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.