FULTON COUNTY’S EARLIEST SCHOOLS REMEMBERED
By Lewis G. Decker, Fulton County Historian
The following was kindly submitted by James F. Morrison. This article appeared in The Sunday Leader-Herald on June 20, 1999 on page 8A. It is transcribed here with the permission of the newspaper and acknowledgement of his son, Randy Decker.
Recently, the Town of Mayfield Historian presented a full page article in the Sunday Leader Herald, on the history of the early one room schools in her town of Mayfield. (Link: Mayfield's Schools) A lot of research must have gone into compiling this article, locating the different district numbered schools, collecting stories and going through records. Since this article appeared, I have received several calls from individuals and town historians inquiring about the schools in their community and how to go about researching them.
With this recent interest, I thought I would reminisce about some of our Fulton County’s earliest schools.
Established by Sir William, shortly after he settled here, Johnstown holds the distinction of having the oldest school in our present day Fulton County. It has been described as, “the first free school north of the Mohawk.”
It was located on the southeast corner of South William and West Main streets, diagonally across from the colonial court house. (There is a brick structure there today and on the South William side of the building is a bronze plaque describing this school’s location.) The school was described as a oblong building with a desk at one end with a stool. It was further described as having been painted yellow, similar to the six dwelling houses Sir William erected near by.
In the street in front of the schoolhouse, public stocks and a whipping post were placed, to deal out frontier justice in that day and age.
One of the earliest if not the first known teachers of this school was described as a arbitrary Irishman named Wall, who taught only the common English branch. Peter Betz, a librarian at the Fulton-Montgomery Community College has done an extensive research paper on this early school master.
In the Documentary History of New York (Volume 4) can be found a list of scholars who attended this school, listing over 45 both male and female and believed to be dated. It also has been described by early historians, that the old Johnstown Academy, established in Johnstown in the late 1790s was granted one of the first accepted certificates to teach in the state. This old academy building only recently went-by-way of the wrecker’s ball.
It might surprise the reader to learn that the second oldest school in our County of Fulton was located in the town of Mayfield. It occupied a site on what is today Route 29 where the Sacandaga Road intersects. While widening the intersection there it was taken down.
There are some early descriptions of this school having been established prior to the American Revolution. There is mention of the early school master adhering to the Loyalist cause and along with other Loyalist, he fled to Canada.
This old school was on one of the first roads into our County of Fulton. When Sir William built his second home on the banks of the Mohawk at Akin (today called Fort Johnson) he acquired land on the Sacandaga where he had built a Summer Home (named Castle Cumberland). He had laid out a carriage road, north from out of the Mohawk Valley. Today you can follow closely the Sacandaga Road out of Tribes Hill where he blazed a tree every mile along this road. Where the nine mile tree road intersects with Route 30, on a knoll on the east side of this intersection, stood for years, a large pine tree, designated as the nine mile tree marker, years later only the stump remained.
Along this new road a small settlement emerged described as having taken in the area from the West Perth Road to Route 29. This was known as Philadelphia Bush, as a number of its early settlers had migrated from Philadelphia. It was here, as well, that Henry Stoner, the father of our county’s old Revolutionary war hero “Nick,” left his family and went into Fonda’s bush (today Broadalbin) where he built his log cabin.
The first school in Gloversville would have been up in the Kingsboro settlement, described as a log cabin school and located in the south west corner of the old settlers cemetery on State Street. There have been articles written about this old school, with reminisce of its early pupils. Down in stump city, Gloversville’s first recorded school was in 1800. It was a small one room wooden structure, located on a knoll on the north side of West Fulton Street, just three or four doors west of Orchard Street. It has been told that this structure was purchased and moved down on South Main and Cayadutta Street and used as part of the Burr homestead until it was torn down for the Alvord Hotel.
The second school in Gloversville was a brick building located on the northwest corner of Main and Fulton, built in 1814. The hill slopped down in back to Bleecker Street, making it a favorite place for the pupils to slide down hill.
A two story wooden building served as the third school and was down the street on West Fulton where Arlington Avenue intersected, across from the telephone building. I believe today a gas station is located here. The site of this old school later served as a hotel and the Bleecker stage would make its stop here.
Up in Kingsboro was established the Kingsboro Academy, a wooden structure that sat in back off Kingsboro Avenue. When the schools consolidated, this old structure was replaced with the yellow tapestry brick building which is there today and serves as our Fulton County Museum.
The old Union Seminary was built in 1854 on North Main Street at a cost of $21,000. It could accommodate 60 boarders and 200 day scholars. Today on the site of the old Union Seminary is the Gloversville School Administration building (old high school). Many of our readers will recall and probably attended the series of elementary schools around the city.
All have been replaced today: Estee Middle School, Park Street, Lexington Avenue, Oakland and McKinley, Kingsboro, and Spring Street School (replaced with McNab). Gloversville, as well, had three parochial schools; St. Mary’s on East Fulton, Mount Carmel on South Main and at the end of Third Street was St. Francis DeSales School.
The Peck Corners school has been restored and open to students and the public, where one can go back to the period of our one room school houses. The Johnny Cake Hollow School has been moved into the village of Northville and has been converted to a town and village museum.
Nearly one hundred years ago in the year 1900 the following appeared: “Wonderful has been the improvement in schools and school buildings in this locality since the days of Sir William Johnson. The City of Gloversville now employs 69 school teachers, Johnstown 41 and out side the districts in the County of Fulton one 110 teachers.”
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Copyright ©1999, Lewis Decker
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Last updated Tuesday, 13-May-2008 13:10:38 PDT