May 18, 2009 Steve McMahon Uncategorized
This week’s story is about the River Road School, District No. 9, 12th in a series regarding our rural schools. The schoolhouse sits on the north side of Route 370 between Emerick Road on the east and Dunham Road on the west, as you travel along the Seneca River between Baldwinsville and Plainville. For this reason the road has been known over the years as both the Baldwinsville-Plainville Road and the River Road. But, it was originally called the Plank Road School, for the plank road that pointed the way west from the village toward the school circa 1850.
Local historian Tony Christopher told the story of the plank road in a September 1974 Messenger article. “There were times in the rainy season when country roads and village streets, too, resembled the farmers’ service lanes. All were full of ruts and mud-holes in wet weather, and very dusty when dry .Around 1850, plank road companies were being formed all over the state, the idea having become quite the rage in road-making. This was the era when over 200 plank roads had been built in New York State.”
Upstate New York’s heavy rainfall and snowfall, and frequent freezing and thawing, made plank roads very practical. In fact, the first one in America was built here in 1846. The road stretched 16 and a half miles from Salina via Brewerton and Cicero to Central Square, and is today better known as Route 11. In exchange for a faster, smoother ride, travelers paid a toll. This toll-road was so successful that it lasted until 1913.
Baldwinsville’s plank road, however, was much shorter in both distance and duration. It ran only one mile from east to west, from where the railroad tracks cross East Genesee Street (at the Baldwinsville Farmer’s Co-Op) to where West Genesee Street reaches the village limits at West Oneida Street. By 1848 the Baldwinsville Plank Road Company had laid planks the entire length of the route, but had not yet erected a toll-gate. But, the firm dissolved in 1857, when it surrendered the eastern half of its road to the town of Lysander. As of 1880, the Baldwinsville Gazette still referred to District No. 9 as the Plank Road School. But, in 1883 the paper reported that “The winter term of the River Road School began Dec. 3, with a full attendance. More benches have been added and other improvements made.” Thereafter, the school would always go by that name.
Fifty years later, the River Road School welcomed five year-old twins named Burton and Virginia Crego. The twins and their older brothers, Miner and Warren, lived with their parents up on the east side of Emerick Road. According to Virginia, “It wasn’t even called Emerick Road when we lived there.” Their parents, Harold and Hazel Abbot Crego, were members of two of the oldest families in the area, the Cregos of Crego Road in the town of Van Buren and the Abbots of Cold Spring Road in the town of Lysander.
Virginia, now known as Mrs. Alfred Johnson, said, “We’re related to lots of folks around here.” She laughed, and added that it reminded her of a friend, whose son-in-law moved to nearby Plainville. “She gave him only one piece of advice. Don’t say anything about anyone to anybody, because they’re all related.” Virginia continued. “We started in first grade in the fall of 1933. We went there all eight grades through 1941. We were the only ones in the grade for most of our years there. Mrs. Myrtle Hurley was our teacher from the third through eighth grades.” Burton added, “In the seventh grade, there were only three of us, including my sister and me.”
Virginia recalls that “In the back of the school there were two restrooms with a coal room in the middle. Burton carried the coal or wood into the room. He also carried the water.” Burton added, “There was a pump outside. There was a big hall with a pail of water at the east-end. We also had an earthenware jug with a spigot on it.”
Virginia then said, “Believe it or not, on Mondays the teacher would give each student one, small paper cup. We would drink from this same cup the rest of the week. And, we all lived through it!”
Burton said, “I remember saluting the flag each morning.”
Virginia laughed before added, “Burton also put up the flag every morning. He won’t remember this, but one day he raised the flag upside down by mistake, which is a sign of distress. Someone told the state troopers based in Baldwinsville, and they rushed to the school right away.”
Virginia continued. “We walked about a mile and a half to school, even when we were only five years old. Burton always carried both of our lunches.” Burton added, “In good weather we used to walk down to the corner, put on our roller skates, and skate to school on Route 370. It was paved, unlike our road.”
“At that time Emerick Road was dirt, and wasn’t paved until some time well after WWII,” Virginia said.
Burton continued, “And then in winter when there were no leaves on the trees, we could see all the way down to the school. We used to cut cross-lots, because we could climb right up and over the fences.”
This was back before Route 690 crossed the Seneca River and cut a deep valley into the hill just east of Emerick Road. Virginia and Burton both recall the Ten Eyck family and the park that stood nearby before the bridge came.
