Middletown’s Stone School House marks Bicentennial

The Stone School House, a classic one-room school that once rang with the chatter of children, the stern commands of teachers, and the prayers and song of Sunday worship, is celebrating its 200th birthday in 2020!

The Dunraven landmark, which is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, is located two miles south of Margaretville on NYS Route 28/30. An Open House will be held Saturday, July 11 when visitors may drop in anytime between 10 and 4.

Visitors will see student benches and desks, the teacher’s desk at the head of the room, a wood stove that was the sole source of heat, the pressed tin ceiling, plaques acknowledging school founders, and familiar portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln above the chalk board.

There will be a display of photos and an opportunity to purchase raffle tickets to win a framed watercolor of the Stone School House by Oneida Hammond. The drawing will be held September 19 at a Bicentennial ceremony and celebration in conjunction with the Stone School Association’s annual meeting at the school.

For everyone’s safety, visitors on July 11 must wear masks. In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, only a few people will be allowed in the building at a time. Bring a picnic or enjoy a stroll around the grounds. Admire the meticulous stonework, check out the outdoor privy, and imagine the rumbling of the Delaware & Northern trains that once passed directly behind the school several times a day.

Perhaps a site volunteer will ring the original school bell still hanging in the belfry.

The school was built of local stone in 1820 on property deeded to the Town of Middletown by John and Anna Van Wagoner. It replaced a log school that had existed for several years, serving the children of Middletown’s earliest settlers.

Enrollment at the Stone School was as high as 80 students in the 1830s and ‘40s, likely not all attended at the same time.  School was sometimes in session for only a few months, depending on the availability of teachers and the money to pay them.

By the late 1850s the school, measuring only 20 x 24 feet, was in disrepair. In an 1860 report filed with the state Education Commissioner, the school was described as “a torn down building to be replaced with a new one.” The stones were saved and were used to build an enlarged structure, 36 x 26 feet. Local men rushed to complete it before heading off to serve in Company G of the 144th Regiment during the Civil War.

In the decades that followed, hundreds of students attended grades one through eight there. The building was also used for church services, and in later years as a polling place. It was closed in 1940 following school centralization when students began attending class at the new Margaretville Central School.

The school survived several attempts to knock it down: It was deemed ‘too near the road’ in the early 20th century; New York City condemned it along with other properties in the buffer zone of the Pepacton Reservoir in the 1950s; and the Margaretville Central School District tried to sell it in 1963. Community opposition saved the building each time. It is now a protected historic site owned by the town and maintained by an independent Stone School House Association.

For more information, contact Association President Bill Taylor, wtaylor@catskill.net, 845-586-3994.

A detailed history of the Stone School House can be found among Historic Register applications on the Features page of the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown’s website, mtownhistory.org.