After World War II and the birth boom that followed, modern schools were built despite protests from disgruntled taxpayers

— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

Fort Hunter School as it was is shown with the 1935 two-room school and the 1953 eleven-classroom building attached. Within a year of opening, it was overcrowded. However, with a later decline in enrollment, this building was closed in 1972 and demolished in 1999. Today a senior apartment complex stands on the Carman Road site.

V-E Day, V-J Day, the war was over, the boys were returning home! And the babies started coming, and coming — the Baby Boom had begun.

Guilderland was one of New York’s many rural communities that quickly experienced rapid housing development and population growth in the post-war years. Yet townspeople were still relying on an antiquated education system of one- and two-room common schools with Altamont the only Union Free District offering an old, overcrowded high school.

The late 1940s found Guilderland’s schools jammed with children also attending classes in church or school basements, in one case in a private home or being bused out of town to Draper and Bigsbee schools in Rotterdam, or Schenectady, or Albany and Voorheesville schools.

The time had come for a serious discussion about uniting the 10 school districts of Altamont, Dunnsville, Fort Hunter, Fullers, Guilderland, Guilderland Center, McKownville, North Bethlehem, Osborn Corners, and Parkers Corners.

A steering committee, having been organized, aimed to put centralization to a vote by July 1950. In advance, a series of informational public meetings emphasized the need for better schools as well as a discussion of the costs.

The proposal presented at these public meetings included a junior-senior high school with three elementary schools — at Fort Hunter, Altamont, and McKownville — to cost $2,600,000 to be raised by a bond issue. A petition had been sent to the state’s education commissioner to set a date to vote on the proposal to centralize the 10 districts into Guilderland Central School District, No.2.

Scheduled for June 20, 1950, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., a public meeting to vote on the proposal to centralize was to take place at the Brownell Bros. Albany-Schenectady Bus Line Inc. garage in Guilderland Village. If the measure passed, a school board was to be elected at the meeting.

When the votes were counted, out of the 2,007 cast, 1,302 were in favor with 703 opposed and 2 void votes. A board of education was then elected with 1-, 2-, and 3-year terms to be led by William D. Borden.

The original 10 districts turned over any surplus funds to the new central district. Ralph Westervelt, principal of Altamont High School, was named supervising principal of the new district at a salary of $5,500.

Teachers would be kept on, but would begin in September 1950 to earn years toward tenure, although any teacher with five or more years in one of the 10 districts would be given one year toward tenure. A second vote in September agreed to the purchase of five new school buses for a total of $31,000.



In the meantime, 56 volunteers formed the Citizen Planning Committee, dividing into five subcommittees, which worked on the areas relating to population growth, facilities, program, finance, and public relations.

They suggested three new elementary schools to serve kindergarten through sixth grade. The committee found the current Altamont school building “wasn’t adaptable.” In McKownville and in Fort Hunter, the two-room schools built in 1935 were to be used.

Students in grades 7 to 12 would attend a new junior-senior high school, site to be determined.

The committee did not recommend one K-12 school, but rather favored community elementary schools for a variety of reasons. “The District is in a strategic area, when all of our children might be exposed to a single bomb attack if housed in one school,” the committee said.

This thinking may seem ludicrous today, but was made when the trauma of World War II still lingered, the Korean War was raging, and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union had recently developed the atomic bomb, while in the midst of Guilderland was a very active Army depot.

These reports were sent to households followed by four informational meetings in different parts of town. Citizens’ main questions revolved around taxation issues and building sites, 18 of which had been reviewed by one of the subcommittees. Considerations were drainage, adequate water supply, preparation of the site for building, and access to public transportation.



Remember those 703 voters opposed to centralizing the ten districts? They hadn’t gone anywhere.

A group of them, chiefly Westmere residents under the leadership of two men, George E. Craft and Edward T. Zeronda, had hired attorney Thomas J. Mahoney to represent them in dealings with the board of education.

The district’s annual meeting, held at the bus garage, showed the undercurrent of opposition from the Westmere group whose leaders kept claiming to favor centralization, but opposed higher taxes.

A $60,000 surplus the board had hoped to save as a “cushion” to keep taxes lower once building began was voted down by a big margin, the attitude being, “Why should present residents who may move away pay for something to be used by others, some of them newcomers?”

The sites to be voted on, on July 24, included a very few acres to add to the school property at the existing Fort Hunter School.

The McKownville K-6 choice was either the Van Loan parcel on Route 20 opposite the intersection with Fuller Road or the Loeper site on Johnston Road in Westmere.

The junior-senior high school choice was between the Matulewicz site in Guilderland Center or the Crapser-Mattice-Heckroth site at McCormacks Corners. This site at McCormacks Corners would have to be legally condemned because the owner of the largest parcel was reluctant to sell.

