Knox Sesquicentennial: Schoolmasters, Scholars, and Schools

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SCHOOLMASTERS, SCHOLARS, AND SCHOOLS Specific knowledge concerning the early schools in the township, and the teachers and pupils who went to them, is fragmentary at best. It seems probable, that the children who could be spared from necessary chores, were assembled in one of the homes of an area, where they were taught by transient teachers. When a schoolmaster left for greener pastures, or turned to a more profitable occupation, doubtless the lessons were suspended until another itinerant pedagogue arrived.

Many of those early teachers were clergymen, but others may have been toil-worn farmers who had mastered the rudiments of reading, writing, and "ciphering to the rule of three", and who also possessed the ability to impart knowledge to others. Some schoolmasters had a little more education than their older pupils, but it is certain that an inspired teacher appeared, now and then, who ventured beyond the dreary treadmill of rote-learning and awakened the sleeping knowledge in these young minds. It is even possible that one or two of those early teachers — whether clergyman, farmer, housewife, or wandering scholar — may have been gifted in the rare way that James Garfield described when he said that a great university existed, even in a log hut, whenever Mark Hopkins sat on one end of a wooden bench and a pupil sat on the other.

Following ratification of the federal Constitution in 1788, the New York State Legislature directed its attention to the need for education. In 1789, the legislature authorized that two lots in each township of the public state land he set apart for gospel and school purposes. Apparently a little more was done to further education until the Common School Act of 1812 was passed, which authorized the establishment of common, or public schools.

In Amasa Parker's Landmarks of Albany County it is reported that the Town of Berne (of which Knox was then a part) passed a resolution to raise $500 for the support of the common schools. Tenney and Howell's History of the County of Albany, cites a report that one of those pioneer schools was located in Knoxville (present village of Knox), and another stood in the vicinity of Township.

The first buildings specifically erected for schools were crude structures of unpeeled logs, topped with a lean-to roof that was sealed against the weather with sheets of bark laid over pole rafters. The floor was packed dirt and the hard benches on which the children sat were split logs. The fieldstone fireplace at one end of the small room gave meager warmth. The wind piped and whistled in the chimney. Later, when the press of other work permitted, the dirt floor was covered with puncheons of white pine, and the bark roof was replaced with shakes riven from the same durable, free-splitting wood.

The children in those small, dark schools ranged from six to sixteen years. They recited their lessons aloud and consequently the schools became known as "Blab Schools." The younger ones listened, as indeed they had to, while the older ones "blabbed" their lessons, and in this way probably learned as much from their bench-fellows as from their teachers. The subjects taught in the Blab Schools were: grammar, reading, physiology, geography, arithmetic, and writing. Schoolmasters were paid by the parents, according to the number of children they sent and the periods for which they sent them, and payment consisted of whatever commodity the parents had on hand, such as deerskins, grain, or vegetables.

As the Town of Knox grew so did the schools, and the log Blab Schools gave way to small, frame buildings. In 1886, Knox had thirteen school districts, each of which elected its own trustee, clerk, and tax collector. The trustee was charged with the hiring of the teacher, supervision of the school, and providing for the supply and maintenance of the building and its equipment. By that time, the schools were supported by a local tax that varied according to the value of an individual's taxable property.

Teachers were then paid thirty dollars per month and for that sum they were required not only to teach a wide variety of subjects to pupils of various ages and abilities within a single room, but also to clean the room, and to build and maintain fires in the wood-burning stove.

The teachers in those one-room schools daily performed the impossible task of teaching such subjects as reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, geography, English grammar and composition, history, physiology, and drawing, to all eight grades. Obviously, there was little time for individual instruction, or indeed for adequate treatment of any subject, for any group within the class. Nevertheless, those teachers, who had received little or no professional training beyond their grade certificates, tried each day to kindle the spark of learning. Our senior citizens, who attended these schools, prove they succeeded.

Many of them recall those one-room schools in rich detail. They remember the drinking water supply, carried in a pail from the well of a neighboring house, and the common dipper that hung above the pail. They remember the immovable desks with the attached seats, especially if those seats were anchored too close to the stove. They recall the heat of the room in the late spring and the incessant droning of innumerable flies, which came in freely through the open, unscreened windows; they remember, when winter winds rocked the building and drove the snow against the windows, how cold it was for all except the envied few who sat within the narrow radius of the stove. Those who did sit by the stove remember how their flesh slowly roasted on the side nearest the stove, while on the opposite side they froze.

