Thursday, August 20, 2009

Old School District 17 Schoolhouse

The old schoolhouse of school district 17 was the first school in our neighborhood and is perhaps best known for the brief stint that a young Walt Whitman spent there as schoolmaster in 1840. Located at the south corner of Nassau Blvd and Dogwood Ave, the school served a large area west of Hempstead Village including all of current West Hempstead and Franklin Square until SD27 split off from it in 1911 and a schoolhouse was built at Chestnut St. A wonderful essay which can be found here, by Adelphi University professor Thomas Heffernan, reconstructs Walt Whitman's time spent at the school.

Back then, the neighborhood was called Trimming Square. How did the place get its name? One plausible theory is that the entire Hempstead Plains, roughly the area where Garden City is now located, was once a treeless common area used by residents of Hempstead for grazing their sheep and cattle. A spot just south of the plains along the Hempstead-Jamaica road was designated where residents could round up their sheep to be sheared, a place which thereafter became known as "Trimming Square". At some point in the mid 1800s Washington Square became the preferred name for the location. After that, in 1895 a NYC businessman and Civil War vet named Harry Munson moved out to the neighborhood and thereafter the place became known as Munson. More about Harry Munson will come in a future post.

Back to the old schoolhouse. While the exact date it was built is unclear, the school dates back no earlier than 1813 and no later than 1831. No earlier than 1813 because when the NY state legislature created school districts in 1812, the school was not enumerated among the 13 districts of Hempstead. And no later than 1831 because of the testimonial of one Ezekiel Frost, born in 1816, of having attended the school in Trimming Square as a child.

The aforementioned essay contains the photo below of the old school as it appeared in the 20th century. The photo comes via Dr. Paul van Wie, president of the Franklin Square Historical Society. Originally a one room schoolhouse, an addition was built around the year 1894. The schoolhouse was eventually replaced in the 1930s by the John Street School a little further north, John St. being the former name of Nassau Blvd.

The 1914 E. Belcher Hyde map gives us a hint that the entrance to the school faced Nassau Blvd., so the then shot was taken looking west. The now shot below comes from Google Maps and shows what the scene looks like today. No evidence remains of what used to stand at the corner of Dogwood Ave.


Anonymous said...

There should be a historical sign posted at that location.

Anonymous said...