District #10

District #10 school house


Mr. Allen acknowledges that this is a work in progress and continues his research about the history of the Oppenheim school system.  If you can contribute any information about Oppenheim schools, identify people in pictures or are willing to share any items or pictures, please contact:

Hector Allen, Oppenheim Historian, 6846 St. Hwy 20, Dolgeville, NY 13329.
Thank you!


District #10 School

Submitted by Hector Allen, Oppenheim Town Historian

In the fall of 1987, Misses Erma and Bertha Voorhees were given an old school record book from District No. 10 in Oppenheim, New York. The book had been in the possession of Miss Gertrude Brown who taught in the school during the 1930's. The records were nearly complete, and cover the seventy-four year period from 1814 to 1888. The quotations which follow in this discussion about District No. 10 are taken from this record book.

The District No. 10 School house continued to be used as a school until the Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School was established in the early 1950's. Today, it has been remodeled into a home by Mr. and Mrs. Donald Lasher. The District No. 10 School is located on the North Road, about 250 feet from the junction with Route 29 and County Route 331.

The first meeting of the new school district was held on September 12, 1814, at "the school house on William van Buren's land." This entry indicated that there was a school already in existence in Oppenheim before District No. 10 was created, although I have no idea where this school was located. The presence of a school prior to the official establishment of the district should not come as a surprise since many of the settlers who came into the township in the 1790's and after were from New England, where a strong tradition of common schools had developed over a period of many years.

According to the district record book, there were 41 " inhabitants living in School District No. 10 in the Town of Oppenheim liable to pay taxes," and they were duly notified of the first meeting by a Thomas Wilbur. The first meeting was called by Joseph G. Klock, Rufus Ballard and Arch'd Crawford, Commissioners of Commons Schools. (Mr. Ballard owned a tavern near the site of the school; probably Mr. Klock and Mr. Crawford came from the southern part of the township, which at that time also included St. Johnsville).

Henry Ostrom was chosen the first Clerk and the Moderator (later called Chairman) was Benjamin Hicks. The three Trustees (three were elected every year until the 1870's when the District was governed by a "Sole Trustee", were Peter Cline, Benjamin Hicks and Peter Claus, Jr. The first Tax Collector (surely a necessary evil) was Jacob Claus. The men present at the first meeting resolved that "The school house near Abner Wright's on the land owned by William van Buren be and remain at the place where it now is for a school in and for said District No. 10," and "that the Trustees raise the sum of fifty dollars in order to repair said school house." Education in Oppenheim Center was off and running.

A year later, in September 1915, it was decided to build a new school. The following resolutions were passed at that September meeting: "Resolved that the site of the school house be northerly from Ballard's Inn on the westerly line of Henry Cline's land. Resolved that the school house which may be built hereafter be 24' square with a square roof. Further resolved that the Trustees raise the sum of $300 in order - to build a new school house at the place above cited and provide said school house with necessary fuel and appendages the following year. Resolved that the Trustees after completing the said new school house sell the old one in said District at publick vendeu (sic) and give five days notice to said freeholders and account for the same towards building the new school house."

The original building project ran into some snags, just as it is prone to do in more modern times. In February 1816, the Trustees held a special meeting and changed the specifications on the project. The building would now be 28' by 22', with a "common roof" and a chimney in one end. The completion date was set for July 1, 1816. However, the Trustees met on June 29th and extended the time to October 1st. This deadline also went by, and so the Trustees met at the house of Rufus Ballard and voted the following: "Resolved that we consider the excuse of James Estes sufficient for not having the school house done by the 1st day of October instant. Resolved that the Trustees have till the 1st Saturday in November next to finish the school house . and this meeting be adjourned till the same day at 5:00 P.M. at the new school house." So it was finally finished; no further comments are in the records about this project.

The building completed in 1816 is the same one that still stands on the North Road. Several times in succeeding years the Trustees would debate whether to build a new school, but they always ended up repairing the old one. In 1837 the Trustees took down the fireplace and chimney and built a new stove chimney, (the new stove set them back all of $8.00, but they voted to sell the old andirons, so this probably brought in some money to help defray the costs of the stove). In 1849 a resolution was passed at the annual meeting to build a new school but the next year the resolution was rescinded and extensive repairs were made. (On March 25, 1850 the Trustees resolved that the sum of $159 be raised for repairing the school house and building a privy, pursuant to a contract made with Daniel Shattuck).

District #10, est. 1905

Some identifications: Guy Barker (boy in cap), Emma
Darling, Loyd Brown (bare feet), Willie Brown behind
Guy, and teacher Minnie Barker.

Photo submitted by Erma and Bertha Voorhees.


In 1867 the District did extensive repairs, and in 1877 a committee of three residents was appointed to look over the building--- they also came out in favor of repairing the present structure.