In District No. 1, which was located on what is now Rock Road, there was one teacher in 1886. There were 52 children of school age within the district, but only 42 actually attended during the year with an average daily attendance of about fifteen. The frame school was valued at $300. During World War I, Howard Shultes and Manford Bassler were the trustees, and Clyde Ball served as teacher with a salary of $15 per week. Among other teachers in the district were Helen Schoolcraft, Sara Schoonmaker, and Jennie Becker. In 1932, the children were transferred to the Berne-Knox Central School and the schoolhouse was sold. It was subsequently converted to a dwelling, and is now owned by James Blyth.

The schoolhouse of District No. 2, located at the intersection of Route 146 and Witter Road, is now owned by the Knox Volunteer Fire Company and used as the Township firehouse. In 1886, according to Tenney and Howell, District No. 2 located in the Township area had 59 children of school age of whom 41 actually attended school. The average daily attendance was 22. School and site were valued at $100.

An old, handwritten ledger, containing 100 years of school records (1849-1949), states that District No. 9 was consolidated with District No. 2 in 1866-67, and the combined district was designated as No. 2. According to the ledger, no funds were voted for the school in 1850, and in October 1851, it was voted to change the site of the school. In 1852 it was decided to locate the school at its present site. At that time the site cost $30 and the building cost $200.

1n 1884, Maggie Reid was employed as teacher at a salary of $168 per year. Mrs. John succeeded her. In 1887, Mrs. Van Auken received $48 a month for teaching, and she was followed by E. L. Barkley who received $97.97 in 1896. Miss Osborne received $225 for nine months of teaching in 1897. Mrs. Malory, Miss Ann Thornton, Rev. George Weaver, Ruth Truax, and Mr. Culver followed consecutively.

Among the interesting items in the ledger is the first mention, in 1913, of a teacher's retirement fund, and an entry of $3.58 for that fund. In 1924, a tuition payment for Anita Crommie is recorded. The first individual drinking cups were furnished in 1925, and also during that year it is noted that older children of the district were sent to Altamont High School. Again, in 1933, older children were transported by the district, and it is noted that they were required to meet the bus on the County highway. The year 1935 was a brighter one for teacher and pupils because electric lights were installed. The minutes of 1946 record a decision to petition the Commissioner of Education to dissolve District No. 2, and to transfer the district to the Berne-Knox Central School System. The transfer was accomplished, and the schoolhouse remained empty until it was purchased by the Knox Fire Company.

District No. 3 was located at what is now the corner of Pleasant Valley Road and Taber Road. There were 42 children of school age recorded in the district, and 31 of these attended during the year with an average daily attendance of thirteen. The school was valued at about $500 and its library of 50 volumes was valued at $10. In 1879, William Chesebro was the schoolmaster, and he was followed by James Adam, Daisy Norton, Clinton Filkins, Ann Hunting, Earl Gallup, Retha Schoonmaker, Arthur Funk, John Bogardus, (Spring term 1902), Theron Bishop, Edith Sturgess, Edward Mattice, Iola Warner, Louise Pramer, Adelaide Dyer, (1910) Minnie Skinner, Ethel Nickerson. Rev. George Hamilton. Nettie Filkins, Margarite Roney, Ernestine Hiltsley, Elmer Crounse, Ruth Campbell, Hilda Brunk, Carrie Quay, Lillian Pond, Marion Ryan, Ola Hill, Julia Empie, Mary Owen, and Marion Thompkins.

In 1918, and again in 1926, Roscoe Schoonmaker was the trustee. In 1920 Arthur Hiltsley served as trustee and Stanton Clute as collector. In 1925, Alvy White was trustee and the collector was Raymond Warner.

Present research has not disclosed when this schoolhouse was moved to Township, but it was subsequently bought by Duane Finch and is now owned by Leonard Tubbs who has converted it into his home. In 1932, the District was annexed to the Berne-Knox Central School system.

In 1886, District No. 4 had 30 school age children. Of these, 20 attended school during the year and the average daily attendance was only 4.5. The schoolhouse was valued at $250 and its library of 150 books was appraised at $50. Mr. Charles Beebe reports that during the years from 1904 until 1911, Retha Schoonmaker, Sadie Scheffeldecker, Miss Bird, Miss Parshall, Mr. Bingham, Corson West, and Simeon Stevens were teachers. The school is located on Route 156 above the farm now owned by George Walk, formerly the property of Marshall Clickman. The schoolhouse was bought by Marshall Clickman after the district became part of the Guilderland Central School, and used as a tenant house for the farm.

