Genesee County, NY Early Schools
From: Gazetteer and Biographical Record
of Genesee County, New York
Edited by: F. W. Beers
J.W. Vose & Co., Publishers, Syracuse, N. Y. 1890


IT must not be supposed that while the pioneers of this section were so busy in felling the forest, and laying the foundation of future comfort and wealth, they neglected the foundation of those institutions in which they had been reared, and without which no community can prosper. As soon as a sufficient number of children could be gathered the settlers for miles around, by a preconcerted “bee,” rolled the logs together that formed the primitive school-house. The desks were slanting shelves of slabs or boards, supported by pins driven into the logs and a brace to the logs below. In front of these was the seat made of a split log, hewn smooth, with legs of proper length for the larger scholars; in front of these were similar benches for the smaller pupils. If there was a saw-mill within a reasonable distance these rude desks and benches would be made of planks or slabs from the mill. Then the plainest common branches were taught—reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, and geography. The rude adaptation of the means of instruction in those early days was as primitive, and in the same manner deficient, as were all the means with which the settlers were provided. The books and teaching must be upon the “axe and auger” plan. Not only was there a scarcity of books, but the text books of the time were inefficient; they would be as much a wonder to the pupil and parents of the present time as would the old-fashioned flax-break; and the students of the common school of to-day, if such text books were placed before them, would consider them of par value with the rough seats and desks of those primitive days. But these early pioneers provided for their children all that could be then, and, in fact it was, proportionately, more than parents do under the present uniform and excellent school system. The puritan idea was “to spare the rod was to spoil the child,” and in those primitive schools were teachers who could ably demonstrate that branch. The pupil of the present would not tolerate the idea of going from two to four miles to school, and that, too, along a rough path through a wilderness, his only guide being the marked trees. Is it, then, not a wonder that the Holland Purchase—the territory of Genesee County—could, in the early part of the present century, send out into the councils of the State and Nation men of the highest statesmanship? To the pioneer teacher, as well as parents, great credit is due. The, teacher must “board round,” and the long walks to the cabins of his patrons, the cheerful hospitality shown, the simple but wholesome food, and social interchange of thought during the long fire-lit visits of the evening were oases in the desert of the teacher’s life that the present flowery paths of the principals in the same section do not possess. The names of some of the early pioneer teachers are preserved, and they will generally be noticed in their respective towns. The school house of hewn logs after a few years, and of larger proportions and sufficient windows, would follow the 12x14 cabin; better teachers and more mndern text books were introduced; and uniformity in methods of teaching was adopted.

“Previous to the year 1828 much difficulty and embarrassment had occurred throughout the Holland Purchase from a provision in the school act of the State, ‘that sites of school houses should be secured by deeds in fee, or by leases from the possessor of the fee, of the land.’ In numerous instaitces there were no deeded lands in the district, or if there were they were not conveniently located. In the absence of such title or lease the trustees of the district could not legally levy and collect taxes for building or repairing school-houses. About this period Mr. Evans, then land agent of the Holland Land Company, adopted the following plan to remedy the evil,’ and prevent the hindrances that were in the way of a full realization of the benefits of the common school system upon the Holland Purchase. It was entered upon the books of the office, and the benefits of it extended whenever asked:

“‘In every legally organized School District on the Holland Purchase, where the most convenient site for a school-house shall fall on land not deeded from the Holland Company, a deed for such site, not exceeding half an acre of land, shall be granted, from the company to such district, gratis. Provided that whenever such site shall fall on lands held under contract, from the Company, by any person or persons, such district shall procure a relinquishment of the right to such piece of land, by virtue of said contract, to be endorsed thereon by the person or persons holding the same.’”

In 1835 school libraries were established, and every district received its proportionate quota for such library. In 1845 institutes for teachers were considered one of the best means of benefit, and the teachers of Genesee County eagerly availed themselves of its advantages.

Simultaneously with the advent of the neat, white farm house of the pioneer the school-house appears, bearing the same advancement that is. warranted by the improvement of the country, and the greatly increased value of the surroundings. The growth of the schools can be best learned from a careful perusal of statistics relating thereto, and which need not be introduced here. Our province was to show the early school; the present excellent system is realized and familiar to all. In the histories of the towns each will have its interesting details.

William E. Prentice, of Batavia, was the school commissioner for the county in 1885—87, and William J. Barr, of Elba, the present commissioner, to serve until 1891.

The public money apportioned to the towns for 1889 was as follows: Alabama, $1,415.62; Alexander, $1,352.17; Batavia, $5,368.72; Bergen, $1,580.30; Byron, $1,294.01; Bethany, $1,326.02; Darien, $1,523.94; Elba, $1,202.94; Le Roy, $2,627.83; Oakfield, $1,025.03; Pavilion, $1,187.94; Pembroke, $2,228.26; and Stafford, $1,441.79 - a total of $23,574.57. There are 150 school districts in the county, but 18 of them are joint districts with the school-houses located in adjoining counties.

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