First principal at town’s two-room schoolhouse earned $2 a day, found his job burdensome

An early view of the District 4 schoolhouse that still stands on Willow Street.  Built in 1847, it was the first two-room schoolhouse in town.  It became the Guilderland Town Hall in 1954, and then the New York State Troopers barracks in 1972.

The town hall in Guilderland transferred its offices from the building in this story that was on Willow Street and had, since 1847, been the first two-room schoolhouse District 4. It is one of the most historic structures in town and had been originally one room.  It is now occupied by New York State Troopers.

Edward W. Chesebro became the principal of the new school in 1847. Here are some of  Chesebro's comments about his pupils from a letter dated Feb. 21, 1847.

"I am still plodding on the pedagogical path....such an ignorant school, ignorant of all the first principles of elementary studies, I think never was collected together before in Christendom. I have 97 different pupils. My compensation is $1.50 per scholar for the term of 72 days and board myself." ( This would amount to about $2 a day for the graduate of the second class of the Albany Normal School).

Chesebro goes on, “They are about the most respectful scholars I have ever had, and are the best disposition of scholars yet, yet how lamentable all this ignorance, I have gratification to know they are advancing in some of their studies quite rapidly, particularly reading, grammar, arithmetic.

“This school has an average of about 70.  Since I have taught here,  I have had about 97 different pupils. The District has 166 children aged between 5 and 16 years.  I have a class of  41 in the ‘Village Reader’ — half reading one morning, and half the next. I have a class of 15 in 'Child Guide' which reads once a day;  two classes in 'First Reader' which read semi-daily, one to myself and one to my assistant.

“I have a class of 12 pupils who commenced at the foundation and have arrived at the dignity of 'reading.’  I have three classes in arithmetic, the first in 'Perkins,’  the second in 'Smith's.’  I have two classes in grammar, and three classes in geography.

“Besides these,  I have a class of  a dozen to whom I lecture upon ‘Natural  Philosophy’ two evenings a week.  The space of an hour after school Wednesday afternoon is appropriated to general exercises; that is, we have no lesson and I talk to them on geography, give them a lesson on drawing, exchange pictures, have a lesson on normal chart, singing and composition and reading.

“Wednesday the boys meet and have declamation. And so we go — a burdensome job. My assistant is Miss Rhoda Ann Jackson from Seward, Schoharie Co., who attends school as a pupil.”

Before the two-room schoolhouse was built on Willow Street, an earlier schoolhouse stood on the site, built in about 1800.  It is referred to by an earlier author, who was born two doors north on Willow Street when the town was called Dowesburg.

He was Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, son of Major Lawrence Schoolcraft,  and cousin of Congressman John L. Schoolcraft whose house on Western Avenue is now being restored by the town.

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft wrote the poem  "Iosco" that included:

 "Village schoolhouse,  youth's most dear essay

  with ruddy gleam arose besides the way,

  But waning years, and fortune's iron frown

  With slow decay have struck the mansion down;

  And where it stood, the late increasing moor

  Had scattered thistles ’round the fallen door."

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft became an explorer, geologist, discoverer of the true source of the Mississippi River, and Indian Agent for the United States territory at St. Sault Marie. He was a great authority on American Indians and wrote several books on the topic.

The story is long and full about the complete Schoolcraft family in the town of Guilderland. The key that opened the door to the school that both Henry and John Schoolcraft attended is pictured with this story.  This historian is still looking for it!