District No. 5 had 31 school age children of whom 27 were enrolled and recorded an average daily attendance of 8.5. In 1886, the school was valued at $500, and the value of its 25 volume library was placed at $25. The schoolhouse is located on Ketcham Lane and The Boys Club Lane, in the Thompsons Lake area. This building was kept in its original state until 1971, and is now being used as a dwelling. In 1912, Margaret Clickman and Miss McCormick taught in the district. During the years 1916 to 1918, Mrs. Earl Warner was the teacher, and she was succeeded by Millard Whipple. Fanny Ellis taught in 1926-27.

For ten years, 1940-1950, the children of the district were driven to the Altamont School by Alta Salisbury. In 1951, District No. 5 became part of the Berne-Knox Central School system.

District No. 6 had 67 children of school age. During the year, 54 actually attended school and their daily attendance average was 25.7. In 1886, the school was valued at $1200, and its library of 100 volumes was judged to be worth $20.

The schoolhouse of District No. 6 is located in the center of the village of Knox, and has been the property of the Knox Volunteer Fire Department since 1950. Some of the teachers of the district, as reported by Myrtle and Lena Quay, Edna and Elizabeth Stevens, Vertie Gibbs, and Ada Lesperance were: William Haverly, Elmer Saddlemire. John Bogardus, Anna Hunting Wheeler, Rev. Edward Kelder, Myron Filkins, Myron Shaver, Rev. A. H. Weaver, James Adams, James Durfee, Adelaide Dyer, Vertie Bassler, Edward Gaige, Edward Mattice, Milton Quay, Dorothy Kingsley Norman, and Myrtle Fairlee Weidman.

Blanche Stevens Rendo recalls that when the teacher went outside at noon, the girls danced around up on the platform but the boys were too shy to join the frolic. The teacher, Milton Quay, would sometimes watch them and urge them to keep it up. She also remembers that Bryon Adam's father, John, brought freight from Altamont with horses, and in the winter when he came through the village with his big, straight sleigh just as school was letting out, all the children would hitch a ride.

Arbor Day is remembered by nearly all the senior citizens of Knox. On Arbor Day, the children planted trees and generally cleaned up the grounds. Now, once again, this practice has been reinstated in the observance of Earth Day. Many of the former pupils of the district also remember that they used to cross the road to an orchard and get the most delicious apples they'd ever eaten.

Mabel Chesbro Ogsbury recalls a play entitled "The Mother Goose Drill", which enjoyed great success. She also remembers a near-disastrous incident that took place when Myron Shaver was the teacher. The entire class went outside one day right after the stove had been filled with wood, and in the confusion of the exit, somebody forgot to close the damper in the pipe. Later, somebody went back into the building and found that the stove had grown so hot that all the adjacent desks were scorched.

Elizabeth Stevens recalls that Milton Quay was an outstanding teacher and she lists her classmates of District No. 6, during the years 1920 to 1929 as: Mildred, Raymond, and Marshall Stevens, Ernest and George Saddlemire, Bessie, Chester, Elsie, and Gladys Quay, Gertrude and Sarah Jones, Gertrude and Charles Weaver, Robert and Jessie Champion, Dewitt Clow, Lillian and Roberta Crounse, Lillie Mae Saddlemire, William, Reva, Milford, and Clifford Saddlemire, Lillian Dibble, Eleanor Quay, Bessie and Lillian Helligas, Rhobie Silvernail, William and Mildred Roney, Clarence Duell, Rachel Helligas, Lloyd, Herbert, and Harold Quay, and Raymond Fanher. Also Irene, Hilda, Bernard, and Ivan Settle, Norma Settle, Blanche Beebe, Ernest, Arthur, and Anna Crewell, Niles Becker, Duane Finch, Austin Saddlemire, Willis Quay, Theodore and Helen Quay, John De Bruyn, Wallace Quay, Otto Castle, and Clifford Duell.

