November 14, 2003

More on the Eight Square Schoolhouse

I had mentioned the Eight Square Schoolhouse in an earlier posting, but found more information on it in The Centennial History of Dryden (1898), which is available from the Dryden Historical Society. I've typed in the relevant chapter, as its copyright has long since expired. It's definitely writing from a previous century, but has lots worth listening to. If you're interested, read on.

Chapter XXXVII - The Octagonal School House

Doubtless every old school house in the township has a record and a history, which if properly reduced to writing, would be interesting and instructive reading. There is something especially fascinating connected with the education of children, and the story of the experiences of both the teacher and the pupil in their combined efforts to impart and develop, as well as receive and apply, instruction is always interesting; but we cannot undertake here to write up the history of every school-house in Dryden, and what we shall say of this one, which has some especially interesting features about it and which is, in a general way, typical of the rest, must suffice for all.

If the plain and dingy walls of the brick building, a likeness of which is here given, commonly but inaccurately called the "Eight Square School House" could but tell their own story in such a way as to be fully understood, they would furnish an eloquent history which the writer of this chapter can but imperfectly imitate. They could truthfully say that within their inclosure were taught at least four school children who became supervisors of the town of Dryden, viz: Jeremiah Snyder, Smith Robertson, Hiram Snyder, and Leni Grover; two, sheriffs of Tompkins county, viz: Thomas Robertson and Smith Robertson; one, a presiding elder, Wm. Newell Cobb; two, county superintendents of the poor, Jeremiah Snyder and Wm. W. Snyder; one, a millionaire, Orrin S. Wood; numerous others who became bank, telegraph, and insurance managers as well as railroad superintendents, and last, but not least, one pupil of the gentler sex, Mary Ann Wood (Cornell), who in after years was destined to become the wife of a millionaire philanthropist and the mother of a distinguished governor of our Empire State.

The age of this venerable but well-preserved school-house is about seventy-five years. We think that some one had given us the exact date of its construction and the name of its chief builder, but if so the memorandum of it has unfortunately been mislaid. However, the precise date is not essential. From the year 1815 forward until it was built, a period of about ten years, upwards of one hundred pupils of school age were annually registered upon the records of the school district (no. 5,) which, although occupying then, as now, a thinly settled agricultural section of the country, was remarkable in many aspects, and doubtless afforded during the first half of our Century Period the best educational advantages to the largest number of appreciative school children to be found together in the township, At one time there were eight families residing in the distict--coinciding in number with the eight sides of this unique form of a school building--which numbered among their members eighty-seven children, lacking only one in the aggregate of giving an average of eleven to each, and two single families at one time supplied the school with eleven pupils. Prior to about 1825 a small frame structure occupied the present site. Even then the greatest efforts were being made to secure the very best of teachers for this school, some of them being obtained from Cortland and further east. During this time William Waterman taught the school six years, Almon Brown one year, and David Reed, three years, Elmira (Bristol), the oldest daughter of Benjamin Wood, serving as assistant.

It was during Reed's administration as principal that it was decided that a new school-house must be built, the old building being so crowded with the swarms of pupils that some had to be sent out to play in order to give others a chance to recite. Accordingly, the frame building was removed to a point about eighty rods north, where it served temporarily while the new brick building was being constructed, and afterwards it was sold and became a part of the Elijah Vanderhoef residence near the extreme northeast corner of the district.

We may well believe that the parents of these school children who were to be so successful in after life were not of the niggardly, narrow-minded class of citizens and did not begrudge the great effort under the circumstances required to construct a building which should be, as it was for half a century, the best of its kind in the township. The prime movers in the enterprise were said to have been Col. William Cobb, at the southeast, and Benjamin Wood, at the northeast corner of the district, and they were the first to have children who, after graduating from this school, sought higher institutions of learning; but the trustees who had charge of the work and who together conceived of and carried out the particular design were Capt. Geo. Robertson, Isaac Bishop and Henry Snyder, the nearest neighbors on either side, who employed as chief builder one Balcom from near McLean or Cortland. The brick was then made near by at the Grover-Hammond-Metzgar brickyard corners and the Jeremiah Snyder brickyard corners, last operated by Russel Sykes. Many of the less able families had their shares contributed by their more fortunate neighbors. Thus with the greatest harmony, as it is said, and entirely free from the jangles and controversies which too often in modern times distract and disgrace communities in such undertakings, the eight-sided school house became an accomplished reality.

Reed as school-master was followed by Grinnell, Pelton, and others in early days and later by such excellent local teachers as Ebenezer McArthur, Smith Robertson, Merritt L. Wood, Levi Snyder, Joseph Snyder, Alviras Snyder, Orrin S. Wood, William W. Snyder and Artemas L. Tyler.

While the Octagonal School House is still serviceable as an institution of learning we leave the reader to supply its present success and surroundings from other sources, our object being in this as in all other matters to emphasize and preserve that which is old and in danger of being lost to local history.

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 159-62.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at November 14, 2003 1:51 PM in
Note on photos