Just five short years after the organization of the Town of Northfield
in 1789, the pioneer settlers decided that after clearing the land and
raising food for their family’s needs, education of their children
was of utmost importance. In 1794, the two founders of the town, Simon
and Israel Stone gave three acres of land for a cemetery to be established
and for a log schoolhouse to be built on a hill, one mile south of the
present village. This was the first, and for many years the only, school
house in all of Northfield and was known then, and now, as District #1.
This was not a free school. It was built by subscription, with the settlers
taking as many shares as they had children in school. The tuition was $1.00
per child per semester – a hefty sum in those days.
Students came from miles away to attend; it was very important to parents
that their children get an education. But it was unsafe to walk long distances
through woods and trees where wolves and bears were prevalent. Young children
were often boarded with families who lived closer to the school or who
had older children to accompany the youngsters whose homes were too far
away and too dangerous a walk. Even Mr. John Barrows, the first schoolmaster,
boarded with families whose homes were nearby the schoolhouse and that
board was considered as part of his salary, which was a whopping $12.00
per month – a sum that was considered extravagant by the settlers.
The original log building was razed in 1806 and replaced by a frame building;
that frame building was razed in 1826 when the present brick building was
According to the 1787 curriculum guide in New York State, two general
programs could be offered. One was the classical which included the study
of Greek, Latin, geography, history, and later mathematics and science.
The second program offered English, French, writing, reading, arithmetic,
bookkeeping, and elocution. Probably the latter would have been the course
of study in District # 1 and 2.
In 1804 a second schoolhouse was built, District #2; also by subscription.
This building was not a log structure, but a frame one. Two Pittsfordite
businessmen, Mr. Billinghurst and Mr. Agate, were active in this endeavor
and the structure was built on what was then Armstrong Hill – now
Pittsford Mendon Road. Besides being used as a schoolhouse, it was also
to be a meetinghouse. The ceiling was arched to make it better for public
meetings even though that added to the cost. Mr. Ball, from Bloomfield,
was the teacher. The original building was demolished in 1860 and the present
structure at #625 was built with monies from subscribing families. Much
changed, it is now a private dwelling.
There are Pittsfordites, now adults, who attended school there until the
centralization of the district in 1946, when all of the outlying districts
were closed and all school children were absorbed into one school on Lincoln
Avenue now the Spiegel Community Center.
In all there were 13 District schoolhouses before the west woods of Pittsford
were annexed and established as the separate town of Henrietta. At that
time, the Districts were renumbered and nine schoolhouses and districts
remained in what is now Pittsford. Many of them were built of brick and
resembled each other. Some of those remain while others have been destroyed
either by housing developments or just because they were too deteriorated
District #3 was and is located at the corner of East Street and Thornell
Road. The land for this school was granted by John Gardner and his wife
to the Trustees of District #3. The small brick building of Greek Revival
style, was built in 1845. It is a one story, center entrance building with
gable end facing East Street. The entrance has a four pane transom over
This District was sometimes called "Johnny Cake School" because
of the old name of the area. That label was attached, some sources say,
because so much corn was raised on the farms in that area and the farmers
wives used much of it for Johnny Cake. It was also reported that those
generous farm ladies gave much of that delicacy to workers on the Erie
School #3 was closed in 1946 when centralization came to Pittsford and
the building was sold at auction to William Patterson who converted it
into a single family home. The coal bin was made into a kitchen and the
one toilet room was converted into a full bath. It continues to be a residence
and still resembles its original usage.
District #4 was located on Clover Street about where Hastings Circle cul-de-sac
runs off Clover near Lock 32. This land was deeded by Daniel Kingsley and
his wife for use specifically as a schoolhouse. Kingsley owned property
on each side of Clover Street from about French Road south to the canal.
This building was frame and had a basement that housed the coal furnace.
The basement had a door to the outside. There was one front entrance that
was used by both boys and girls and opened into a wide hallway that held
coats, lunch pails, and boots in the wintertime. A former student reported
that the playground had swings and the very best slide in the town.
Classes from 1st grade to sixth were taught in this District, as were
most of the others in town. There was an area for a library near the wide
hallway and in close proximity to the entrance to the basement. Older students
were asked to tend the coal furnace – either by adding fuel or by "shaking" it.
A Mr. Dehmler, who lived nearby, was the custodian during the years of
late 1930’s until the closing of the District.
Of course students walked to school and some came from as far away as
Long Meadow, French Road, and all the way to the Brighton line on Clover
Street and up to Stone Road. A 4-H program was offered one day a week after
school, taught by a volunteer mother of one of the students.
District #5 is also located on Clover Street. It is #3107 Clover Street
about 100 yards north of Calkins Road; "just south of the bend in
the road." It is a frame building, much changed from its original
use. It has been converted into a single family home and has a prominent
chimney on the front, large windows, and a garage. All of this remodeling
was done in 1945 when it was no longer needed as a school. The woodshed
was made into the kitchen and a wing was added to the rear. This building
today is a very charming cape cod looking home.
