School Used 100 Years

Footnotes to Long Island History

Budget $197 in 1890

School Used 100 Years


Thomas R. Bayles

            While the schools throughout Long Island are having severe growing pains due to the rapid increase of population, it may be interesting to look back and see how the schools were conducted a hundred years ago.

            The school house shown in the picture was located in Middle Island, just east of the Presbyterian church, and was a typical example of the one-room school in use in the smaller communities during the past century.  It was built around 1813.  Before that time there was not much attempt at public education, except where some educate person taught pupils privately, and we find that in 1800 a Mr. Hubbard “frequently taught social and business meetings.”

            When the Town of Brookhaven was divided into school districts in 1813, this district was known as “Middle Island Church District No. 11, to embrace the inhabitants of the north part of Middletown (as Middle Island was then known) and Swezeytown.”  On October 24, 1842, it was changed to District 16, and has been so known since that time.

            A high slanting desk was attached to the wall and extended around the sides of the room, all the pupils had to sand in order to use it.  Sawed slabs from the local saw mill, with two legs at each end, were used for seats.  These, of course, had no backs.  Heat was furnished at first by a fireplace in the end of the room, and in later years by a stove with a long fire box that took in a big chunk of wood and threw out lots of heat which was necessary to combat the cold air coming in the cracks around the sides of the building.

            School was usually held eight or nine months in the year, and one monthly pay in the early years was $8 to $10, which probably included board, as the custom of “boarding around” prevailed at that time.  All of the children in the community did not attend school at one time, as it was customary for the younger children to attend school when the weather was good during the open season, and during the winter when the weather was bad and there was no farm work the older boys came. 

            The old schoolhouse was abandoned in 1914, after having served the community for 100 years, and was sold to Lester H. Davis of Coram, who moved it to his farm for a tenant house.  It burned down several years ago.

            A new school was built a short distance north on the Swezeytown road and no bond issue was sold to finance its construction, as it was built and paid for the same year.  This school was closed about   1943 by a vote of the district and since that time all the children of the district have been sent by bus to Port Jefferson.

            The writer has in his possession a school report, for 1890 of the East Middle Island school, District 17.  This gives the amount raised by tax for the school expenses for that year as 197.10.  Expenses were as follows:

            “Paid Miss V. Hallock for teaching $137.29, paid Edgar Swezey for cords of wood delivered at the schoolhouse $8.00 paid D. F. Raynor for sawing wood $3.00, paid to William Risley for kindling fire 70 mornings at the schoolhouse at 5 cents each time $3.50.”

            This was the total expense of operating the school, for that year. 

            The assessment roll for this district in 1881 shows an assessed evaluation of $39,500, and a school tax rate of 25 cents.  One of the largest taxpayers on this list was Joseph H. Randall, who owned 600 acres of land with a tax of $7.50.  One of the smallest was Telem Smith, with a tax of 25 cents.  There were 37 children of school age registered in the district.

            These figures give some idea of the difference between country schools in those days and the present time.  No transportation was furnished and many of the pupils walked a mile or two to get to school.  Very few attended high school as there were no facilities for getting to one.  The budget expenses for 1954 for this district is over $22,000.  Surely the children get a break if the taxpayer does not.  Time marches on. 

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