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 The Little Red Schoolhouse

-by Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar, Montgomery County Historian/RMO - Sep, 2007

It’s that time of the year again when the kids go back to school and parents have been scrambling to purchase the necessary supplies and clothes their children will need for the school year. It makes me nostalgic for my own school days, which to me seem so long ago and yet, compared to my elders, those days really aren’t too distant. I think of how, growing up, I used to watch “Little House on the Prairie” and read the books based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and I compared her schooling in one-room schoolhouses to mine in a centralized school district. My own grandmother used to show me the schoolhouse she once attended outside of Fordsbush on Route 5S. The dilapidated building, now gone, sat in a cow pasture but it was a reminder of the numerous one-room schools that dotted the countryside.

Over the weekend, I visited the Fort Klock Craft Fair and had the opportunity to sit at the small benches once occupied by students living near and attending the Fort Klock School. Again I was taken back to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s time imagining the rows of students sitting with their heads down looking at their pieces of slate writing lessons.

In those days, the same teacher taught all grades one through eight in the same classroom with subjects such as reading, grammar, geography, arithmetic, history, spelling, writing, drawing, and physiology. There may have been, at most, twenty students attending a particular school so each student received individualized attention from the teacher. A typical school day would begin with the school bell at 9am. Once assembled in their assigned seats, the students would either read Scripture from the Bible or recite the Lord’s Prayer. The teacher took roll call that was followed by classes conducted in 10 or 15 minute segments. Holidays were observed with parents invited to special programs of stories, songs, and readings.

Those one-room schools have all but disappeared with the centralization of school districts. The buildings have either been renovated into homes or razed.

Fortunately for the Plank Road Schoolhouse, concerned individuals formed a committee to preserve their last remaining one-room school in the town of Mohawk. Located on the southwest corner of the present Route 30A (formerly the Plank Road because it was made of wooden planks) and Old Trail Road, it is believed the District No. 7 school was built sometime before 1870 despite the “1877” date carved on one of the building’s clapboards. The school had the traditional separate cloakrooms for the boys and girls on each side of the entrance. The main room was lined with benches for the assigned seating with the teacher’s desk and the recitation bench in front. A pot bellied stove sat in the middle of the aisle for heating the room on cold days.

In a 1970s article of the Mohawk Valley Democrat newspaper a former pupil who attended the No. 7 school around the turn of the century related that at that time the building began to require much needed maintenance. Incidentally, during the dedication of the monument to Colonel Simeon Sammons in the nearby cemetery on August 23, 1899, the firing of the cannon blasted out every window in the schoolhouse. The trustees considered constructing a new school north of the Fulton County line. However, the two trustees from Montgomery County outvoted the sole Fulton County trustee to make the necessary repairs to the existing building.

Today there are drinking fountains or vending machines to quench the thirst of students. Children at the District No. 7 school crossed the Plank road to the old Ingersoll farm when they wanted a drink of water. Sometimes they used a dipper and drank water from a tin pail that tended to freeze in the winter. As the traffic on that route increased, the district, concerned for the safety of its students, purchased land adjacent to the school because it had a spring. An added bonus for the children was that the land provided additional area for play. With the centralization of the school districts, the one-room school on Plank Road closed in 1949.

The schoolhouse sat for years vacant and falling into disrepair. By the 1970s, a project to widen Route 30A threatened the structure. Instead of seeing the demolition of a last vestige of an era of education gone by, a group, led by retired teacher and historian Millard Crane, formed with the mission of saving the schoolhouse and making it an educational museum.

The Fultonville Community Club and the Fonda-Fultonville Kiwanis Club co-sponsored the preservation project and solicited donations to move the schoolhouse to the campus of the centralized Fonda-Fultonville school on Cemetery Street in the Village of Fonda. Donations came in from local residents and from as far away as Florida and Arizona.

The “Little Red Schoolhouse Committee,” so named from the 1968 award won by a group of Fonda-Fultonville students on the WRGB program later known as “Answers Please,” accomplished the first phase of their mission with the move of the Plank Road schoolhouse in June of 1973. Larmon House Movers, of Schuylerville, was hired to complete the move using hydraulic dollies placed underneath the building and transported by trucks along Old Trail Road. To avoid hitting the telephone and power lines along the travel route, the roof of the schoolhouse had to be removed. At its new location, the schoolhouse was placed upon a foundation of cement blocks. A year later, the BOCES building trades class restored the roof.

Through much fundraising and many hours of volunteer labor from various groups such as the Fonda-Fultonville students and Green Thumb program, the schoolhouse renovations were complete over a twelve-year period. Old desks and furnishings were recovered from storage while books and memorabilia were donated. Blackboards and a pot bellied stove were installed to restore the authenticity of the one-room school. The construction of a bell tower was the final restoration project along with the addition of the bell from the Town of Glen’s Winne schoolhouse.

The schoolhouse building, originally white in color, was painted red with white trim apropos with its name and in 1985, the Little Red Schoolhouse Museum was dedicated. Since that time, school groups have enjoyed receiving instruction at the museum and have had the opportunity to learn the way their ancestors did long ago.