Another former pupil who remembers the park well is Ellie Blaisdell Upton. “We moved into Ten Eyck’s trailer park when I was about five years old, probably in 1946. That’s when I first went to the River Road School. I remember that the schoolhouse was surrounded by big old maple trees, and we used to get in trouble for climbing them. My first teacher was a man named Mr. Marvin Taylor. My next teacher, Mrs. Lavina Phillips, lived in the trailer park, too, she and her husband. Now, what was the name of that park?”
I checked after we spoke and discovered that the Ten Eyck family ran a park for decades. The name of the place was Riverside Park, and it was much more than a trailer park. The location was to the east of where Clarke’s stand sits today, between the road and the river. Long before Clarke’s Stand served some of the best fish in town, the Ten Eyck’s sold sandwiches, fish and soft drinks down at Riverside Park. Throughout the 1920s, it was a popular place for church picnics, grange field days and family reunions including the Kelly-Field family, which will hold its 93rd annual reunion this year.
The Ten Eycks also promoted other fun pastimes at Riverside Park. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, you could rent flat-bottom boats for fishing, view moving pictures for free, play miniature golf or dance on a newly-waxed floor to the music of Fred Curtis and his six-piece orchestra from Oswego. But, the park was best known for bowling. One year, the bowler of the high game on each of the four days before Christmas won a free turkey. Another year, an ad clipped from the Baldwinsville Gazette and signed by Earl Woodruff of the Plainville Red & White Store entitled the bearer to one free game of bowling. While Riverside Park offered fun for the whole family, the kids of the River Road School enjoyed their own brand of fun.
Burton’s favorite fun activity was “the year-end picnic at Fair Haven.” Virginia said, “The district hired a bus and the mothers came, too. We had a covered-dish lunch. After that we’d play games and swim.”
Ellie recalled, “We’d have a May Day party, and turn the flag pole into a May pole. Everybody was ready to get outside by spring including the teacher, Mrs. Phillips. I remember her unique way of teaching. There was never any chance to get bored, because there was always some kind of teaching going on. I just remember that it was kind of fun to be there. I wish I’d had the chance to ask her how she did it with so many children in the same school, and all in different grades.”
Unfortunately, Lavina Phillips passed away before Ellie finished the sixth grade. In 1952, the families of the River Road School district honored the memory of this devoted teacher with flowers for the yard and books for the library.
On March 2, 1954, the taxpayers of former District No. 9 voted to close the River Road School permanently. On the 27th of that month, Earl Schader of Dunham Road bought the schoolhouse and lot at auction. Earl’s daughter, Barbara, and her husband, Dan O’Connell, bought the house from her father in 1964 and have lived there ever since. When he renovated the structure, Dan was impressed that the building was “so well-constructed from top to bottom.”
The River Road community was just as strong as the schoolhouse. Virginia Crego Johnson sadly remembers how one family tragically lost their only child in a freak accident at home.
“There was a big, white house where the Maloneys lived (bought by Fred Hafner in 1960). It was 1936 and we were in fourth grade. There was a boy, Billy Maloney, who was our age. It was sad. The whole school went to the funeral in the old Catholic Church.” The schoolchildren playing right across the road would be a constant reminder of their loss, but William and Delia Maloney decided to stay.
Ellie Blaisdell Upton wasn’t even born when Billy Maloney died, and may not even know of his accident. But, she mentioned the Maloneys on her own during our talk.
“I used to walk to school. I think that it was about a mile,” she said. “Across the road from the school there was a farm house where the Maloneys lived. There was always a bunch of us walking together to school. I remember that Mr. and Mrs. Maloney always made a point to come out to the road and talk to us. They were nice.”
The Maloneys graciously hosted picnics and parties for their neighbors for years, bringing closure to themselves and closeness to the whole community.
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.
Students and teacher, River Road School, District No. 9, circa 1938. Shown with teacher, Mrs. Myrtle Hurley (far right) are students (front row, from left) Burton Crego, Betty Mackey, Yvonne DeVaul, Carrie Mackey, Era Netwick, Unknown (middle row) Unknown, Merle Reed, Milton Adsit, Virginia Crego, Janet Barton, Roy Walker, Unknown, Mrs. Hurley, (back row) Unknown, Billy Mackey, Hobart Becker, Maurice Bratt and Bob Ten Eyck.