Mar 18, 2009 Steve McMahon Uncategorized
This is the second in a series of stories about our early schools, in no particular order.
This week’s story is regarding the old Root School, District #14. It’s now the home of Doug and Barb Church on Oswego Road. A few Sundays ago I stopped by their house.
If you were born in Baldwinsville like me, then you’re probably related to everyone here somehow. Barb was a Kisselstein. Her brother, Harlow, married Bonnie Palmer. Today, she’s better known as Bonnie Kisselstein, Lysander Town Historian. One of Barb’s sisters, Joan, married my mother’s only brother, Bob Foster. Uncle Bob Foster and Doug Church were close friends until my uncle’s death in 2001. This convoluted link between the Church family and my own makes us what Bonnie Kisselstein refers to as “shirt-tail relations.” But, I digress.
The smell of hot coffee and cinnamon rolls was wafting through this charming house when I arrived. Before I even had a chance to sit down, Doug was showing me around the place. Life hasn’t been easy for this former fighter pilot, but Doug is one of the most cheerful and outgoing people I’ve ever met. My short tour included the original beams in the basement, the original windows in bedroom and study, and the drop in the ceiling where the old part of the house meets the new in the cozy front room. Doug and Barb are wonderful hosts, and they are rightly proud of the little old school house that they call home.
The school’s original location was where Church Road once met Oswego Road north of town, east of the Church family homestead. Today, a traffic light marks the spot where the divided highway of Route 690 narrows into the two lanes of Route 48. This intersection is also where the east-end of Church Road meets the west-end of Hencle Boulevard. According to a 1962 Messenger article, Robert C. Church began farming that land in 1924 and launched a farm equipment business in 1935, R.C. Church & Sons. After both boys graduated from Cornell University, son Robert E. ran the dairy farm and son P. Douglas ran the farm supply. Doug’s mother, Dorothy kept the books with his wife, Barb. But, the school was there long before Doug’s dad attended it in 1913.
According to a 1971 Messenger article by Tony Christopher, whose “Sketches of Yesterday” once graced the pages of this paper, the school was known by names as varied as the Ham School, the State Road School and the Quarry School. Christopher reports that the name “Ham District School perhaps originated from Peter and Matthew Ham, whose farms bordered on the 1836 school lot. G. W. Root bought the earlier school of 1836 vintage for $3, turning it into a house for himself. The last Root schoolhouse (present building) was erected in 1861 on a half-acre lot purchased from George Root for $20. The school measured 24 by 28 feet and cost $400 to set up. His father, who brought a family of 13 children, settled here in the forties (1840’s).”
Christopher’s article goes on to attribute the name of the State Road School to the community around it, then known as State Road. But, the most likely origin of the name for both the community and the school is the early state road that ran the 40 miles from Onondaga to Oswego. The old Palmer homestead just north of this spot was known as the Halfway Tavern, when it operated from 1814 through 1834 at the mid-point of the State Road, later known as Route 48. According to a 1943 Messenger article by Pearl Palmer, former history teacher and Lysander Town Historian, the last name is easy to explain. “Four quarries then in use were located, two to the west and two to the north of the school, giving origin to the name at one time applied: the Quarry School.” But, of all the names, “Root School” just seemed to stick.
Between sips of coffee, Doug Church recounted more recent memories of the Root School.
“I went here for eight grades during the 1940’s. I tended the fire when I was a student. It was just like one of my chores, like feeding the calves or chickens.”
His classmates included members of the Bellows and Hencle families. Peter and Charles McManus were also students there. He recalls grimly that one boy, who shall remain unnamed, “was a big bully and used to beat the blank out of me.”
One can easily infer from the sly grin on Doug’s face that the story didn’t end there, but he leaves it at that. Besides, Doug has much more fond memories of the school.
“My aunt, Louise Eggleston (Mrs. Wesley A. Getman), was practice-teaching back then. My earliest memory of school was sitting on her lap when I was very young. Some of the other teachers included Mrs. McManus who lived on Dinglehole Road, and Mrs. Mignault, the doctor’s sister. Aunt Louise taught her first year out of Normal School (training academy for teachers), but she quit when I entered sixth grade. Miss North was teacher when I was in seventh grade. That was a tough year for me, because I was used to my aunt being my teacher. Unlike my aunt, Miss North wasn’t used to living or working in the country.”
According to Dorothy Church’s notes on the back of an old photo, Doug and Barb bought the schoolhouse from District #14 in 1955. They remodeled it and moved into it in the spring of 1956. They exchanged homes with Dorothy in August 1964. Doug and Barb moved into the old homestead, and Dorothy moved into the schoolhouse. When Route 690 was built, Dorothy had the schoolhouse moved to its present location. That was June of 1968, and she lived in it until March of 1985, when she moved to Westside Manor. Doug and Barb moved in shortly thereafter. Doug Church stated that “the difficulty with this place was that it had a suspended ceiling because of these huge beams. I worked with the two carpenters and did all the electrical work. It was always a schoolhouse, but it was built like a barn.”
Barb Church added that “we didn’t want to tear it down when the highway came through, because it was full of antiques and we loved it. So, the family decided to move it.”
Doug quickly verified that the top five students who graduated from Baldwinsville Academy High School in 1948 all went to rural schools, because he was one of these five. As I have done in every one of my interviews, I asked Doug and Barb Church whether rural schools were better. Barb, who attended a one-room school in Cicero, said “You had to perform in front of everybody in the school, because you were up in front of everyone. It was hard, but it was great training.”
Doug added, “I didn’t realize what an education I had at the Root School until I left and went to Cornell University; and even later than that, when I wound up in the same flying class as Ed White, the astronaut.”
But, that’s another story for another time. I know that I’ll be back. According to Barb, Doug bakes a mean pie that goes quite well with a hot cup of coffee.
Barb and Doug Church on the basement stairs in the home on Oswego Road, the old Root School, District #14 (note the old beam above them).
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.