District #6 is far different from the other schoolhouses. First of all,
it is in the village, located on Church Street. It was built in 1846 to
serve the students who lived in the village in order for the children not
to have to walk the one mile to District #1. It has a very interesting
history relating to the stonemason who constructed it.
Samuel Crump and his bride traveled from England, on their honeymoon trip,
to Rochester, NY, where Sam had relatives. The couple decided to stay in
America and Sam, who had been a successful stonemason in his native land,
started looking for work. He read in the Rochester paper that the Pittsford
village trustees were looking for a contractor to build a school. Sam decided
that he was just the man for the job so he walked from Rochester to Pittsford
and presented his case to the trustees, who hired him on the spot. Not
too many people at that time knew how to work with cobblestones, so it
was quite unique.
The building is, of course, still there, owned by the Masonic Lodge and
carefully maintained by that organization. If one looks closely at the
sign above the front door, the words "District 6" can just be
distinguished. The Masons, realizing what an historic treasure they had,
excavated and poured a concrete basement at considerable expense.
After the school was completed and children were enrolled in it, Sam decided
he liked this community so well that he made it his home. He became a leading
citizen and merchant, building the brick edifice at the corner of Monroe
Avenue and Main Street, with a home next to it and a big barn behind it.
The barn, which no longer exists, became very important during the Civil
War. Sam was a staunch abolitionist and the only documented engineer on
the Underground Railroad here in Pittsford.
Sam would receive notice somehow that runaway slaves were coming to his
home. Sam’s wife always had extra food in the house just for this
reason and, after feeding these folks a hardy meal, Sam would hide them
in his barn. The next morning the runaways would be hidden under merchandise
in his wagon and Sam could take them to the Port of Charlotte where they
would board a boat to Canada and freedom.
Sometime, while still in use as a schoolhouse, the small cobblestone structure
needed an addition on the rear and it was built of frame construction.
That portion has been removed and it became the front of a home on West
Jefferson Road. District #6 was used until the large, new school was built
on Lincoln Avenue in the late 19th century.
District #7 was in the path of the New York State Thruway, so it had to
be removed. It was located on land given by Andrew Maxfield who lived at
3488 Clover Street and instructed children who lived south of the line
which was served by District #6.
Barnett and Hannah Maxfield were the parents of Andrew who was born in
Herkimer County in 1811. Andrew and his parents came to Pittsford in 1818
and a farm of 82 acres was established at 3458 Clover Street. Andrew, when
he came of age, purchased a farm of 85 acres almost across the road from
his parents at 3488 Clover Street. Both of those farm homes remain.
Barnett and Hannah had eight children. Two of the daughters married Thornells
and lived on Thornell Road. Andrew married Sarah Powell, farmed his acreage
and because they had 4 children who needed schooling closer to home, he
deeded 1 acre of his land on the northwest corner of Reeves Road and Clover
Street to the Trustees of District #7 on which a schoolhouse was built.
There are no photos of this building, but it is believed to have been a
brick structure and probably closely resembled the building on Thornell
Road and East Street.
District # 8 was located near the corner of Mendon Center Road and Wilmarth
Road. The first building was "near the big elm tree" close to
the road. Mrs. Startup, a former teacher in that district, said that her
father, John Hinderland, deeded a piece of property on which the present
building sits and a frame building was constructed. That frame building,
greatly remodeled into a single family dwelling, was constructed in 1880.
Early maps show a schoolhouse in this location in 1858. The address is
506 Mendon Center Road
The present owners purchased the schoolhouse from the Pittsford Central
School District in 1946 when the centralization took place. They added
a family room, garage, new windows and made it into the very pleasant dwelling
it is today.
District # 9 was renumbered from District 13. It is located on the northwest
side of Marsh Road. It is a single family home but retains the style and
design of the original schoolhouse. The deed is dated 1853 and the grantor
was John Cole and his wife Sarah. Trustees of that District were Thomas
Cullen, T. Brizee, and W. Campbell. The brick and stone school was built
in 1856. Historical records show that the teacher was paid $10.00 per week
for the winter session.
Paul Knickerbocker, whose grandfather, father, and uncle all attended
that district has shed some personal information on District #9. The Knickerbockers
lived in the large farm at the top of Knickerbocker Hill. Harlan, Paul’s
father and Whitney, his uncle, drove a pony and cart down the hill, across
the bridge that once spanned the canal near where the drop gates are today.
The pony was stabled in Mr. Cullen’s barn that was located on Marsh
Road near where the church of the Latter Day Saints is today. Mrs. Cullen
was a teacher in that school and one winter she became extremely ill. Mr.
James Monroe Knickerbocker, who chaired the Trustees at that time, closed
school until the teacher was well enough for school to resume.
New York State did not regulate the districts at that time and there were
no minimum days required of the students. There was no state aid, either!
Parents, who paid a set fee for their children to attend, funded all of
these districts. Most of the districts operated on three terms, which revolved
around the farming season – planting, tending, and harvesting. All
of the Districts were centralized into one Pittsford Central School District
in 1946 and so ends the brief history of the District schools in the community