Schools Of The Past: The German District Schools

By: Patricia F. Scott

With the beginning of the above series of articles, the requests were forwarded to each of the town historians to share any and all informational history and photos that they might have relevant to the district schools of their township. The response to this request has been extremely helpful, part of the townships have provided information, others have not and the three resources available here in the city (County Historian’s office, Guernsey Memorial Library, Smith’s History of Chenango County) have been scoured and this has been the basis for the articles, plus personal conversations with individuals for these “schools of the past” history.

The township of German, one of the smallest townships in the county is basically an agricultural township which has not changed over the years since it was formed. The research information that the former historian Gladys Huntly found is the fact that in 1865 there were nine school districts operating in the township with 231 pupils attending. Total combined budgets for that year were #2,003.68.

However, and we assume due to lack of pupils by 1878 there were only eight common school districts each having a framed schoolhouse within its district. Smith’s History gives the facts that by Sept. 30, 1878 there were five mate and eleven female teachers, eight of which had been licensed. By the above date there were 201 children residing in the township, there were 525 volumes in the libraries having a value of $75. Returning to the school buildings and the sites upon which they were situated, each was valued at $270 embracing a total of two acres and 28 rods (all 8) and the total value of all eight was $2,920. Total receipts and disbursements for that time (1878) was $1,361.15 which included $1, 229.31 for teachers salaries, $1.37 for libraries, $36.35 for school houses, sites, outhouse, repairs, furniture, etc. and other incidental expenses of $50.03. Quite a difference from the costs of education today!

The photo of the school (the Birdlebough Schoolhouse) which closed in the early 1930’s provides an indication of what the majority of the eight schools may have looked like. This district school was closed with it was consolidated with Cincinnatus and this writer will assume it was the District school #2 (?).

Due to the current lack of historical information, this writer will quote directly what Rachael Mac Rae submitted for her columns in “IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS” relevant to the history of the Town of German district schools.

“In the early days, teachers taught with little education compared with what we think of education today. They had certificates which permitted them to teach after about eight or nine years of public schooling. Their salary was very small, some received four dollars a week and some even less than that. They were their own janitors, perhaps a big boy built the fire in the morning, but they had to keep it going during the day.

“The school room had four windows and usually two blackboards, wood floors and one large heating stove in the middle. There were desks, usually all one size. They were not adjustable, so some poor youngster’s legs dangled all day. Usually there were two pupils to a desk.

“There were all ages of pupils in all grades in the room. If it was a large school there would be 25 to 30 pupils. Classes were about ten or fifteen minutes long. There were two recesses and a noon hour. School began at nine and tasted until four o’clock except Friday’s when it closed at three-thirty.

“Games were played outside during good weather and inside during bad weather. The children carried their lunches in pails without thermos bottles. Some wintery days the school room was so cold their lunches were frozen. The pupils kept their coats on to keep warm. When school was over, they walked home no matter what the weather was, for distances of a few rods to two miles in some cases.

“There was very little sickness unless there were epidemics of measles and such, and then it could be just one district and seldom spread any distance. Children had chores to do nights and also mornings as they were on farms. Today our children wouldn’t think they could do things their parents and grandparents did when they were going to school.

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