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Head of The Class: Schoolhouses of the South Fork

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 13:44

A primer on the East End’s old schoolhouses

There’s a lot to be learned from the old one-room schoolhouses that are scattered across the East End. Some have become museums or civic meetinghouses, while others simply stand as landmarks of bygone eras, and at least one, in Sagaponack, is still in use as a school. While their sizes and shapes varied, most of the one-room schoolhouses shared a common element: They were in communities that built anew whenever a tragedy such as a fire ravaged a schoolhouse or when the local population of children simply outgrew the existing space. These are some that stand out.


The Old Noyac Schoolhouse, presumed to have been built in 1796, is an official town landmark and a hub of civic activity these days. Owned by the Town of Southampton, it serves as the monthly meetinghouse of the devoted members of the Noyac Civic Council and is used for Boy Scout activities. Architecturally, it’s a “three-bay, hip-roofed building with a large brick chimney,” according to Art and Architecture Quarterly. Noyac residents cast ballots on Election Day there until 2010, when the Suffolk County Board of Elections relocated the polling site because the schoolhouse was deemed too drafty and without enough parking. It once stood a short distance north on Noyac Road.

Before he died in 2017, the late Dr. Huntington Sheldon, who lived on Atlantic Avenue, had donated the old Amagansett one-room schoolhouse to the Amagansett School District, which installed the structure on its property at the corner of Main Street and Miankoma Lane. With its original pot-belly stove, a desk, and a bench, it serves as a museum nearly at its original location. The 1802 building was moved multiple times before it made its way one more time down Atlantic Avenue and west on Main Street toward the present-day school campus on a remote-controlled, hydraulic-pump-powered platform on wheels, with much fanfare as residents looked on.

One of Sag Harbor's old schoolhouses, dating to about 1800, with its cupola still intact, has been converted into a 1,350-square-foot, three-bedroom residence. It sold in 2015 for $1.25 million, according to Corcoran Real Estate. Other buildings in Sag Harbor served to educate students over the years, including the Municipal Building on Main Street.

The Wainscott School community is well known for cherishing the evolution of education in the hamlet, where a sign on the school property indicates it was founded in 1730. A history of the Wainscott School, published on its website, says a second account puts the origin of the hamlet’s first official school at 1796, when it served three purposes: church, school, and town hall. The one-room schoolhouse pictured here was built in the 1930s, and is an auxiliary to the larger, two-room schoolhouse that opened in 2008. The buildings where today’s Wainscott children study, however, are not the first, or the second, to stand on the school grounds. The first schoolhouse was destroyed in a blaze in 1826 or 1827. A resident of neighboring Sagaponack later sold another old school building to Wainscott.

Sagaponack’s present-day Little Red Schoolhouse, as it’s known around the village, is the village’s third school building, built in 1885 for $300 in materials and labor. It was expanded in 1920. The Sagaponack School has maintained a very detailed history of the building, beginning in 1776, a notable year in American history. The school has even recorded and published the names of every one of its teachers going back to 1886 — including 18 women, 6 men, and 2 whose first names are listed only with initials. Inside the school, a movable wall is sometimes used to partition the classroom into two parts. As of 2015, the Sagaponack School was one of fewer than 400 one-room schoolhouses still in operation around the United States, according to a report from NPR.

The North Haven one-room schoolhouse, at the corner of Ferry Road and Payne Avenue, dates to 1847 and is the second school built on North Haven, according to “The Early History of North Haven” by Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski, Joseph Zaykowski, and Ronald L. Lowe. Soon it will be on new grounds and have a fresh purpose. The North Haven Village Board recently approved moving the schoolhouse to Village Hall’s lot, farther north on Ferry Road, and a committee of residents has plans to use the building as a museum to teach kids about education of long ago. The old schoolhouse is the village’s only historical landmark, and its upcoming relocation will be the third time the building will have been moved.

In the early days on Long Island’s East End, it was not uncommon for folks to sell or swap buildings and move them around. Such was the case with Sagaponack’s second wood-frame schoolhouse, which in 1884 was sold and became Wainscott’s third schoolhouse, according to an account on the Sagaponack School website. It was used as Wainscott’s schoolhouse until the 1930s. Today the old Queen Anne-style structure is on private property on Town Line Road, awaiting restoration, which Sagaponack Village officials have asked the owner to undertake.