Shortly before the site vote, a large paid notice appeared in the July 13 Enterprise placed by Marvin Armstrong, a disgruntled man who was anxious to sell his parcel west of the Crapser site further out Route 20.

He led off with the real-estate plans the Crapser-Mattice interests had in place for land that would be condemned, stating, “The owners plan to fight to the last ditch. Maybe they will lose, but it will be costly to the district.”

Of his own acreage on offer, Armstrong asked, “Wouldn’t it be better than gamble on a comparable site at possibly FOUR OR FIVE TIMES THE COST?”

A response from the board’s counsel, Borden H. Mills, noted that Armstrong’s site had ravines needing extensive grading, lacked a reliable water supply, and was not on a public-service route plus the further distance meant longer times on school buses coming from the outer areas of the district.

Voters on July 24 chose the Matulewicz site in Guilderland Center for the junior-senior high and the Loeber site on Johnston Road for the McKownville K-6 school, approving the purchase the few acres at Fort Hunter plus a bond issue for the purchases.

Out of 1,550 votes cast, there were 270 void on the elementary school vote and 243 void votes on the junior-senior high sites.

The Westmere group’s leaders immediately challenged the outcome, claiming site ballots were “ambiguous and confusing” and “did not give a fair chance to vote in the negative.” The appeal to overturn the election was sent to the state’s education commissioner.

The Westmere men claimed their citizens group had “widespread support in the community” with the citizens group opposed to “the high costs.” The discontented taxpayers claimed there should be a “compromise,” admitting the present education was “wholly inadequate,” but that centralized proposals were “financially unrealistic.”

Board Counsel Borden H. Mills contradicted the contention that the ballots were “flawed” with the wording published in three different newspapers previous to the voting.

Then he commented on a mimeographed sheet labeled “School Taxes” left at his home shortly before the site vote which urged in large type: “VOTE NO – ALL THE WAY.”



After a Sept. 10 hearing, Education Commissioner James Edward Allen Jr., who later served as President Richard Nixon’s Commissioner of Education, set aside the votes for both the McKownville elementary and the junior-senior high sites, the basis for his decision being, “voters desiring one site did not have the chance to vote against the other.”

He ruled he must see the sealed votes to determine if the Fort Hunter and bond issue votes stood. Later he upheld these two results.

In October, the Guilderland School Board set Nov. 14 for the second vote to choose sites.

In the meantime, the Citizens Planning Committee extended an invitation to the Westmere men whose appeal to the commissioner had thrown out the original vote to discuss the question at a public town meeting where they were arranging a moderator.

The group’s spokesman refused any discussion at this time being as “unwise and not conducive to an understanding.”

The attorney for the Westmere group, whether expressing his own ideas or giving voice to the group’s members, suggested putting all the elementary students in the Fort Hunter school and cutting the cost of the junior-senior high school. Quickly rejected because too many small children would have very long bus rides, it was never considered.

On Nov. 14, not only was the choice simpler, but an actual sample ballot was published, unlike the previous vote on sites when the ballots were more complicated.

Days before the vote, the school board recommended a “yes” vote, reassuring voters that, even though the Matulewicz site was adjacent to the Army depot, they should have no fear of it being bombed.

This time, it was either “yes” or “no” on purchasing the 19-acre Loeber site for the elementary school and the 62-acre Matulewicz site for both the junior-senior high school and a bus garage. When all the votes were tallied, 965 voted in favor while 388 were opposed and 13 ballots were void.


New schools open

Plans for the new school buildings were released in January 1952 with a bond issue vote planned to fund their construction. School floor plans and exterior images of finished buildings plus a 12-bus garage were published.

The bond issue totaled $3,204,900.

This time, voting at Guilderland’s Willow Street School on March 1, there were 1,406 votes cast with 1,232 voting yes with only 164 voting no and 10 void ballots.

By September 1953, the Fort Hunter, Altamont, and McKownville-Westmere elementary schools opened. Although there was still completion work to be done, it did not interfere with the educational program.

The days of the one-room schools had ended.

For one more year, secondary students would be sent out to Draper, Albany, Voorheesville, or Schenectady. Finally, in September 1954, Guilderland Junior-Senior High School opened when 650 seventh- through 12th-graders arrived at a school with the most up-to-date facilities.

With the explosive student growth over the next years, these schools were soon overcrowded and the bond issue and building process had to begin anew.

It had been “an uphill effort” to centralize and provide modern education facilities and programs for Guilderland’s rapidly growing school population.

From the vote to centralize to finally opening four new schools, it was thanks to the efforts of volunteers from school board members, committee members, and all those people who helped with the various votes that had taken place to accomplish this.

Board members of that day — who dealt with questions of whether or not to include agriculture as a high school program or dealt with fear of bombing raids — could hardly imagine the issues facing today’s board of education.

However, there has been one constant from 1950 to the present day: disgruntled taxpayers.