Larry Corbett's Genealogy Pages

A SHORT HISTORY OF PUBLIC EDUCATION
IN JEFFERSON COUNTY, NEW YORK
1802-2001

1802- Sally Coffeen operates the first school in the county at Watertown

1804- Watertown residents erect the first schoolhouse at the southeastern end of Public Square. A one-story frame structure is erected on a high hill, placed on huge logs set upright in the ground. A wooded stairway leads up from the street to large double doors. Long pine benches line three interior walls, with a high pulpit-like desk occupying the center of the room. An itinerant Scottish pedagogue, Mr. McGregor is the first schoolmaster here.

1802-1812 - Schools are established at Brownville, Rodman, Champion, Adams, Ellisburg, Chaumont Bay, Cape Vincent, Henderson.

1812 - The Common School Act becomes law, authorizing 11,000 school districts throughout the state. Any community which chooses to elect a three man school board is permitted to assess and collect a property tax for the purpose of financing public education. State aid for education funds are offered as an incentive, funding for this coming from the sale of excess public lands held by the state. School districts are limited by law to a maximum of three miles in diameter, placing a school within walking distance (1 1/2 miles) of every school age child.

1813 - Eleven Jefferson County towns share the first state aid payment of $789.32

1837 - The School Library Act becomes law, providing state aid to districts to purchase textbooks. William McGuffey publishes his first "Readers," a series of elementary school texts that will eventually rival all books but the Bible in quantities printed.

1843 - Assemblyman Calvin T. Hurlburt of St Lawrence County sponsors a bill before the legislature which establishes the first state Normal school a teacher training school, at Albany.

1845 - 15,659 children living in Jefferson County are reported in the state census as having attended school within the previous year. Budgets for approximately 350 common school districts total $74,927.70. Each child is entitled by law to 8 years of schooling, a maximum of 40 months total.

Statue of Dr Edwin Austin Sheldon
on SUNY Oswego campus

1861 - Oswego Normal school is established by Dr Edwin Sheldon, the second such teacher training academy in the state.

Lotus Ingalls

1865 - Returning Civil War soldiers demand continuation of their education which was for many interrupted by military service.

Lotus Ingalls, a Rodman native and publisher of the Watertown Reformer, and a state legislator, presses for the elimination of the rate bill a form of tuition that had been assessed the parents of schoolchildren from 1813-1865. Ingalls is also instrumental in changing the state aid formula from a population-based one to an attendance-based one. He persuades many local schools to establish grade levels for the first time, and to set minimum standards for promotion. Watertown establishes a public high school at the corner of State and Mechanic streets. All of the school districts in the village of Watertown, previously neighborhood schools with separate school boards and local control, are merged. These districts include Arsenal, Lamon, Sterling, Massey, Sherman, Academy, and Boon St. schools.

1867 - The rate-bill is abolished and public school becomes tuition-free for the first time. Compulsory attendance becomes law. Teachers are required to keep attendance records.

1869 - Watertown becomes a city and the schools on the north side of the Black River (Mead and Cooper) become part of the City School District, which is under the budgetary control of the Mayor and Common Council.

1875 - There are 356 schools in Jefferson County, plus 9 in the city of Watertown. Average daily attendance in the county is 15,645. 437 licensed teachers are employed for 28 weeks per year or more, and another 333 persons are licensed to teach. There are about 17000 volumes in the combined school libraries. Total school budgets for the county are $140,822.03, of which $21,898.05 is state aid. The county has 11 brick schools and 37 stone ones. The majority of the county's schools are still one story wood frame buildings. There are still 6 of the original log schools in use.

1880-1890 New York establishes the Regent's Examinations and Regent's Diploma, ensuring that uniform minimum standards are met for all graduates.

1888 - Credentialing is established for teachers, Teaching Licenses are issued by the state.

Melvil Dewey

1890 - 1900 - Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey decimal system of classification and secretary of the Regents travels through rural parts of the state encouraging the consolidation of the common school districts into larger, more efficient union free districts, offering state authorized incentives. Dewey was a native of Adams Center, Jefferson County. Thus, two of the most important reformers in the history of New York public education, Lotus Ingalls and Melvil Dewey were both born within 5 miles of one another and were both the products of the common schools of Jefferson County!

Class Picture, Wells Settlement School, Town of Lyme, 1914

1914 - State aid for transportation assistance is established, allowing for busing and the centralization of school districts.

1925 - Adams Center is the site of the county's first central school.

1925-1955 Resistance to the loss of local control and autonomy crumbles as the state law mandates such improvements as indoor plumbing, fire-proof buildings, and increased support staffs for all schools. One room schools close as central schools are established across the county.

1959 - Countywide referendum to establish a community college is defeated by 8 votes.

1961 - A second referendum passes by 2,944 votes, establishing Jefferson Community College.

1963 - First JCC classes are held in the old Lansing St school in Watertown

For an excellent discussion of the history of public education in New York, visit the website of the State Education Department

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