School Zone: One Room Schoolhouse in Northern New York

Once upon a time, I was driving my camera around in a rental car near Peru, New York, when I came across this bright red building, just off the roadside in a field all by itself. As you can see from the photos, storms were moving in, and I had just enough time to snap a dozen pictures before it started raining. It wasn’t until later that I realized I hadn’t made note of the building’s location (and the camera I had at the time didn’t have GPS capabilities), and on subsequent trips, I couldn’t find it. I assumed it was a one-room school, but didn’t know if the “School Zone” sign near the front door meant it it really was a one-room school, or someone had just nailed a sign to the wall of an old storage shed.

I recently learned that it is, indeed, a one-room school and was registered with the National Register of Historic Places as the Lyon Street School in 2013. The school is located at the intersection of Lyons Road and Rock Road, about five miles from Peru. The building is considered an example of late American Victorian architecture, with an estimated construction date of 1880 and an in-service date through the 1930s. The National Register of Historic Places Registration Form  (pdf) includes a great description of the school’s construction, has a couple of photos of the interior, and reveals a lot about how the building was used. It reads, in part:

The school is of light wood frame construction and is clad with wood clapboard siding attached with wire nails; the siding shows signs of weathering and age-related wear. The foundation is random laid field stone which is in fair condition…. 

The gabled roof with overhanging eaves is covered with corrugated metal which is rusted throughout and buckling in areas. The metal was laid over the remnants of an earlier wood shingle roof. An open, hip-roofed belfry sits on the ridge at the northern end; the bell is accounted for but not presently on site…. The six-horizontal-panel door has a transom light over it, and there is a round window in the gable field that has been boarded over. All openings are framed by flat trim which was also employed under the cornice and on the corner boards….

A bank of windows is centered on each side elevation of the building, directly under the eaves. Each bank consists of five windows; the three central units are square-shaped and have nine-pane fixed sash, while the outer windows are full size and are fitted with nine-over-nine double hung sash. The two lower sash on the east elevation have been damaged and replaced by larger sash which is ill fitting. A small coal hatch, now in very poor condition, is located on the west elevation, north of the windows and approximately five feet off the ground.

The interior of the school is largely given over to one large room, the classroom. Upon entering the building from the north facade, there is a small, roughly finished room to the right. This room was used to store coal for the stove and corresponds with the hatch on the west elevation…. To the left is a finished wall that makes up one side of a cloak room, which is accessed from the classroom. Continuing through the hall there is another framed entry that opens into the classroom. The walls and ceiling of the classroom and cloak room are finished in bead-board which has been painted over and partially stripped in areas. On the walls it runs vertically up to a chair rail that encircles the room at the height of the bottom of the larger windows; above that it runs horizontally. The window casings are formed of grooved millwork, with rosettes in the corners. At the south end of the classroom there are two voids, presumably where blackboards once hung….

In the same pdf document, there is also a short summary of the historical significance of one-room schools:

At the start of the 20th century there were over 200,000 one-room schools nationwide. Of those, it is likely that fewer than 10,000 presently remain. While some have been restored, many others exist in varying states of decay or alteration. The Lyon Street School is fortunately among those that remain largely intact and is a representative example of part of New York and American history that is rapidly fading.

The Lyon Street School is one of the few still standing in northern New York that is in good enough condition to allow for repairs. In The Peru Gazette, a local community newspaper, there are several articles describing ongoing reconstruction of the building, certainly enabled by its registration as a historic site, and some photos of the restoration of the belfry, the transom, and the front door.

My photos are nearly a decade old, hiding away in my archive folders, but I always wanted to do something with them and learn more about the building. The images below are largely unprocessed, though I did try to enhance some of the detail, especially detail that is reflected in the building’s description I quoted above. Maybe these pictures are now part of its history.

Select the first image to see larger versions in a slideshow; and, as always, thanks for reading and taking a look!

History Repeating

A few days ago, cooper left a comment on my post Why We Study History, in which she said:

… it would seem if we truly used history correctly we would not repeat it so often….

Since then, I’ve been carrying that thought around in my head, considering different ways that I might respond. This is not my response.

She’s absolutely right, of course; it’s impossible to study history over any time period longer than twenty seconds, without noticing cycles in human actions and reactions that seem to generate essentially the same social and cultural conditions. Clothing and hairstyles change, and dialogue and postures shift a little, but the broader results often seem about the same. Keeping my generalist hat on for a moment, let me just leave it at this: history repeating itself is as much a cliche as it is an actual historical condition; and as both of those things, it deserves a healthy dose of skeptical analysis.

And that is actually my main point, about all I could explore in this tiny post. When we talk of history repeating itself, we can’t stop there. We can’t really start there, either…. instead, I think we would need to latch on to some specific element of the cycles we’re trying to unravel, and, starting there, pull all sorts of interdisciplinary tricks to search for common threads and relationships among history, science, art, literature, economics, politics, and technology. It’s these things, along with the philosophical ideas that mold them and drive them forward, that define historical cycles. I can’t think of any theoretical reason why history has to repeat itself, or why history, as cooper stated, has to dictate anything … yet it would seem it has and still does, in cycles that are getting shorter and shorter and shorter….

They say the next big thing is here,
That the revolution’s near.
But to me it seems quite clear
That it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.
The newspapers shout:
A new style is growing.
But it doesn’t know
If it’s coming or going.
There is fashion, there is fad.
Some is good, some is bad.
And the joke is rather sad,
That it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.



Why We Study History

From one of the texts I am using for my Exploring Place: History class — A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community by Robert R. Archibald — comes as clear an explanation of why we study history as I’ve ever come across:

[Memory] is an ongoing process through which we create usable narratives that explain the world in which we live, stories that inevitably connect us to each other, history that builds community. The community we create is founded in shared remembrance and grounded in place, especially those places that are conducive to the casual associations necessary for emergence of shared memory…. Places, memories, and stories are inextricably connected, and we cannot create a real community without these elements.

So there is a point to history, for history is a process of facilitating conversations in which we consider what we have done well, what we have done poorly, and how we can do better, conversations that are a prelude to action…. As we face the past, we are also facing the future. — pp. 24-25

Come to think of it, these are some of the reasons why we write (and write blogs!) too.