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Early Education


Just five short years after the organization of the Town of Northfield in 1789, the pioneer settlers decided that after clearing the land and raising food for their family's needs, education of their children was of utmost importance. In 1794, the two founders of the town, Simon and Israel Stone gave three acres of land for a cemetery to be established and for a log schoolhouse to be built on a hill, one mile south of the present village. This was the first, and for many years the only, school house in all of Northfield and was known then, and now, as District #1. This was not a free school. It was built by subscription, with the settlers taking as many shares as they had children in school. The tuition was $1.00 per child per semester – a hefty sum in those days.

Students came from miles away to attend; it was very important to parents that their children get an education. But it was unsafe to walk long distances through woods and trees where wolves and bears were prevalent. Young children were often boarded with families who lived closer to the school or who had older children to accompany the youngsters whose homes were too far away and too dangerous a walk. Even Mr. John Barrows, the first schoolmaster, boarded with families whose homes were nearby the schoolhouse and that board was considered as part of his salary, which was a whopping $12.00 per month – a sum that was considered extravagant by the settlers.

The original log building was razed in 1806 and replaced by a frame building; that frame building was razed in 1826 when the present brick building was constructed.

According to the 1787 curriculum guide in New York State, two general programs could be offered. One was the classical which included the study of Greek, Latin, geography, history, and later mathematics and science. The second program offered English, French, writing, reading, arithmetic, bookkeeping, and elocution. Probably the latter would have been the course of study in District #1 and 2.

In 1804 a second schoolhouse was built, District #2; also by subscription. This building was not a log structure, but a frame one. Two Pittsfordite businessmen, Mr. Billinghurst and Mr. Agate, were active in this endeavor and the structure was built on what was then Armstrong Hill – now Pittsford Mendon Road. Besides being used as a schoolhouse, it was also to be a meetinghouse. The ceiling was arched to make it better for public meetings even though that added to the cost. Mr. Ball, from Bloomfield, was the teacher. The original building was demolished in 1860 and the present structure at #625 was built with monies from subscribing families. Much changed, it is now a private dwelling.

There are Pittsfordites, now adults, who attended school there until the centralization of the district in 1946, when all of the outlying districts were closed and all school children were absorbed into one school on Lincoln Avenue now the Spiegel Community Center.

In all there were thirteen District schoolhouses before the west woods of Pittsford were annexed and established as the separate town of Henrietta. At that time, the Districts were renumbered and nine schoolhouses and districts remained in what is now Pittsford. Many of them were built of brick and resembled each other. Some of those remain while others have been destroyed either by housing developments or just because they were too deteriorated to restore.

District #3 was and is located at the corner of East Street and Thornell Road. The land for this school was granted by John Gardner and his wife to the Trustees of District #3. The small brick building of Greek revival style was built in 1845. It is a one story, center entrance building with gable end facing East Street. The entrance has a four pane transom over the door.

This District was sometimes called "Johnny Cake School" because of the old name of the area. That label was attached, some sources say, because so much corn was raised on the farms in that area and the farmers wives used much of it for Johnny Cake. It was also reported that those generous farm ladies gave much of that delicacy to workers on the Erie Canal.

School #3 was closed in 1946 when centralization came to Pittsford and the building was sold at auction to William Patterson who converted it into a single family home. The coal bin was made into a kitchen and the one toilet room was converted into a full bath. It continues to be a residence and still resembles its original usage.

District #4 was located on Clover Street about where Hastings Circle cul-de-sac runs off Clover near Lock 32. This land was deeded by Daniel Kingsley and his wife for use specifically as a schoolhouse. Kingsley owned property on each side of Clover Street from about French Road south to the canal.

This building was frame and had a basement that housed the coal furnace. The basement had a door to the outside. There was one front entrance that was used by both boys and girls and opened into a wide hallway that held coats, lunch pails, and boots in the wintertime. A former student reported that the playground had swings and the very best slide in the town.

Classes from first grade to sixth were taught in this District, as were most of the others in town. There was an area for a library near the wide hallway and in close proximity to the entrance to the basement. Older students were asked to tend the coal furnace – either by adding fuel or by "shaking" it. A Mr. Dehmler, who lived nearby, was the custodian during the years of late 1930's until the closing of the District.

Of course students walked to school and some came from as far away as Long Meadow, French Road, and all the way to the Brighton line on Clover Street and up to Stone Road. A 4-H program was offered one day a week after school, taught by a volunteer mother of one of the students.

District #5 is also located on Clover Street. It is #3107 Clover Street about 100 yards north of Calkins Road; "just south of the bend in the road." It is a frame building, much changed from its original use. It has been converted into a single family home and has a prominent chimney on the front, large windows, and a garage. All of this remodeling was done in 1945 when it was no longer needed as a school. The woodshed was made into the kitchen and a wing was added to the rear. This building today is a very charming cape cod looking home.

