Cobblestone Schoolhouse holds fond memories for 89-year-old former student

Marguerite Witherwax

— Photo from Mary Ellen Johnson

Marguerite Witherwax was the last teacher at the Cobblestone Schoolhouse in Guilderland Center, which closed in 1941. This photo dates from 1932.

GUILDERLAND CENTER — Shirley Herchenroder, one of the few people left alive who attended the Cobblestone Schoolhouse in Guilderland Center, has lived in Guilderland Center since she was 2 years old. She will be 90 in August, although she likes to give her age as “39-plus.”

The 19th-Century schoolhouse made headlines this year as the Guilderland School District discussed plans to sell it, stymied by deed problems. A groundswell of public support led the school board to designate $35,000 in next year’s budget to stabilize the historic structure, which is currently unused.

In the entire school, which included grades one through eight, said Herchenroder, whose maiden name is Ferbert, there were a total of “maybe 28 to about 32” students.

The students were all neighbors, of course. During her first year of school, Herchenroder said, she lived on Depot Road, probably at least a mile from the schoolhouse, and she walked there and back, together with another girl, Margaret Wormer Claus, who lived even further. “I can’t see them doing that now,” she said of today’s schoolchildren.

Those who lived outside the hamlet proper were allowed to bring lunches to school, but those who lived closer were required to go home for lunch. If kids from the hamlet stayed behind, teacher Marguerite Witherwax “felt like she was babysitting so mothers could go shopping,” Herchenroder recalled. Her family moved to Route 146 in the hamlet a year or so after she started school.

Classes were taught one subject at a time, with Witherwax providing instruction to each grade in turn in a single subject such as spelling or arithmetic. The children also studied reading, writing, geography, and science.

They each had workbooks and paper and pencil, Herchenroder said, and a blackboard at the front of the room. While Witherwax was teaching other grades, students would study.

 

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
At an open house at the Mynderse-Frederick House on June 17, Shirley Herchenroder, left, and Mary Ellen Johnson
look at an old photo of Herchenroder and her classmates at the cobblestone schoolhouse in the 1930s. The two have been friends through the Historical Society for about 35 years. 

 

She recalled some of the games they played outside at recess: Duck on the Rock, which involved placing a good-sized rock on top of a larger rock; one student would guard the top rock while the others would throw rocks at it, trying to knock it off.

Another game was Annie-Annie Over, in which the school broke into two teams, one on other side of the schoolhouse. One team would call out “Annie-Annie Over” and throw a ball over the building, while the other team tried to catch it and then run around the building to tag people from the throwing team; anyone tagged would need to join the other side.

The only bathroom was an outhouse. “It was all right. Nobody really complained; we didn’t know any better,” Herchenroder said.

The schoolhouse operated until 1941, which happened to be the year that Herchenroder completed eighth grade. Students then began attending school in  Voorheesville, which was centralizing, Herchenroder said.

“We went there and we were all blind about what was going on, and had to find out the hard way,” she said, referring to the size of the school and the variety of classes.

Students had to choose whether to take a business or college track, she said. She chose business, and took classes such as typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, and business arithmetic, in addition to the core high-school curriculum.

After graduating, she went to work for the Secony Vacuum Oil Company, in its business office. She met her future husband, Russell Herchenroder, while rollerskating — they were both good skaters and were even able to dance on skates. “That was the only thing I ever did well,” she quipped.

 

— Photo from Mary Ellen Johnson 
In a white dress and with a white ribbon in her hair, Shirley Herchenroder, at right, stands with classmates from the Cobblestone
schoolhouse in about 1935 or 1936. Herchenroder attended the one-room schoolhouse from the first through eighth grades. Her final year there, 1941, was also the school’s last; the schoolroom’s only teacher, Marguerite Witherwax, retired, and school officials decided to send students on to Voorheesville, which was centralizing at the time. “They felt the opportunities were there,” said Herchenroder, referring to Voorheesville, which she said was intimidatingly large after the schoolhouse.

 

They raised three daughters and a son in Guilderland Center. One daughter, Leslye, is married to Rodger Stone, former code enforcement officer for the town; she was a volunteer firefighter and also involved in emergency medical services, her mother said. Town Clerk Jean Cataldo, talking with Herchenroder at an open house at the Frederick-Mynderse House on Saturday, recalled that Leslye Stone was the first female Albany County Firefighter of the Year in 2004.

Herchenroder left work to raise her children, but later began working at the Guilderland School District office and ended up retiring there 25 years later. Her husband worked in the Guilderland schools’ maintenance department until retirement, and then worked at French’s Hollow Freeways golf course until his death five years ago.

Herchenroder — as fit and articulate as someone decades younger — continues to golf and also bowl.

Asked how she thought her education in the schoolhouse compared to what kids receive today, Herchenroder said, “Oh, there’s no comparison. But they did the best they could.”

 

More Guilderland News

  •  In those first 10 years, it seemed no one dared go above 30 miles per hour, “which we enjoyed, especially living on Main Street,” said Altamont resident Mya Sullivan, but over the past year, she has begun to see drivers flying down Route 146. 

  • The use variance request was made by John Polk and and his wife, Rebecca Stump, to allow for up to six chickens on their nearly 20-acre Bozenkill Road property. 

  • In a Jan. 5 letter to the Surface Transportation Board, village attorney Allyson Phillips writes that Altamont is opposed to CSX’s attempted acquisition of Pan Am Systems because the running of a 1.7-mile-long train twice per day over the Main Street railroad crossing would leave parts of the village inaccessible to emergency responders for as long as 10 minutes.  

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