Several times during the 74 years covered by the records the Trustees and voters built or rebuilt the outbuilding variously called the "privy," "necessary", or "backhouse." In 1829 a privy was built for only $3.00, a bargain even back then. That same year Henry Cline built a woodshed for only $7.00. Mr. Cline was a member of the Board of Trustees at the time the project was authorized, but conflicts of interest apparently did not concern the citizens of District No. 10. Many repairs and other projects would be done for the District by men who were also officials of the District.

There would be other improvements through the years. In 1842 a new, high-tech learning device was installed called a "blackboard." In 1839 the District spent the sum of $20.00 on library books, as recommended by the State Superintendent of Schools. (This money may have come from the State Aid money of the era, labeled at times in the records as "public money".)

There were ordinarily two terms or "schools" kept in the Common Schools of the 19th Century. One term, called the "winter" school, would begin in December and last for three or four months. The second term, the "summer" school, would run for three months or more beginning in May. In the early days of District No. 10 the school funds were voted to be spent equally between winter and summer sessions, but by 1859 the Trustees would allocate two-thirds to the winter term and only one-third to the summer session.

There were a number of school laws passed by the State Legislature that would impact on the operations of District No. 10. In 1795 the Legislature began to appropriate $50,000 annually for elementary schools. The catch to this law was that each County had to raise half of the money. Although there were about 60,000 elementary students in New York State by 1800, the State stopped funding the program. By 1812 a permanent system of Common (elementary) Schools were established, and in 1814 State law mandated that each township must match State aid --- this is probably what inspired the citizens in Oppenheim to establish District No. 10. About half of the money, then, came from State funds and the rest was raised here in Oppenheim.

In 1849 the State Common School Fund was apportioned according to population in each Township and then divided among the various district schools within the Township. This must have been a difficult task, considering the records and procedures then available. Insofar as the local taxes were concerned, there are several references to people who were late or who did not pay, but no final dispositions were cited so it is not clear whether there were foreclosures or other actions to compel payments.

The State Legislature in 1849 also voted to establish "free" schools supported by real estate taxes. This ended the infamous "rate bill" system where each parent would be billed a sum to cover the costs of educating their children that were not covered by State funds or other taxes. In 1851 the Legislature appropriated $800,000 for common schools thus providing enough money to replace the rate bill funds.

A parent could have avoided the "rate bills," and still send his children to school by signing a "pauper's oath." Since there was no compulsory attendance laws until 1874, it is likely that many of the poor parents chose not to send their children at all. There are no records of people signing the "pauper's oath" in District No. 10. In fact, there are no tax records or rate bill records, either.

We have few clues to what conditions were like in District No. 10 from the record book. In 1846 the State Superintendent of Schools Nathaniel Benton (from Little Falls) reported the following: In the 9,000 districts inspected, 2,760 buildings were in bad repair; 6,462 had no playground, and over 5,000 had no privy accommodations. We do know that money was spent at intervals to repair the building. We do know that there was a privy built in 1829, and again in 1850, and we also know that the size of the lot was one-quarter acre, hardly enough for a decent sized playground.

There isn't much information about the individual teachers who worked in District No. 10. The first reference about teachers is concerned with paying a teacher $10 toward a quarter taught by him in the winter of 1818. All we know from this was that the teacher was a male. The first teacher's name that appears in the records is that of Mary Ostrom, who taught in 1824. A teacher's salary for the first quarter of 1821 was $14.28, and that person was male. In 1827 following resolve was made: "Resolved by a majority of the voters . that a man teacher be employed in this district the ensueing (sic) winter." From then on the Trustees and voters would often stipulate male or female teachers, and it seemed as though the summer term was better for women and the winter term for men. There is no clue as to who recruited or hired these teachers, although probably the Trustees had to do this.

In 1829 a Mr. Williams is engaged as a teacher, but there are no teacher's names mentioned through the 1830's and 1840's. In 1840 the records indicate that the Trustees were looking for a "first rate female teacher to commence about the first of May, 1840." It would be interesting to know if they found one, and if they did, how long she stayed in the District. The pay for teachers must have been an issue, for at the annual meeting in 1850, after adjourning from the school to the Swartwout and Dudley store, the Trustees voted to raise $120 for teacher's pay. However, a second motion rescinded this wild extravagance and the figure was reduced to $75.00. Obviously, there were no contracts or negotiations with Teacher Unions at that time.

In 1856 Henry G. Mosher was paid $17.00 for teaching during the winter terms of 1855 and 1856. This may not have been his complete salary, however. In 1870 Miss Hattie Mosher, teacher, earned $70.00. In 1876 the District paid Delia Stewart, teacher, $73.45, although the records do not indicate whether she taught one or both terms. In the year 1887, nearly at the end of our records, John P. Hayes was paid $7.50 per week for 16 weeks to teach. This came to $120, and was probably for the winter term. That same year, Arvilla Cool was paid $6.25 per week for 14 weeks, for a total of $8.50. (This should have read $87.50) Wage differentials between male and female teachers would continue in New York State into the late 1930's.