In 1931, District 6 had been centralized in the Berne-Knox system, but the new school was not prepared to accept students until September, 1933. In the interim, some children were brought into the district from other areas in a bus driven by Norman Van Wormer. In the final year of District 6, a Christmas play was presented under the direction of the teacher, Dorothy Kingsley Norman. At the term's end, a picnic was held at White Sulphur Springs in Berne. The last students to attend the District 6 school were: Lloyd Taber. Elmer and Niles Becker, Eleanor Quay, George and Lillie Mae Saddlemire, Alice, Mae, Irene, and John James, Thaddeus, Helen, Donald, and Robert Quay, Hilda, Norma, Bernard and Ivan Settle, Paul Janssen, Pauline Jones, Austin Saddlemire, Frank and Barbara Lannert, Virginia Stevens, and Merlin Dexter.

District No. 7 had 23 school age children within its boundaries in 1886, and of that number 21 attended school with an average daily attendance of 13. The school was valued at $300 and its library of 30 books had a value of $5.

Among the teachers of District 7 were: Clyde Ball, Elmer Saddlemire, Mary Allen, Clarence Barber, Merta Zimmer, Julia Ackner, Elmina Babcock, Charles Becker, Miss Putnam, Myrtle Fairlee, and Edith Schmidt. The last teacher prior to consolidation with the Berne-Knox system was Howard Zimmer.

The former schoolhouse of District 7, located on the Knox-Gallupville Road, is now used as a farm building and is owned by William Shedina.

District No. 8 had 38 children and 37 of them were enrolled in the school. An average daily attendance of 16.9 was reported. The school was valued at $300 and its 25 volume library at $5. Lottie Clykeman reports that Charles Sturgess and Edith Sturgess taught there around 1890. In the early 1900's, Retha Schoonmaker and Simeon Stevens were teachers in the district. Nina Janssen reports that Maude Barton, Nicholas Winegard, and John Bogardus taught from 1906 through 1910. Minnie Dexter reports that Ira Fairlee, Myrtle Fairlee Weidman, Mildred Lee, Elmina Babcock, Charlotte Williman, Laura Ostrander, Marion Allen, and Florence Seabury taught through 1910 to 1922. Elizabeth Hiltsley taught in 1922-23, and Mrs. Orpha Quay reports that she had three students.

Mrs. Walker taught in the district in 1928, and she was followed by Dorothy Kingsley during the tenure of Charles Beebe as trustee. Mrs. Orpha Gage Quay attended the District 8 school. Mrs. Quay has been a music teacher for 52 years, during which time she has taught in various schools, in the old Methodist Church, and she now gives music Lessons at her home.

The former schoolhouse of the district is located at what is now the intersection of Beebe Road and Middle Road. Once owned by Earl Gaige, it is now owned by Harry Liddle who has converted the structure into a dwelling. The original building was torn down and rebuilt in 1910.

District No. 9, as reported previously, was combined with District No. 2 in 1866. However, Tenney and Howell reported in 1886, "District No. 9 is a joint district most of which lies within the town of Wright, Schoharie County, only 2 children of school age living in the portion lying in Knox and the schoolhouse being located in Wright."

The schoolhouse of District No. 10 is located on the Bozenkill Road. It is currently owned by Oscar Peterson and except for the addition of double doors, the structure remains in its original state. Hattie Barber reports that the site on which the schoolhouse was constructed was probably donated to the district by the Snyder family, and consequently it bore the name, Snyder's School.

John P. White of Schenectady, who attended the school of District 10, reports that some of his teachers were: Foster Warrick, Evelyn Chase, Miss Hunting, and Susan Roach. Other teachers in the district were: Irene Lee, William Christman, Nancy Christman, Nancy Hunt, Emily Wood Westfall, Jane Parker, Avis Gallup, Miss Collier, Miss Mulholland, Miss Durella Rivard, and Frank Sylvester.

Tenney and Howell report that during 1886 there were 41 children of school age and all of these children attended during the year with an average daily attendance of 14. The site and school were valued at $200. This district was incorporated into the Duanesburg School system in 1943.

District No. 11 is located on the Knox-Delanson Road, near the intersection of West Wind Road. In 1886, there were 47 children of school age in the district, 37 were enrolled and their average daily attendance was 13. The school and site were valued at $500. The value of the 75 volume library was placed at $40. In 1930, high school students of the district were sent to Delanson Union Free School, now part of the Duanesburg Central School System. Elmer Phillips bought the school and converted it into a dwelling.

