by Erin Doane
In 1876, the Town of Veteran had a population of around 2,300 and it had 15 schools. 15!? To modern eyes, that may seem like a lot, but the majority were small, one-room schoolhouses. This was typical of most rural towns in the 19thand early 20th centuries. Nearly all of the students would have to walk to school, so the schoolhouses needed to be close to where they lived. Of the 867 school-age children who lived in Veteran in 1876, 717 were enrolled pupils. There were 12 male teachers and 21 female teachers and a library of 445 volumes shared across the schools.
The Town of Veteran Historians have a wonderful collection of photographs and materials related to these early schools. While researching the Towns and Villages of Chemung County: Veteran exhibit, which is on display here at CCHS through July 2018, I got to look through their school files. All the images in this post are from the Veteran Historians’ collection.
The first schoolhouse in the town of Veteran was built in the early 1800s just east of the village of Millport. Simeon Squires served as the first school teacher. By the middle of the century, more schoolhouses had been built in Sullivanville, Pine Valley, and more remote areas of the town.
Millport’s famous octagon school was built in 1869. The two-story building had two rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs, where students in grades 1 through 8 were taught. This was one of the only schools that had more than one teacher. In 1888, the two teachers were a husband and wife team who made a combined salary of $750 a year.
The interiors of the one-room schoolhouses were fairly similar. Typically, there were wooden student desks facing a teacher’s desk and a blackboard in the front of the room. The early schools had no electricity and water had to be brought in from either a well with a pitcher pump outside or from a neighboring home. A wood or coal stove would provide heat for the building in the winter. Since nearly every student walked to school, some were able to go home for lunch. Those who stayed would bring their own lunches or, at some schools, the teacher or parents would provide hot soup for all the students. Outhouses, one for boys and one for girls, were nearby. Some schools had a swing outside or a teeter-totter that students could enjoy at recess.
Most of the schools had students from grades 1 through 8 all in the same room. The teacher would work with one grade at a time but everyone could hear the lessons. Because of that, younger students often learned what their older counterparts were being taught. It was not unusual for students in these one-room schoolhouses to pass tests to skip into higher grades. After 8th grade, students would go to high school in Horseheads.
One of the neatest things that I found in the Historians’ files were photocopies of yearbooks from Veteran School No. 10 from 1935 and 1936. The homemade yearbooks included class photos, drawings likely made by students, and even a class will. I wonder how many schools produced their own yearbooks like that.
Veteran’s rural schools were consolidated with the Horseheads Central School District in 1950 and the days of the one-room schoolhouse came to an end. Several of the schoolhouses were torn down but may more remain as private residences. For more photos and information about Veteran schools visit http://www.townofveteranhistoricalsociety.com/id14.html. To see more photos of students and read stories from those who went to some of the one-room schoolhouses in Veteran visit http://www.townofveteranhistoricalsociety.com/id24.html
Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. This article was originally posted HERE 2/18/18