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Old Middle Island Schools

Footnotes to Long Island History

Old Middle Island Schools

by
Thomas R. Bayles

 

 


It was back in 1872 when the little one room school in Ridge was built on the Middle Country road on a half acre of land donated to the district by William Sidney Smith of Longwood, which lies south of Ridge and north of Yaphank.

 How history repeats itself as Elbert C. Smith, the present owner of Longwood, has donated fifty acres of land to the Middle Island Central Central District to locate the new three million dollar junior and senior high school on.

 This tract of land is located on the south side of Longwood road a short distance west of the main entrance to the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and is a part of immense tract of land purchased by Col. William Smith from the Indians in 1691.

 This was know as the Manor St George, and covered all the land from the middle of the Island south to the ocean, and from the Carman's river on the west to the Mastic river on the east.

 Elbert C. Smith is a great-grandson of William Sidney Smith, who was born at Longwood in 1796, a direct descendant of Col. William Smith, who first settled in Setauket in 1686. Mr. Smith, who lived in California, inherited the estate at Longwood after the death of Miss Helen Tangier Smith, who died in 1955.

 He now lives on the ancestral estate with his wife and five children, and is a member of the school board of the Middle Island Central School District, which comprises the former districts of Ridge, Yaphank, East Middle Island, West Middle Island, Coram and West Yaphank school districts. 

  The school population of these districts has grown from a total for the six districts of about one hundred pupils in 1900 to over 1800 at this time, and if the growth of the past few years continues at the present rate, will reach a total of 3000 by 1965.

 About 500 junior and senior high school pupils have been attending Port Jefferson high school from these districts, but Port Jefferson has reached the point where they will not accept any more pupils from this central district.

 Brookhaven town was first divided into school  districts in 1813, and within a few years small, box-like, one-room schoolhouses like one pictured above, were built in each of the six districts mentioned. These buildings were about 20 by 24 feet in size, with a fireplace at one end at first, and afterwards a box-like stove which took in large chunks of wood and made lots of heat, which was necessary to offset the cold air coming in around the sides of the building. 

 High slanting desks were built around the sides of the room at which the pupils stood, and in the center were benches made from slabs sawed out at the local saw mill, with no backs.

 Only about half the enrolled pupils ever attended school at one time, as the older boys went during the winter months when farm work was slack, and the younger, children went when the roads were open, as they had to walk, some as much as two miles to school.

 The teachers taught all the grades and received in the early days about eight dollars a week. Before the school districts were formed not much attention was paid to education by the town. In Middle Island Rev. Ezra King, pastor of the Presbyterian church taught pupils at his home across from the church around 1810.

  The present one room school in Coram was built in 1900 and served until the new school was built a few years ago. The old building now serves as a library. In West Yaphank the present school house was built in 1907, after previous one burned down. It has been closed for several and all the pupils sent to Port Jefferson.

 The original school house in West Middle Island stood just east of the Presbyterian church and served until 1914, when a new one was built further north on Church Lane. This was closed and all pupils sent to Port Jefferson for several years until the new school was built a few years ago.

 In East Middle Island the old school house stood on the Yaphank Road just south of the post office until a new one was built in 1928, at a cost of $19,000. A schoolhouse was built in Yaphakl in 1854, which was octagonal in shape, and used until a new one was built in 1926, and later the Charles E. Walters school. In Ridge the school built in 1872 was used until the present one was built a few years ago.

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