In 74 years the names of only seven teachers are on record. We know nothing about them in regard to their education, training or accomplishments. Albany Normal School, the predecessor of SUNY/Albany, began in 1844, and the nearby Fairfield Academy also trained teachers. Whether "our" teachers came from there or some other schools is not known. By the 1870's, an entire County would put on a week-long training program for its teachers, and so perhaps the teachers of District No. 10 availed themselves of these opportunities. By the early part of this century, Teacher Training Classes of up to a year's duration would prepare men and women for teaching. My mother spent a year in one of these classes in Broadalbin, N.Y. in the late 1920's.

In addition to teaching, the teachers had many other duties such as keeping the stove burning and the building clean. One additional duty here in District No. 10, resolved at a meeting on January 21, 1819 was to: "Keep a day book so when wood is brought in it can be certified." Each student had to provide a half-cord of two-foot wood until the 1840's. Evidently the teachers had to keep track of who brought their wood, and if you did not bring in wood you would be charged 12 shillings of $1.20. Teachers today till have to collect lunch money, milk money and picture money, so some things never seem to change.

The District No. 10 records do not list the names of any students, with the possible exception of William Bean, Jr., who was noted as having run away in 1818. The curriculum did not appear in the deliberations of the Trustees, either. A standard curriculum in the middle of the last century would surely include spelling, writing, arithmetic, geography, patriotic history and composition. Rhetoric and declamation were also popular. McGuffey's Readers were widespread, and probably used here. In 1878 a motion to adopt the National School Reader as a textbook failed, indicating that there was some controversy over textbooks.

In 1874 the State of New York passed its first compulsory attendance law. This law stated that all children between the ages of 8 and 14 will attend at least 14 weeks of school per year. At a District meeting held on October 12, 1875, it was resolved that "The Trustees see that all children between 8 and 14 attend school 14 weeks per year." I don't know how successful they were in getting everyone into school here in District No. 10, but some sources indicate that many children did not comply with the new state law. The United States Census of 1900 reported that 54,000 children in New York under the age of 14 were employed in agriculture and domestic work, while 50,000 more were employed in factories.

The Trustees and other officials were often either prominent men of (or) from prominent families. Men from the families of Mosher, Claus, Cline, Swartwout, and Brown would dominate the political scene at District No. 10 meetings for many years.

The Swartwout family was very prominent in Oppenheim, owning the large, brick house adjacent to the District No. 10 School. John P. Swartwout was, in addition to his service as Trustee and District Librarian, also Town Supervisor for at least one term and served as Postmaster from 1853-56 and 1861-70. According to Child's Gazetteer of 1869-70, he owned a farm of 300 acres, and his family was involved in a retail store at the corner of the North Road and Route 29.

George W. Burr, Peter W. Plantz, John P. Cline, and Charles E. Brown served as Postmasters as well as school officials. Robert Higbie served at least one term as Supervisor. John P. Swartwout, John Robinson and Peter B. Claus served as Trustees of the Oppenheim Methodist Church, and it is likely that many more of the school officials were also involved in Township politics.

Some of the District Clerks, Trustees, and Tax Collectors had interests in the private sector. Robert Higbie owned an interest in the stagecoach line that ran from Albany to Watertown. Peter Yost was a Medical Doctor, proprietor of the old Oppenheim General Store, and owner of a 300 acre farm. George W. Burr made and sold liniment, and sold wood, nails and hardware. Many of the school officials were full time farmers, and are listed as such in Child's Gazetteer. Knapthalee Cline owned a cheese factory, and James M. Dudley was a lawyer as well as part-owner of a store.

There were some interesting notations involving religion in the 1820's and 1840's. It was resolved at the April 7, 1821 meeting "that there be no more meetings for public worship in said school house after one month from above date." According to the souvenir booklet printed for the centennial of the Oppenheim Methodist Church, there was a union church erected about 1820, but "due to the inability of the different factions to agree on methods and manner of completion, the original building was never finished. The building was sold, torn down and moved away." Shortly afterwards the Methodists built their own church, which they originally shared with the Baptists. This may have served to exclude members of other denominations and perhaps precipitated the following resolution passed on October 1, 1842: "Resolved that the Trustees of this District be instructed and are hereby instructed to consent that this school house may be used out of school hours for religious meetings Sunday schools lectures debates and for any other moral or literary purpose." It would be nice to know the facts behind these two resolutions.

