Jun 15, 2009 Steve McMahon Uncategorized
This week’s story is about the schools of “The Project,” 14th in a series regarding the rural schools of the town of Lysander. These three schools were the Smokey Hollow (No. 13), Chestnut Ridge (No. 15), and Sixty or Potter Districts (formerly No. 23, then No. 18). All three schools were named for roads that ran at right angles through northeastern Lysander. All are gone now, victims of the great world war and the progress that followed. In fact, school ended early and quite permanently for the children of these districts back in 1942.
The Sixty or Potter School was founded in September 1846 near the border between Lots 60 and 61. The Chestnut Ridge School followed in November 1851, named for the road that ran to the large drumlin covered with chestnut trees. The Smokey Hollow School and Road both came later.
According to Pearl Palmer’s “Historical Review of the Town of Lysander,” an 1853 map “represents all the land north of Baldwinsville bounded on the west by the State Road (Oswego Road), on the east by the Sixty Road and on the north by the Phoenix Road (Lamson Road), as forest region. A sort of trail, which eventually became the Smoky Hollow Road, led from the village northward as far as the first railroad crossing,” just past Patterson Road, known today as Hencle Boulevard. “That settlers occupied this forest area is proven by the facts connected with the alteration made in the boundaries of both District 14 (the old Root School) and the Sixty District in 1856, creating a third school, Smoky Hollow.”
In 1893, the editor of the Baldwinsville Gazette & Farmers’ Journal described Smokey Hollow Road as, “A piece of very good road, the finest, we think, in the town of Lysander.” It was still a dirt road 50 years later when the Doran family moved there. Dick Doran said, “If you head north, ours was the first place on the right past the railroad tracks. It was inside a triangle formed by Smokey Hollow Road, Patterson Road, and the tracks. They used to call it ‘thirteen acres.’ When we moved there, they were both dirt roads. I can remember one winter when the plows couldn’t get through. So, my father and the neighbors got together and shoveled just enough off the road so they could get the bobsleds down to the corner. He would hook the horses to a log and drag it up and down the driveway until he get it clean enough to run his old Model T to town. And, there was no electricity.” Dick’s soft-spoken sister, Ruth added, “There were no telephones either.”
Dick remembers that “We lived on Cornelius McCarthy’s farm. He died just before we moved there. He had two places. When we grew tobacco, we hung it in his barn, because ours was full of hay for our cows. I think that we also might have grown peas. In those days, they used to call them tenant farms. The owners were all absentee landowners who lived in town. There was Harley Loveless, Sr., Charlie Coss, James Reagan and Cornelius McCarthy. My father worked for him ‘on shares’ as a sharecropper. I don’t think that there was any fee.” Ruth agreed, stating simply, “Yes, I’d go along with that.”
Dick remembers that his mother, Anna, was an avid churchgoer. His father, John, ensured that, “she never lived too far from a church. Before we moved to Smokey Hollow Road, we lived in Lysander hamlet on top of the hill in the old Keefer place. But, we attended the old St. Mary’s Catholic Church on the south side. When the bridge over the Seneca River first went out, we had to drive across the temporary bridge behind Vanderveer’s Garage (now Sammy Malone’s) to get to church. You had to keep your tires in these two tracks as you crossed the river. My mother couldn’t swim and was very nervous. She swore that we’d never cross that bridge again. So, we went to St. Stephen’s Church in West Phoenix instead. We never did return to church in B’ville again until we moved to Smokey Hollow Road. Then, we used to walk all the way into town, across the river, and up Tappan Street to the old church,” which closed in 1940 and is now an apartment building on the northeast corner of Tappan and McHarrie streets. Today, Dick and Ruth can still walk to St. Mary’s Church. They live next door.
Dick continued. “When we first went to school in 1939, Hjalmer Crook owned the property and his daughter Velma Crook was the teacher. His grandson is Dick Crook, who today runs The Bikery out on Van Buren Road. Miss Crook liked dogs. Our dog, Teddy would be out in the field with my dad, and he’d hear us playing outside during recess and come running.” Ruth added, “Teddy would always come with us when we walked home for lunch. I recall that he ate some boy’s lunch one day.” Their next teacher was Louise VanDenburg Pomeroy. Dick recalled, “I can remember Ralph Pomeroy coming to see Miss VanDenburg one day at school in 1941, before they married. I remember the school superintendent, Devillo Sloan, visiting our school, too. Everything got painted and washed, and everybody was on their best behavior. It was just like in the army when the general comes to call.”