District #6 is far different from the other schoolhouses. First of all, it is in the village, located on Church Street. It was built in 1846 to serve the students who lived in the village in order for the children not to have to walk the one mile to District #1. It has a very interesting history relating to the stonemason who constructed it.

Samuel Crump and his bride traveled from England, on their honeymoon trip, to Rochester, NY, where Sam had relatives. The couple decided to stay in America and Sam, who had been a successful stonemason in his native land, started looking for work. He read in the Rochester paper that the Pittsford village trustees were looking for a contractor to build a school. Sam decided that he was just the man for the job so he walked from Rochester to Pittsford and presented his case to the trustees, who hired him on the spot. Not too many people at that time knew how to work with cobblestones, so it was quite unique.

The building is, of course, still there, owned by the Masonic Lodge and carefully maintained by that organization. If one looks closely at the sign above the front door, the words "District 6" can just be distinguished. The Masons, realizing they had an historic treasure, excavated and poured a concrete basement at considerable expense.

After the school was completed and children were enrolled in it, Sam decided he liked this community so well that he made it his home. He became a leading citizen and merchant, building the brick edifice at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Main Street, with a home next to it and a big barn behind it. The barn, which no longer exists, became very important during the Civil War. Sam was a staunch abolitionist and the only documented engineer on the Underground Railroad here in Pittsford.

Sam would receive notice somehow that runaway slaves were coming to his home. Sam's wife always had extra food in the house just for this reason and, after feeding these folks a hardy meal, Sam would hide them in his barn. The next morning the runaways would be hidden under merchandise in his wagon and Sam could take them to the Port of Charlotte where they would board a boat to Canada and freedom.

Sometime, while still in use as a schoolhouse, the small cobblestone structure needed an addition on the rear and it was built of frame construction. That portion has been removed and it became the front of a home on West Jefferson Road. District #6 was used until the large, new school was built on Lincoln Avenue in the late 19th century.

District #7 was in the path of the New York State Thruway, so it had to be removed. It was located on land given by Andrew Maxfield who lived at 3488 Clover Street and instructed children who lived south of the line which was served by District #6.

Barnett and Hannah Maxfield were the parents of Andrew who was born in Herkimer County in 1811. Andrew and his parents came to Pittsford in 1818 and a farm of 82 acres was established at 3458 Clover Street. Andrew, when he came of age, purchased a farm of 85 acres almost across the road from his parents at 3488 Clover Street. Both of those farm homes remain.

Barnett and Hannah had eight children. Two of the daughters married Thornells and lived on Thornell Road. Andrew married Sarah Powell, farmed his acreage and because they had 4 children who needed schooling closer to home, he deeded 1 acre of his land on the northwest corner of Reeves Road and Clover Street to the Trustees of District #7 on which a schoolhouse was built. There are no photos of this building, but it is believed to have been a brick structure and probably closely resembled the building on Thornell Road and East Street.

District #8 was located near the corner of Mendon Center Road and Wilmarth Road. The first building was "near the big elm tree" close to the road. Mrs. Startup, a former teacher in that district, said that her father, John Hinderland, deeded a piece of property on which the present building sits and a frame building was constructed. That frame building, greatly remodeled into a single family dwelling, was constructed in 1880. Early maps show a schoolhouse in this location in 1858. The address is 506 Mendon Center Road

The present owners purchased the schoolhouse from the Pittsford Central School District in 1946 when the centralization took place. They added a family room, garage, new windows and made it into the very pleasant dwelling it is today.

District #9 was renumbered from District #13. It is located on the northwest side of Marsh Road. It is a single family home but retains the style and design of the original schoolhouse. The deed is dated 1853 and the grantor was John Cole and his wife Sarah. Trustees of that District were Thomas Cullen, T. Brizee, and W. Campbell. The brick and stone school was built in 1856. Historical records show that the teacher was paid $10.00 per week for the winter session.

Paul Knickerbocker, whose grandfather, father, and uncle all attended that district has shed some personal information on District #9. The Knickerbockers lived in the large farm at the top of Knickerbocker Hill. Harlan, Paul's father and Whitney, his uncle, drove a pony and cart down the hill, across the bridge that once spanned the canal near where the drop gates are today. The pony was stabled in Mr. Cullen's barn that was located on Marsh Road near where the church of the Latter Day Saints is today. Mrs. Cullen was a teacher in that school and one winter she became extremely ill. Mr. James Monroe Knickerbocker, who chaired the Trustees at that time, closed school until the teacher was well enough for school to resume.

New York State did not regulate the districts at that time and there were no minimum days required of the students. There was no state aid, either! Parents, who paid a set fee for their children to attend, funded all of these districts. Most of the districts operated on three terms, which revolved around the farming season – planting, tending, and harvesting. All of the Districts were centralized into one Pittsford Central School District in 1946 and so ends the brief history of the District schools in the community of Pittsford.

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