Ichabod Crane taught at one and Tom Sawyer taunted his female classmates in one. President John Adams, an Eastchester resident for a brief time in 1797, attended one and taught at one. Whether in fact or fiction, the one-room schoolhouse is part of American lore and Eastchester has its own: the Eastchester Marble Schoolhouse, which is a delight to visit.
In its present day reincarnation, it functions as the home of the Eastchester Historical Society with all the accoutrements of its early history, which began in 1835. The schoolhouse once sat in present day Mount Vernon and was moved, marble block by marble block, to its present location at the corner of California Road in Eastchester in 1869. In this new location, it served as the one-room schoolhouse until 1884.
And then the pigs came.
A pig farm, actually; the surrounding area was known as “Pigs Hollow.” This unflattering name was raison d’etre to rename the area, now known as Chester Heights.
The Marble Schoolhouse appears out of place with its diminutive size on its large plot of land surrounded by suburban homes. Both inside and out, it is a delight to visit for many reasons.
The first delight is its exterior stone. Touch it and notice its rough, unfinished look and feel. Would you believe the stone, actually marble, is the same marble which makes St. Patrick’s Cathedral shine? The marble came from quarries in Tuckahoe when the town was the marble capital of the world. In 1835, the community did not have enough money to polish and refine the marble for the schoolhouse.
More delights await upon entry.
The schoolhouse’s interior attests to a time when electricity, indoor plumbing and cars were not yet invented. The coal stove warmed the students, especially on rainy and snowy days when they did truly trudge miles through snow and rain. Shawls hanging on nearby hooks added to their warmth as their wet clothing dried around the room and their cold feet and hands snuggled up to the fire.
These shawls are a small sampling of the extensive clothing collection from the Victorian era. 18th century dresses, blouses, bonnets and other fashion adorn 18th century mannequins in the schoolhouse today. Historical society volunteers and docents often present living history demonstrations using this collection. The members not only present these at the schoolhouse but travel to schools and community groups outfitted as historical figures.
Other schoolhouse memorabilia attests to 18th century lack of modern conveniences.
A dipper sits inside a wooden bucket. It may be a delight to see now but, in the late 1800s, the pail and dipper were necessities. A student had to venture outside to the well, even on those cold snowy and rainy days, to have water available for all. If water was left in the pail on wintry nights, it was often frozen the next morning and students had to wait for the ice to melt to have any water at all. The bucket of water was shared by the 25 or so students, which was the number usually enrolled at the school.
Venturing out to the well may not have been a delight, but wading in the brook behind the school would have been. On warm days, students recited their lessons, ate their lunches—brought from home in baskets—and frolicked in the rural outdoors at the school. Of course, the occasional frog made its way back into the classroom and students released it to a less-than-delightful reaction from the teacher.
The culprit ended up on the wrong side of the room.
Students were separated by gender and the miscreant with the frog was sent to the other side. Any misbehaving boy was sent to the female side and any misbehaving girl was sent to the male side of the room.
Today, you can immerse yourself in this educational environment as you sit in one of the desks. Choose to be a young student in one of the smaller desks or an older student in one of the larger desks. Among your classmates were students of every grade as was typical of a one-room schoolhouse. The older ones assisted the younger ones as the teacher worked with other students. Wherever you sit, you will not have an iPad or laptop or computer but your own slate board and chalk to complete mathematical computations.
Be delighted as you read from the society’s collection of over 2000 children’s books from the 1850s to the present. Adults can be delighted by the society’s collection of historical maps. There is also a research library documenting the Town of Eastchester from its 1664 founding. And that is what the year 2014 is all about: celebrating the town’s 350 years of history. What better place to visit this history than the Eastchester Historical Society?
The Marble Schoolhouse welcomes visitors. It holds various events to show off its eclectic historical collection. It just instituted an open house on the first Sunday of the month. Check this and other events at the society’s website: http://www.eastchesterhistoricalsociety.org/.
Just the Facts
388 California Road, Eastchester, NY 10709
Hours: Call or check
Lissa Halen is a resident of Eastchester for more than 35 years and a member of the Eastchester Historical Society Board. She also contributed to the upcoming book “Out of the Wilderness: The emergence of Eastchester, Tuckahoe and Bronxville, 1664-2014”