The army did come to call, following the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war on the U.S. by Germany in December 1941. Due to the strategic importance of plentiful water for manufacturing, railroad tracks for transportation, sparse population for secrecy, and a natural barrier in case of explosion (the drumlin), a 6,500-acre area in the northeast corner of Lysander was chosen for the manufacture of ammonium picrate or “Explosive D,” the active ingredient in armor-piercing artillery shells. Known first at the “Baldwinsville-Phoenix Army Purchase Area,” and then the “Lysander Ordnance Works,” locals finally referred to it simply as “The Project.” The War Powers Act passed by Congress in December 1941 allowed the U.S. Army to immediately exercise eminent domain.
On March 30, 1942, U.S. District Judge Frederick Bryant served about 180 landowners with an eviction notice. The vast majority of these folks lived on family farms bounded roughly by Route 31, River Road, Smokey Hollow Road and Lamson Road. This “Order for Immediate Possession” stated that, “the United States of America is entitled to the immediate possession and immediate occupancy, and use for military purposes, of said 6,500 acres of land in Town of Lysander, Onondaga County, State of New York .That the use of said property for the War emergency may not be impeded or delayed, it is further ordered that prior to May 1, 1942, the owners and occupants of any designated tracts or parcels of said land shall surrender possession to the United States of America and quit said portion at the date and as specified by notice of the United States Army Area Engineer.”
The Farm Security Administration opened a relocation office in the Baldwinsville Grange Hall, but there was little that adviser Bob Church could do to help the families affected. One month was hardly long enough to move a household, let alone a family farm. Most folks ended up auctioning off their livestock and equipment to the highest bidder. Auctions of prize dairy cattle and thoroughbred horses at the Canino, Kline, Pendergast farms made local headlines. Some just pulled up stakes and left. The U.S. Army harvested and sold crops, barns, sheds and silos from the former farms in the fall. Even newlywed Ralph Pomeroy and his schoolteacher wife, Louise VanDenburg, were relocated from their home on River Road. Ralph once recalled that it wasn’t much time to move 40 cows, a team of horses, farm machinery and a new wife, although the last item on the list was probably the hardest. They relocated all the way over in Navarino.
Like most folks who lived through World War II, life would never be the same again for the local schoolchildren. Among the landowners affected were the Chestnut Ridge and Sixty School districts, whose schoolhouses sat squarely in the middle of this area. Because the Smokey Hollow School District sat on the west-side of the road, the schoolhouse remained. But, the district was cut in half and all the residents on the east side of the road between Patterson and Kellogg roads were evicted. Among the dispossessed was the Doran family living in the McCarthy Farm across from the schoolhouse. Dick remembered, “We left for a farm in Cato. The Broome family moved from their farm on Patterson Road to another one on Church Road. Most of the farms had been taken over and the people had moved. Anything beyond Kellogg Road stayed in the family. I think that the boundary went straight out Patterson Road to Smokey Hollow, up Smokey Hollow to Kellogg and over to Sixty, then north. On our road, they tore down everything except our house. When the war was over, the government said we could buy it back. But, the McCarthy’s didn’t want it and neither did my father.”
In fact, most folks had already moved to greener pastures. The lack of class photos or former students to interview from the Chestnut Ridge and Sixty schools bear silent testimony to the fact that few families came back home. The Army razed the Sixty School soon after they acquired the land, but the Chestnut Ridge schoolhouse was still standing even after the subsequent sale of 2,500 acres in 1947 to New York State for the Game Management Area, and another 2,000 acres in 1952 to the William Waldorf Astor Estate. The state’s Urban Development Corporation finally destroyed the schoolhouse around 1974 to make way for the Lysander New Community, now known as Radisson. The Smokey Hollow School lasted equally as long. Arthur Ranger bought the building back in 1945, but it was destroyed by fire in 1974. A mobile home replaced it, just as The Project took the place of the other two schools located on Radisson land. The people of Radisson have wanted and needed their own primary school for 30 years now. It seems that the foundations of education in Radisson lie just below the surface.
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.
Sledding near the Crook farm, up across the road from the Smokey Hollow School, District No. 13, in 1941. Front, from left to right, Ruth Doran, Gloria Broome, and Teddy the dog; back, Dick Doran and Beatrice Broome.