There were two significant changes occurring in 1843. There were still three Trustees, but their terms were extended to three years. This replaced the system of electing three Trustees each year for one year terms. From then on the annual meeting needed to elect just one Trustee each year. The second change was the addition of a librarian to the District. These librarians were also voted on at the annual meeting. The post of Librarian would remain until the 1870's, although it was not always filled. On October 13, 1863 the voters resolved "That the Chairman appoint three inhabitants of said District to collect all library books found in the hands of any inhabitants of said District and deliver the same to the librarian." It seems as though our librarians were having a little trouble keeping track of the books, a problem that persists even today.

In the minutes of the February 14, 1850 meeting is found the first mention of a Town Superintendent of Schools. This post was held by George W. Burr, but the record does not indicate how he got this position or what his duties were. Nine or ten other districts were operating in the Town of Oppenheim, so I suppose he could keep busy checking up on them. When James M. Dudley left his post as Trustee in 1854, Mr. Burr appointed Leonard Mosher to fill the vacancy. That was the last notice made of a Town Superintendent of Schools. However, by 1875, when John P. Swartwout was elected Town Supervisor, Swartwout, acting as Town Supervisor, appointed John P. Cline as his own (Swartwout's) replacement on the District No. 10 Board. So, for a time, Town and School politics were joined!

At some point in the 1870's District No. 10 went to a "Sole Trustee" form of governance. Watson Turner, filing an annual report in August 1888, signed as "Sole Trustee School District No. 10."

In the 1880's the records began to indicate the results of the elections for the various District posts. Many men were elected unanimously, but some elections were contested. John P. Swartwout was beaten by William S. Hess in October of 1880 by a count of 7 - 6 for the post of Trustee. In August 1887, Swartwout was again defeated for Trustee by M. E. Barker, 9 - 7.

The records end in 1888, just one hundred years ago. When District No. 10 was created, the War of 1812 was still going on. General George Izard must have made his historic march from Plattsburg to Sackett's Harbor through Oppenheim about the same time as the first District meeting, September 1814.

Oppenheim at that time included all of the present Town of St. Johnsville, and had a combined population of 2,380. In the first federal census after Fulton County was established, 1840, it was reported that the new Town of Oppenheim had 2,169 residents. The population would rise to 2,363 by 1860, but go into a steady decline after that. By the 1890 census, two years after our District No. 10 records end, the population had slipped to 1,563; we had lost about 30% of our population base in just thirty years. This decline must have been reflected in school enrollment, although our records do not list the number of pupils.

It would take a little imagination to picture Oppenheim Center and the District No. 10 neighborhood in its heyday. This quote from Marvin Mosher, born in the 1840's, printed in the Oppenheim Methodist Church Souvenir Booklet (1936) gives us some insight: "When I was a boy in Oppenheim there were three doctors living there, silk hats for everyday wear." It is likely that some of our District No. 10 officials were among the patrician group. Within a mile of the center of town there was a large hotel, three stores, a Post Office, a law office, the District No. 10 School, two large cheese factories, two small glove factories, two saw mills, a blacksmith shop, and the Methodist Church. Quite an urban area.

Old District No. 10 would continue to educate the children of Oppenheim until the early 1950's. While we have very few names, and no pictures, of the teachers in the era covered by the record book we do know some of the teachers in more modern times.

Minnie Barker Mosher taught around 1910, Myrtle Brown Leavenworth taught around 1918, Reba Claus taught in the 1920's and 1930's, and a Miss Howe taught school here in 1933. Mrs. Marian Davis, a colleague of mine years ago in the Little Falls City School District, taught a year in District No. 10 in the mid 1930's. Anson Brown, a graduate of Fairfield Academy, taught at District No. 10, as did George A. Brown and Elvira B. Barker. Gertrude Brown and Phyllis Stowell were among the last to teach in District No. 10.

It has been interesting, reading through the old District No. 10 record book. It is a small window on the past, and the knowledge gained from it will help in building a more complete picture of the history of our township. Some of the clerks had a fine hand, others did not, and so it was often difficult to decipher the minutes. I assume that the other District Schools in the Town of Oppenheim had similar records, similar meetings and similar problems ---- it is too bad that their records haven't also survived.

I am indebted for much of this material in this book to Misses Erma and Bertha Voorhees and to Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Brown, (deceased).

In addition to the District No. 10 record book, my sources were Beer's History of Montgomery and Fulton County (1878), Child's Gazetteer & Business Directory (1869-70), The Oppenheim Methodist Church Centennial Souvenir Booklet (1936), The Stranahan & Nichols Atlas (1868), and A History of New York State, (1959), David M. Ellis et. al.

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Copyright , 2000 Peggy Menear
Copyright , 2000 Hector Allen
Copyright , 2000 Jeanette Shiel
All Rights Reserved.

Last updated Tuesday, 13-May-2008 13:10:40 PDT