 7. Rev. Frederick Jewel ......... 1868-69 8. George W. Briggs ............. 1869-74 9. E. M. Rollo .................. 1874-77 10. Charles H. Verrill ........... 1877-97 11. Elmer E. French .............. 1897-

The Fergusonville Academy is situated in the town of Davenport, on the Charlotte creek. It was founded by Rev. Samuel D. and Rev. Sanford I. Ferguson. Their residence in New York city led them to see the importance of providing sweet country school life for the growing boys and girls. The school was begun in 1848 and from the beginning was a great success. It was a purely boarding school, and the instruction was designed to train the boys and girls to habits of virtuous living. Both the founders were clergymen of the Methodist Episcopal church, and their wide acquaintance in their denomination brought to them in this beautiful spot an abundance of patronage.

In 1856 the Ferguson brothers retired from the school which they had founded and James Oliver became the proprietor and manager. The school is now closed.

An Academy was begun in Deposit in 1830, but the building was destroyed by fire in 1835. Again in 1851-2 a seminary was built and incorporated under State laws. But it was not financially successful, and it was sold under foreclosure. The buildings were utilized by the village for a Union School connected with the public school system. With this Union School there is connected an Academical department, where secondary education is imparted.

The Andes Academy was begun in 1847 by William Stoddard. Mr. Henry Dowie bought the building and enlarged it in 1857. In 1862 a stock company was formed to which Mr. Dowie transferred the buildings and improvements. The principals have been in succession as follows:

1. William Wight, who served only a short time. 2. Rev. Peter Smeallie ........... 1862-67 3. Rev. James Smeallie ........... 1867-76 4. Rev. E. H. Stevenson .......... 1876-80

The Stamford Seminary was begun in 1849. A stock company was formed and a building fifty by thirty-two feet was erected. The school was opened in 1849 and John L. Murphy was appointed the first principal. He was a good teacher, but his financial management was not successful. In 1852 E. W. Boies was made principal but he only continued six months. Then Charles G. Churchill bought the property from the corporation, and for a time conducted it as a private enterprise. He in turn sold the buildings to Rev. 0. F. Gilbert who for several years conducted the school with success. But he determined to re-enter the ministry, and sold the school in 1861 to Rev. John Wilde who had before been connected with the Seminary at Deposit.

In 1866 Mr. Wilde sold the Seminary to S. E. Churchill, who made many improvements in the buildings. The school now was in a tide of success. In 1872 the Ulster and Delaware railroad was finished to Stamford, and everything connected with the little village had a boom. Mr. Churchill saw modes of making money more easily than by maintaining a boarding school. So he procured the incorporation of the institution in 1872 in order to enable it to receive the bequest of Samuel Judson for the establishment of a Free Library. The people of Stamford in order to continue their Seminary then raised a sum of money and erected a new and admirable building costing nearly $12,500. Here the Stamford Seminary has rested from its wanderings, and remains as the pride and delight of the little village. It is now a Union Free School.

The village of Walton has been active in providing itself with secondary education. In 1853 an association was formed for the establishment of an Academy. The sum of $3,500 was subscribed for the erection of a building. A site was donated and the building erected. The school was opened in the fall of 1853. In the year 1854 it was incorporated by the Regents of the University. It continued as an incorporated Academy till 1868, when it was transformed into a Union School under the public school system, with an Academical department arranged to give secondary instruction. The principals have been as follows:

1. Eli M. Maynard ................. 1854-57 2. Marcus N. Horton ............... 1857-61 3. Sidney Crawford ................ 1861-64 4. Charles E. Sumner .............. 1864-67 5. Strong Comstock ................ 1867-70 6. T. D. Barclay .................. 1870-72 7. Strong Comstock,(second time)... 1872-92 8. Tames R. Fairgrieve ............ 1892-

Index to Centennial History of Delaware County

Welcome Page of the Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site
a service of the Delaware County Historical Association located at 46549 State Highway 10, Delhi, NY 13753

Online since 1996 - created and managed by Joyce Riedinger