Young Walt Kingston crept from his desk at one-room schoolhouse No. 4 on a beautiful spring afternoon. Walt’s farm was a close retreat from the school.

His was one of 14 one-roomers that once ranged from York to the Groveland town line.

Walt escaped but teachers Ethel Gibson Templeton and Hope Stapley DePuy knew every nook and cranny of the schoolhouse, one that will close in 1946 because of centralization. Hope had attended District No. 4 for seven years during the 1930s, inspired to become a teacher and attending Geneseo State College with the encouragement of Mrs. Templeton. Hope’s treasured memories helped.

As our 2020 schools return to in-classroom learning, here’s a look back at “Reading, Writing and ‘rithmetic taught to the tune of the hickory stick, the Golden rule.”

Each town schoolhouse had it’s unique traditions and simple tales. For example:

n Muriel would sit at her desk all day with no break, perhaps she would have been summoned to a mental health conference in 2020, a very insecure girl.

n Geneseo’s Bob McDonald confessed the boys once climbed to the cobblestone No. 5 roof, alarming the community by ringing the school bell at midnight.

n Bullies remembered with both disgust and with sympathy. Poor Martha had her pigtails pulled daily but a schoolyard fight was exciting. The big bad bully with absent parents and an elderly grandparent. “Stay away from him!”

Accountability! It improved with annual meetings and elected secretaries. Neighborhood and personal disagreements were documented for the future. A typical annual meeting agenda included the present trustee reports followed by elections for the coming year. Perhaps only 30 to 40 votes cast with plenty of challenges. Tax collectors/treasurers reports were reviewed in detail down to the penny. Unequal teacher salaries were accepted with favoritism and nepotism expected. The annual firewood contract was eagerly sought after.

The district inspector noted good care. Particularly noted were desktops covered with indecent carved images. Trustee were instructed to turn the desktops and sand the indecent sides. Some districts required the students to bring their own desks and chairs.

Trustees defended their independence. Even in 1929 an unnamed district declined to install electric lights. Gas lamps were good enough. By 1934 this conservative district approved electricity with 26 in favor but 18 still opposed.

When the Livingston County Teacher’s Association organized in 1855 original objectives included:

n Teaching only five days a week,

n Adding anatomy and physiology to the curriculum,

n Encouraging frequent parent visits,

n Discouraging separation of the sexes in seating and classrooms,

n Increasing salaries of female teachers. (A. Dunn research)

Then the historic names: Creek on Avon Road, Hanna Disputty No. 3 near the Lakeville town line, Gully No. 4 near Jones Bridge, Ragweed No. 7 on Reservoir Road and Walls Road near Booher Hill. Everyone knew of No. 5, a permanent structure of cobblestones.

Jeff Mothersell did useful one-room research, finding the Hanna District elected officers on Dec. 10, 1814. William Best was elected teacher for $20 a month. He taught for only three months.

It was a young America with the ideal of universal schooling for all.

David W. Parish is historian for the town and village of Geneseo. He is a Chancellor Award retiree from Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo.

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