Mar 10, 2009 Steve McMahon Uncategorized
This week’s story is about the Dinglehole School, District no. 11, seventh in a series regarding our early schools. At one time it was also known as the Lamson District School and was built on land loaned by a farmer named Butler. As of 1947, the land was still owned by his granddaughter, Nellie Rumsey. Now a private residence, the building sits on the northeast corner of Lamson and Dinglehole roads. This spot is situated just south of the Cayuga County line, about halfway between Little Utica on the west, Wright’s Corners on the east.
The short drive east to Wright’s Corners will take you first through the former hamlet of Lamson. Slow down when you cross the railroad tracks, or you will have passed it. One hundred years ago, this was a busy place. It was an important trading and transportation center for the farmers who lived in northwestern Lysander, and even folks from Granby. From the Lamson depot, the DL&W railroad transported everything from people to potatoes to points beyond. And, the Lamson-Phoenix stagecoach would ferry folks back and forth between these two towns, as they arrived or departed by train. My great-grandfather disembarked in this very railroad depot on May 28, 1890, at the age of 18, when he arrived from England. He walked the three miles to Jacksonville and stayed for the next 79 years of his life. But, many more folks departed than arrived. The little hamlet of Lamson faded into memory.
One long-time resident of Lamson shared her memories in a Messenger article dated Dec. 30, 1965. Mrs. Lewis Scriber remembered that “Lamson was named after George Washington Lamson and his wife, Sarah. They erected the large, three-story building, which later became known as Scriber’s hall and store. The Lamsons put up the enormous wooden hotel around 1850 to house and board construction workers on the new railroad. Mrs. Scriber points out that the original Lamsons were great-grandparents of Glenn Blakeman and Flossie Smith Reeves.” Glenn and Flossie were brother and sister and lifelong residents of the area. Flossie taught in several of the rural school districts of Lysander including Fenner, Jacksonville, Plainville and Chestnut Ridge. So much for Lamson’s history, but what about Dinglehole?
For well over 100 years, the origin of the place-name Dinglehole (or Dingle Hole) has been in question. In the 1946 Centennial Edition of the Baldwinsville Gazette and Farmers’ Journal, Mrs. John (Ella) Bellows explained the most likely source.
“When asked the reason for the name ‘Dingle Hole’ Mrs. Bellows revealed that Otis Bigelow had told her the significance of that name. It seems that there is a low spot in the terrain in that territory covered by water, a water hole to which in the early days, cattle flocked to drink. In the pioneer days, before trees had been cut to any great extent, it was common practice for farmers to place a bell around the neck of each cow so that they might hear them in rounding them up. The bell sound, ‘dingle,’ and the water ‘hole’ became combined into Dingle Hole.”
Eva Young Maxam repeated this same story. She lives on former Bellows land and, like Mrs. Bellows before her, Eva is a long-time resident. At the time of the 1946 article, Ella Bellows had lived in the same house on Dinglehole Road for 65 years. Eva Young Maxam has her beat. She’s lived in her Dinglehole house for 77 years. I recently met with Eva at her home on a crisp, clear day. The contrast of the blue sky with the white snow made for a nice drive out to Dinglehole Road. Eva greeted me at the door with a smile and a sweep of her hand.
“This land was the Bellows farm. The old homestead was over just north of here, but it’s gone now. One of the Bellows brothers built this house. The house down below this curve was a Bellows house, too.”
Once we were comfortably settled in the living room, Eva continued.
“Grandpa bought this place in October of 1931. We moved into this place in June of 1932. I had just turned 5 when we moved here. I’ve been here all my life. Maybe I’ll be here forever.”
When I asked her about the students and teachers of Dinglehole School, Eva was ready.
“I attended first through eighth grade at Dinglehole. I was 6 years old in May and went to school in September. That was the fall of 1933. I don’t remember exactly, but there were probably 12 or 15 of us there at one time. But, each year there were more. The last year I was there, there were probably 32 or more kids there. There were quite a few kids up there that would come and go, but I don’t remember their names. Their families would move in and move out. There was a Field family when we moved here. There was George, Harriet and Harold Field. Harold was the youngest, and he’s still living up here on the corner. He’s the only one that I can think of who’s alive yet that went to school with me. When I first went up there, there was the Reed family. They had nine children or better and the four youngest ones were in the school. Mrs. Reed was the aunt to these kids, and she was my teacher for third grade on. My first grade teacher was Miss Graves. She married Carl Griebno. My second grade teacher was Miss Young, no relation.”
