The Way We Were

(From:  Teaneck News, Tuesday, December 29, 1981)

Teaneck Youngsters who recently returned to classes in the town's multimillion dollar school system can ponder what education in Teaneck was like in the early days. 

Children walked miles to go to one room schools.  There were no discussions about class size -- one teacher taught all eight grades.  In the 1850's a man teacher was hired at $60 a quarter and to "find" or board and lodge himself.  Central heating was a pot bellied stove.  The drinking fountain was a well with a tin dipper.  Sanitary facilities were frame structures behind the school.

Teaneck's first school  built between 1810 and 1820, is standing today on East Fort Lee Road.  It is no longer a school, but a private home east of a gas station.  The schoolmaster's house next door is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Lawrence.

The Westervelt family donated land for the school.  Children came from lower Teaneck, Leonia, Fort Lee, Little Ferry, and Ridgefield.  The late Mrs. Rachel Moore Demarest recalled when she was in her '90s that her father had gone to the school from his home in Leonia, often crossing Overpeck Creek in a boat.  In winter children was transported by sleighs.

Workmen who remodeled the school house for the late Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Bauerlein, who lived there for many years, admired the hand hewn shingles and oak beams.  They hound five floors, one on top of the other.  The cloak room, where wraps and dinner pails were stored, is now a kitchen.  A former outhouse is a tool shed.

The school was used until 1910, when the present Longfellow School was built.  The late George V. Demarest, a trustee whose father also attended the school, saw to it that the bell was moved to the new building.

Children in upper Teaneck in the early 19th century went to school in James Purdy's chair shop on New Bridge Road, organized in 1822 for pupils from Schraalenburgh (Dumont).  Liberty Pole in Englewood and from the northern part of Teaneck.  The teacher was an Irishman by the name of Gilfillin.

In 1841, Union School District NO. 10 was formed at a meeting in the home of Gilliam A. Bogert.  Plans were made to replace the school in the chair shop with a building on a corner of widow Sarah Stagg's land on River Road.  The sum of $67.50 was raised by subscription!  How's that for a school building program? Stone, timber and sand worth $300 were donated.  This building was later replaced with a structure destroyed by fire in 1940.

On May 5, 1851, a resolution was passed at a meeting of "taxable inhabitants" to call Union School District No. 10 the Teaneck Institute.  D. L. Van Saun took up his duties two weeks later, having been hired at $60 a quarter and to "find" himself.

In 1854, a school was provided in the center of present day Teaneck.  Henry J. Brinkerhoff sold to the trustees for $50, 50 by 100 feet of his land on Teaneck Road, east of Forest Avenue.  The rent was one cent a year, as long as it was used as a school.  A frame building, 20 by 60 feet, was constructed.  It was eventually moved across the street.

The hall of learning was replaced in 1869 by an "elegant structure" on the present playground of School No. 2.  The building, 24 by 38 feet, had a Mansard roof and was furnished with the best of equipment.  The total cost: $3,677.75!  Alexander Cass, who taught there for over ten years, later became Bergen County's first superintendent of schools.

Residents received full value for their school investment.  The "elegant structure" doubled as a school during the week and as the home of the Washington Avenue (Teaneck Road) Union Sunday School on the Sabbath.  When the Township was organized in 1895 it became headquarters for municipal government, thus serving Teaneck's educational, spiritual and civic needs.

These three schools serving upper, lower and central Teaneck had a combined registration of 221, it was reported at the annual meeting on March 19, 1895.

The school was replaced in 1907 by Washington Irving School, the present Town House but the "elegant structure" lived on, serving as the Municipal Building.  Later it became the home of Capt. Stephen T. Schoonmaker Post 1428.  Veterans of Foreign Wars, and was moved to Bedford Avenue.



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