Schools

By Fred Couse.  Aug 2016.
Fred is a direct lineal descendant of Milan Revolutionary War Veteran Jacob Couse.

Today, the Town of Milan is split between three Central School Districts; the eastern 50% of the town is within the Pine Plains Central School District, the western 40% is in the Red Hook Central School District, and the remaining southwest corner, approximately 10%, is in the Rhinebeck Central School District.

It wasn’t always this way.

State supervision, and to some degree, financing dates back to the early 1800’s in New York State. “Common schools”, mostly in the form of one or two room schoolhouses were the order of the day and by the middle of the 1800’s, more than ten thousand of these school existed across the State.

In Milan, there were ten such one room schools, identified by the district of the town they were located in. They were located as follows: District 1 located in Lafayetteville; District 2  located on Academy Hill Road and North Road; District 3 on Jackson Corners Road; District 4 Academy Hill and Route 199; District 5 Milan Hollow; District 6 Round Lake; District 7 Rock City; District 8 Milan Hill Road; District 9 Cokertown; District 10 Cold Spring Road/Stanfordville.

As State financial aid only covered children up to age 15, these schools were essentially covering grades one thru seven. A small percentage of children would go on to “high school”, but these only existed in neighboring towns. Milan children of high school age would travel to Red Hook, Tivoli, or Pine Plains to get a high school education.

Growing financial pressures on rural schools came to a head in the period following World War I, culminating in a series of laws passed in 1925 that created strong incentives for schools to combine into “centralized school districts”. The first to do so in Dutchess County was the Pine Plains Central School District, in 1931. This centralization would include five of Milan’s easternmost one room school houses. Red Hook would follow down the centralization path in 1937, taking four of the remaining one room school houses, and Rhinebeck took in the last one when it centralized in 1941.

The One Room School houses in Milan became the property of their new central school district. Several continued to operate as outlying elementary buildings until dwindling student populations, improved roads and bussing, and higher educational standards made it more practical to bring students together in larger groups. As the 1940’s came around, most had closed, with the school in Lafayetteville among the last to close in 1946.

Each District eventually sold off the One Room Schoolhouse, often looking to convey them to their town for a community purpose. Several were sold outright and have been converted to residences. Some of the sales were actually “tear down” contracts.

Throughout the years, Milan residents have served on their respective Boards of Education. At this writing, only Pine Plains has a Milan resident on its Board.

All buildings extant (2016) except for Districts 5, 6, 10.
Interview of Frances O.  Sandiford.  By Reggie Coon.

“Up until about 1940, going to school for the children of Milan meant going to one of several one-room houses. I went to the White School House located at the foot of Academy Hill Road. It was a simple frame building, which has [been made into a residence].* Some schools which were more sturdy and ornate, such as the one in Lafayetteville, have been converted into living quarters.

My school was heated in the winter by a pot belly stove and cooled in the summer by open windows. I cannot remember how the walls were decorated, but I think that they were painted. The pictures on display, which, of course, are long gone, would probably be the joy of today’s Antique Road Show on television.

Milan’s population was mobile even in those days. Some years there were two or three students. Other years we had seven or eight ranging in age from five or six to about twelve. At that age, the students would transfer to Red Hook or Pine Plains, or drop out if they had no transportation.

We sat on wooden benches around the school room arranged for the convenience of the teacher. We used pencils and paper and text books which I guess we purchased. (I still have my fourth grade reader). We recited when called on, and since everything was oral, the younger children had the advantage of hearing the work that the older children were doing. When it came time for them to advance, it was easier for them to do so.

As in any classroom situation, even today, the quality of the work depended a great deal on the quality of the teacher. He/she was everything: principal, school nurse, cafeteria worker. If a student did not “hit it off” with him/her, there was no recourse. The student could not change to another class, or go to another teacher when the new school year began. On the other hand, if the teacher was especially supportive, the students could blossom by skipping grades or by doing advanced work in the early grades.

Transportation to and from school was always a problem. Of course there were no school busses, so the students would walk, or be driven in and back by parents. My father drove me. There was no such thing as snow days. If the weather was too treacherous, we stayed home of our own accord.

All this ended very rapidly in 1936. The building in Red Hook (now the Red Hook Emporium) which housed both the high school and elementary students living in the Village, burned down. For a time, the students were grouped into available buildings with the plan that the school would be reconstructed. At that point, the outside schools were not affected. But times were changing, and so were the thoughts about education. There was a move in the country to centralize. In other words, the one-room school houses would be closed and the students would be brought together in one large school with multiple classrooms and teachers. In some cases, parents fought this, but in the end, with the help of Federal funds under the Roosevelt administration, it was accomplished surprisingly quickly. The first building of the centralized unit was what is now the Linden Avenue Middle School, opened in 1939. The children were taken to school on spanking new buses. Many of these children, who had rarely been away from Milan, now saw the Village of Red Hook on a daily basis.

Now, several generations later, and two additional buildings added to the original Linden Avenue school, children attend classes much as the did on that opening day in 1939. At first, there was some nostalgia connected with the transition, but in today’s world, I doubt that many students would want to return to the days of the one-room schools. Too much has happened in the intervening years and there is just too much more to learn to be able to experience it in such a limited space.”

 

*Edited for clarity.

 

 

 

 

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