Schoolhouses of Yorktown
by Marisabina Stark

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Before the Revolutionary War, the first settlers in Yorktown educated their children at home with whatever books they happened to possess. But soon after the war ended, as the churches were built so were the schoolhouses. The architecture of both types of buildings was strikingly similar; tall peaked roofs, high narrow windows, and bell towers.

School InteriorThe one-room schoolhouses sprang up within three miles of each other so that no child would have to walk more than one and one-half miles to reach them. By 1807 the geographic area of Yorktown had been carved into 12 “districts” each with its own schoolhouse. These were the elementary schools with wood burning stoves, blackboards, and benches for the girls on one side and the boys on the other. If a student could afford it, he or she would continue at a private high school like the North Salem Academy or the Oakside School in Peekskill upon graduation.

In Remembered Days, a memoir by Elizabeth Brett White, a Yorktowner of the late 1800s, there is a vivid description of her daily walk to school along what is today Gomer Street to Granite Springs Road and down to Route 202 to the District 4 school. On cold days she carried a baked potato in her muff for warmth “and then to be part of the noon lunch.” There were chores to be done by the children at school – sweeping the floor, cleaning the chalk erasers, bringing in the wood for the stove. The schoolhouse was in the area once known as Crompond Corners where Routes 202 and 132 meet today. It was the hub of Yorktown life at that time. Each afternoon Elizabeth stopped at the nearby post office to pick up the family mail before heading home.

Heights SchoolBy 1883 the population of Yorktown had grown to 2,481 and there were a total of 178 pupils in the eleven existing districts. The building of the Putnam Railroad in 1881 caused dramatic population growth in the Yorktown Heights area. The district school that sat on the site of the old St. Patrick’s stone church at the corner of Hanover and School Streets was expanded to accommodate the growing population. By 1889 a motion had been passed to build an 16 foot x 22 foot addition to the rear of the building. By 1909 the need for space was even greater and the district voted to build a second story so that they could now include a high school. The teacher’s annual salary of $465 in 1885 had shot up to $560 by 1913.

Mildred Strang, a highly respected local educator and descendent of one of the first five families to settle in Yorktown wrote about her own education. She began school in 1911 at age 7, attending the Shrub Oak School in District 1. By then there were two rooms, one for grades 1-4 and the other for grades 5-8, an entryway, a bell tower and two outhouses. Like Elizabeth White, Miss Strang attended Oakside School in Peekskill for her high school education.

Sixth Grade SchoolBy August 1917 a township law created a Board of Education for the 9 districts that remained on the map of Yorktown at that time. This marked the beginning of consolidating children into bigger schools. The Sixth Grade School, now called the Yorktown Community and Cultural Center or the YCCC, was built in 1921. Route 202 which had been a main east-west dirt road was paved by 1923.

Florenceville SchoolSome of the original schoolhouses of Yorktown still stand, though they have been converted into private homes and are hardly recognizable. There is one on the northern end of Hunterbrook Road, formerly known as the Florenceville School. There is one on Baldwin Road, just south of the intersection with Baptist Church Road. Another sits above Route 129 near the reservoir and the corner of Hanover Road. And one former schoolhouse remains on Jacob Road not far from Elizabeth Street.

But perhaps the most easily identifiable former schoolhouse is the one on Route 6 just west of Lexington Avenue. It is now a shoe store known as the Rugged Boot but many of the features of the original schoolhouse remain; the narrow slated wood floors, the brick chimney in the middle, the stucco exterior and the solid columns around the front door. Perched above the roof is the bell that once was rung to call children to school. Originally hidden behind wooden louvers in its little tower, today the bell has been exposed by the owners of the Rugged Boot for all to see. When you step into the store you can also look up and see the bell through a plate of plexiglass.

Originally this building was a two-room schoolhouse constructed because the one-room building next door had become too small to accommodate the growing population. It remained a school until 1941. Then it was cut up into apartments and was a residential building until the mid 1960s. After that it became a warehouse for glass, metal scraps and other odds and ends until the present owners bought it in 1976 and renovated it, bringing back its original schoolhouse charm.

What about the original one room schoolhouse next door? It is still standing, though much harder to identify from its exterior. Today it is know as Cactus Jack’s, a popular Mexican restaurant.

Marisabina Russo Stark is the author and illustrator of nearly twenty books for young children. Among her honors are the International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, the Washington Irving Award, and the Charlotte A. Zolotow Highly Commended Award. She has also written one young adult novel.

Ms. Russo Stark has lived in Yorktown for over 25 years. She and her husband have three children, all of whom attended Yorktown Schools from kindergarten through high school graduation.

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