The school of District No. 12, according to Hattie Barber, was known as the Van Benschoten School because the site for the building was donated by John Van Benschoten. Ina Lendrum Beebe remembers that her mother said that she was taken to the school during the 1890's by her teacher, Simeon Stevens, who stopped at the house for her. Apparently, the school was built before 1886 inasmuch as Tenney and Howell report statistics for that year: 22 children of school age, 10 children enrolled, and an average attendance of four. The school was valued at $400 and its library contained 78 books.

Among other teachers in the district were: Libby and Lucy Osborne, Foster Warrick, Amy Swartz, Agnes Monahan, John B. Appell, Katherine Simmons, Elmer Saddlemire, and Mrs. Patrick Spadardo.

After the district was incorporated into the Berne-Knox system, the schoolhouse of District 12 was moved to the Altamont Fairgrounds where it continues to perpetuate the memory and the substance of the one-room school.

District No. 13 had 20 school age children in 1886. Fifteen children were enrolled and the daily attendance averaged out at seven. The building was valued at $400 and its library consisted of 100 books. According to Stephen Bradt, the original school building was located on the Zimmer farm (now Hoppers). The school was moved to the Bradt farm in order to provide a more central location. Jennie Bradt Rapp recalls that the site was purchased by Holly Bradt from the Charles Pitcher property in 1923. Ruth and Roy Roberts now own the land on which the school still stands. Mrs. Rapp also remembers the school's performance of Dickens' Christmas Carol to which the parents came by lantern light. She recalls the school's Harmonica Band, and sending away for the music that provided instructions how to play. Mrs. Rapp reports that Clarence Quay attended the school in 1880, together with his elder brothers, Harley and Lewis. Ona Zimmer, Jessie F. Besly, Gladys Gillis, Agatha Monaghan, and Ola Hill Pitts taught in the district from 1930 until 1940. The late Eldon Quay drove a private bus. In 1949, the district could no longer meet the expenses of a teacher's salary and bus transportation, and the school was consolidated with the Berne-Knox system.

Earl Sturgess, town historian, reports that District No. 14 was taken into the Town of Wright school system and was known as the Shingle Town School.

District No. I5 was located at West Berne according to Mrs. Frances Mattice. In the late 1800's, Conger Wilson and Charles Becker were teachers in the district, and the trustee was Jerome Becker. Clyde Ball taught in the district in 1910, 1914, and 1915 at a weekly salary of $12.50. Issac Waldron was a trustee, and B. Schoonmaker was the trustee during 1914-1915. Ruth Scrafford Hagler and Jennie Becker taught in the years between 1923 and 1926. Other teachers include: William and Edward Haverly, followed by Jennie and Burr Zimmer, Lillian Cornell, Helen Schoolcraft, Ann Ball, Mabel Weidman, Miss Gleason, and Llewllyn Turner.

In 1932, the Berne-Knox Central School district was established at a cost of $135,000. William Haverly, Fred Deitz, Clyde Ball, and Milton Hart were instrumental in bringing about the centralization. In 1931-32, the district purchased three buses to transport the children. One bus went to Schoharie, one to Altamont, and one took children to the Berne Public School where Clyde Ball taught a class of 45 pupils. In 1932, Berne-Knox was a Junior High School, and in 1933 it expanded to include grades 1 through 12. The first members of the Board of Education were: Homer Gallup, Milton Hart, Arthur Quay, Verni Shultes, and Clifford Vincent, Sr. The total value of the school property was set at $156,788, and the 1,072 volumes in the school library were valued at $800. Textbooks were valued at $1,623, and the average teacher's salary was $1,200 per year. Mr. McKeen was the first principal.

All school districts except 4, 10, and 14 were included in this centralized system. In 1937, fifteen pupils graduated from the high school and 20 graduated from the eighth grade.

A new wing was added to the building in 1948, and in the fall of 1949, the first kindergarten class was started. At that time there were 24 faculty members. There were 154 children enrolled in grades 9-12, and 509 children in K-8. Twenty-one pupils graduated that year.

In 1955, a new elementary wing was added at a cost of $400,000. At that time, the staff had grown to forty and the K-12 enrollment was 822.

Principals who have served the district, in addition to Mr. McKeen, are: L. E. Thompson, Walter E. Schoenbern, and Malcom Hewitt. Mr. H. Brezenski is supervising principal at the present time [1972]: Mr. R. Adams, principal: and Mr. R. Conners, elementary principal.

A new Junior-Senior High School was constructed and used for the first time in 1967. In October, 1971, the Berne-Knox enrollment was 1,340. At present [1972] there are seventy-four staff members.