Just last Friday, I spoke with Janice Calkins Skinner Pillans by phone. Like Eva, Jan went to the Dinglehole school as a child, albeit much later than Eva.
“We lived south of Eva. I went through all six grades at Dinglehole from 1945 to 1951. My first teacher was Mrs. Haus from Phoenix, and she was killed in an accident my first year. We were just devastated because she was such a delight. And then Mrs. (Madeline) McManus took over. She lived down across from Eva. She was an older lady, but she knew how to keep us in line when we tried to ‘snow’ her.”
Jan remembers that it was probably a walk of about three-quarters of a mile to school.
“I can remember having to be really alert in the winter because the snow plows would come up behind me. I was afraid of not being able to get up and over the snow bank before they hit me. It never happened of course, but I was prepared with a plan of escape.”
Eva said that she didn’t walk, because her father wouldn’t let her.
“He would take me to school by car. One day, it was so bad that he rode on horseback to get me. He brought me and Jim Bellows back by horseback. When Jim went to get off, the horse was cold and didn’t want to stand still, so Jim fell off.”
Jan said, “When you walked into the school there was hallway and the teacher stood there ringing a bell. You hung up your coat. On opposite ends of the hallway there were inside ‘one-holers,’ one for boys and for girls. In the wintertime, we tried to hold it because it was unheated. There was a wooden bench out there underneath the coat rack, and that’s where we put our benches. The classes were all in single rows. The teacher would give you your lessons, so you would be busy with your homework when she was working with the other grades. The main thing back then is that the teachers were allowed to discipline. And you had enormous respect for your teachers, and you knew what would happen if you didn’t. Your parents would get involved, but it was more than that. You just respected and trusted them because they were in authority. Don’t get me wrong. You knew that when the teacher walked up with that ruler you were going to get cracked across your knuckles.”
Eva proudly showed me an old report card that she had saved.
“As far as I’m concerned I got a good education at the Dinglehole School. I fit right in with all the kids at Dinglehole.”
She recalled fondly, “We had picnics every year after school in the summer. We had the picnic right there at the schoolhouse. At Christmas we’d always make something for our mothers. One time we made tie-backs for their curtains. We always had a Christmas party and my mother would make me a new dress for the party each year. They were hard times. I don’t know as I went without anything in particular, but I know that I didn’t have anything extra. I had peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day, and mom made the crabapple jelly from our own apples.”
I asked Jan what made rural schools so special. There was a long pause, but it was worth the wait.
“Now that I look back on it, it was a lot like family,” she said. “I was an only child with no brothers or sisters, so it was a lot like an extended family for me. I don’t remember any cliques or rivalry. There were no fights. Everybody just got along. It was just a good feeling to get up every morning and be with the same gang every day. We took care of each other like brothers and sisters should do. And, that’s the way it was.”
About 25 years ago at the peak of political correctness, New York State DEC searched its maps and found 45 locales with potentially offensive names. Dinglehole was one of them. After spending significant time and money to research the scatology meaning behind the name, the bureaucrats concluded that “Dingle” could be traced to the Middle English word for a small, wooded valley. So, the name was socially acceptable after all, and it stayed. By the way, Middle English as a language expired prior to 1700, while this area wasn’t settled until after 1800. And, if they had just driven down Dinglehole Road, they would have discovered a swamp, not a valley. More important, the locals like the name. So, let’s keep it forever. Like some of the folks hereabouts, the name gives the place character.
In two weeks read the next article in the series, “Lysander Goes to School.” Looking Backward will appear in the Messenger every other week, as long as there are stories to tell. If you have questions about this story or suggestions for future ones, including any local historical images or information, please contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dinglehole School, District #11, also known as the Lamson District, as it looked in 1935.