The Second West Side School House 1896-1940

  • Painting of 2nd West Side School House A special meeting was held in the first schoolhouse on December 29, 1894, and a unanimous vote was made not to repair it. A committee would select a site and plan the new schoolhouse to accommodate 80 scholars at a cost not to exceed $2,000. At a later meeting an additional $800 was levied by tax.

    $1,000 was paid by the district to Caroline Bleecker and Frances Maria Moore for the 0.64242 acre property in September 1895.  Samuel A. Jones, William E. Jones and Joshua Thomas Jones, as Trustees of school district #11 Oyster Bay, signed the deed.

    The new building was constructed in 1896 by Ernest Ost, opposite what is now known as Moores Hill Road and fronting on Route 25A.  $1,593 was allocated to build the school, $129 was spent on school furniture, and the survey, done by  Scudder V. Whitney, cost $27. It was a wooden two-room schoolhouse with a woodshop and stream in the back. First through fourth grade were in one room and fifth through eighth grade in another. This building also had a library with a circulation of 323 books in 1897.

    Two poplar trees were planted in front of the schoolhouse in 1898 as part of the Arbor Day exercises. The assembly included reading letters from the State Superintendent of Instruction and the students. Songs, recitations, and readings were also part of the assembly.

    Trustees Report July 1905:
    “There seems to have been considerable trouble last year in having the school property heated and so far it is possible to ascertain the fault lies with the janitor.”

    Miss Risley (later known as Mrs. Eva Risley Clark) wrote to her family in 1927 about her new teaching position and schoolhouse, “It soon had a cottagey air about it, drapes at the windows…small, oriental-like rugs, a radio, a Knabe piano, a rocking chair…moveable furniture which when moved to the perimeter of the room made a spacious place for games, and winter day physical education classes…Flowering plants graced the windows…”

    Total assessed value of the school, property, and library in 1912 was $3,400.

    Mrs. H. W. deForest donated playground equipment to the school in 1931. Board minutes from May 5, 1936 thanked Mr. H. W. deForest for his donation of the shrubs that were planted along the new walk going up to the playground.

    On August 20, 1935, $400 was voted to construct an addition to the school house, and $850 was approved to build a retaining wall and to improve the playgrounds.

    This schoolhouse was sold to Theophil Laanes and Alice Gould Laanes in December 1941 for $1,000 by Stanley Walters, Herbert Hedges, and Elizabeth Taylor, Trustees of Common School District #11. They had to attest to “the proceeds of said sale not being acquired for the benefit of any foreign country or proscribed national affected by the so-called freezing orders of the President of the United States.” Excerpt from December 1941 State of New York County of Nassau documents in West Side archives. This freeze order was enacted because of WWII.

    The building was up for sale again in 1998 and 2004. It still remains a private home in 2009.


    Wooden Teacher's Desk In 1897 significant changes took place in education. The New York State legislature agreed to help finance free public education for rich or poor, black or white and attendance was compulsory.

    According to the April 4, 1902 Long Islander “The West Side School had no vacation (Easter) last week. Four boys last Monday decided that they would have a vacation and left school. The next day the truant officer was looking for their parents, but as they were in the city he did not see them. The boys returned to school on Tuesday.”

    In 1903 sixty-seven students were registered between the ages of 5 and 18. Students often walked to St. John’s pond at recess. At the warning toll of the school bell, the students raced back just in time for afternoon class.

    There were many estates in the area. Many wealthy children went to private school. Children whose parents were foremen, supervisors, gardeners, and cooks at the estates attended West Side School.

    District records indicate a purchase of a Mason and Hamlin organ and stool from F. Onnell and Sons for $69 in July 1906.
    Trustees supplied the pupils with free school books on May 6, 1913.

    Electrical lights were installed at the school in 1915 for $108.01 by J. A. Palmer.

    In 1921 at the annual school meeting a Red Cross nurse was hired to work one day per week.

    At the 1924 annual school meeting a motion was made and carried that the Trustees take steps to organize a parent and teachers organization. The school community established the West Side Neighbors. They sponsored gatherings of the young and old to do square dancing and served refreshments.

    Mrs. Eva Risley Clark was hired in 1927 to act as the principal and teach classes. Under her tenure, the classrooms were transformed into desired home-like environments. She had an “open door” program and welcomed residents and scientists from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

    At the May 1927 annual school meeting the Misses Kelly and MacArthur, choosing matrimony, lost teaching eligibility under a district regulation. The district regulation was rescinded in 1937 to permit the marriage of Eva Risley and George Clark. Eva Risley signed a contract, “To serve as principal, work with the Trustees, act as Secretary, and teach Music, Art, Physical Education and all common branch subjects, Grades 5-8 inclusive.”

    Mr. Griff Woodruff was hired in 1935 to teach woodworking, science, and games. He was hired in response to an awareness that every child should have some manual training in addition to academics. He had a few tools on hand and no storage. The obvious solution was to teach his students to build a small 12 foot x 8 foot storage shed. Edgar Wright was paid $70 in 1941 to move the shed to the third schoolhouse and plant some of the grounds there.

    In 1923, Mrs. Mary Demerec graduated from Cornell with a degree in electrical engineering, an outstanding accomplishment for a woman at that time. Her husband was head of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.  In 1936 she began teaching science at “Bungtown School” and taught until her retirement in 1967. In the year of her retirement she stated, “My future hopes for West Side education are that it retain its former informality and continue to be sensitive to children’s interests.”

    The students were encouraged to learn through the process of experiment and discovery. History and civics were taught through self directed activities. Mrs.  Demerec’s pupils at the little school remember walks in the woods or along the beach, observing, studying, and collecting. Trees, birds, plants, brooks, low tide, and the salt marsh each had many stories to tell. On May 5, 1936, $40 was added to the school budget to buy a microscope and instruct the students on how to use it.

    Thirteen West Side students graduated in 1939 and attended Oyster Bay High School as there was no high school in the West Side district. Annual tuition of $75 for each student was paid to the Oyster Bay High School.

    In 1938, some believed that the two-room schoolhouse on 25A had become inadequate for its 33 pupils and the expanding curriculum. The facility was deteriorating with a leaking roof, poor heat, and too small a playground. In the 1930’s motor traffic was increasing and the location of the school on a curve in the highway was a dangerous place for children.