Early Educational Developments in Vineland
Written for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Dedication of the High School Building, by Maude Gridley Peterson
After the rigors facing the early colonies had been overcome, the further settlement of our country was generally characterized by the prompt establishment of some sort of educational opportunities. One can scarcely recall an early New England settlement without a simultaneous mental vision of the "little red schoolhouse" which almost immediately appeared with it. Story and history record the rearing of the log schoolhouse in the wilderness, as the hardy pioneers forced their way over the mountains and through the forests to the westward.
It is not strange then to find that the founder of Vineland, despite the multitudinous demands upon his time and thought, saw to it that a school building and teacher were supplied within five or six months after the first stake was driven; and, be it further added to his credit, that, at the outset both were financed from his own pocket. The building, a small one story affair, stood on the site of the Grove House, later the Vineland Business School, and the eleven pupils which it housed were taught by Miss Lucile Richardson. Unlike the traditional "red" schoolhouse, this building was painted yellow and its memory has been handed down to us by the designation "the little yellow schoolhouse."
The waste of the underworked, expensive school plant is one of the present day slogans and in many localities efforts are being made towards a greater use of the buildings, grounds, etc., for the greater benefit of the inhabitants. No such charge could have been brought against Vineland's little yellow schoolhouse for it served during the evenings, as a meeting place for various organizations as well as a hall for entertainments; and, on Sundays, morning, afternoon, and night, it was the meeting house for various religious societies.
By 1863, the population had increased to such an extent that fifty-five children of school age had to be provided for. A school district was organized which provided for a public school to be continued in the aforementioned building with the same teacher in charge.
The increase in the number of schoolhouses to sixteen by 1869, is some indication of the rapid growth of population. Beside the sixteen public schools, private schools had sprung into existence. An advertisement in The Vineland Independent, Jan. 2i, 1870, gives the rates in one of these:
Academic department. Higher English and vocal music, $8 per quarter. French or German, $5. Greek or Latin, $3. Drawing, $4. In common English branches, $7. In primary department, pupils under twelve, Common English branches and vocal music, $5. Instrumental music. Piano, $12.50. Guitar, $12.50. Private vocal lessons, $7.
This private school was commonly known as the Vineland Academy although it was also called Morton's Academy after its first principal. Vineland's first little schoolhouse was replaced by a two story building, in 1868, and the Academy had its quarters there.
We can well fancy that such tuition rates seemed excessive to a pioneer community. At any rate, the time had come when there was such a demand for a public school of higher grade that despite the opposition of "some few" who were fearful'of expense and failed to see the advantages of a high grade of school, definite results were obtained. In the same number of the Independent as that previously cited the public school trustees announce the opening, on Jan. 24, 1870, of a free high school representing a consolidation of districts 5, 6, and 8, an action brought about by the pressure of public sentiment and absolute necessity. The trustees say that the "desire almost universally expressed is, that we provide ample accommodation in our Public Schools, for all our children, and establish such a grade as will save the burdensome expense of educating them in Academies and Select Schools. In short, make our schools good enough and cheap enough for all." They did not include, however, in the course of study, classics or instrumental music.
Several years earlier, a hall, known as Plum Street Hall, had been built on Plum Street near Sixth. Within this building the Vineland High School was organized Jan. 24, 1870, with Prof. Charles Wright as principal and Mrs. Francisco as his assistant. During the the first term there was an average attendance of ninety pupils. Accustomed as we now are to modern conveniences, ample equipment, elaborate courses of study, and pleasant surroundings, the quarters of the first High School form an interesting contrast.
We are indebted to the late Henry W. Wilbur for the details in the following description. "Plum Street Hall, which was later known as Cosmopolitan Hall, was 'big, barny, and bare-walled.' The old green settees were used for seats, and tables served as desks. Eight pupils on one settee faced a similar row across the table. These tables and benches were in two rows down the center of the hall, the girls on one side of the aisle and the boys on the other. Only half of the school faced the teacher who sat at a desk on the platform. Surely these were far from ideal conditions either for study or discipline. The first winter the north-west corner, partitioned off by a gorgeous green curtain, was used as a recitation room. "It has to be admitted that it screened not a little mischief perpetrated by the lads and lasses who recited arithmetic to Mrs. Francisco."
The second winter an anteroom in the south-west corner became the recitation room. Miss Rulon had succeeded Mrs. Francisco but she soon became homesick and yielded to the importunities of a lover to leave. Miss Garwood, her successor, finished out the year.
The course of study was rather rudimentary. Algebra was the limit of higher mathematics; the scientific course was covered by Well's Natural Philosophy; and rhetoric and grammar supplied the training in English. A healthful rivalry was encouraged by dividing the school into two teams for spelling bees and literary contests.
Yet despite these crude conditions, many a boy and girl went forth from this new institution to ably fill his place in life. Some one has said that to be on one end of a log, with Mark Hopkins on the other, was equal to a college education, or words to that effect. It will probably be worth while to glance at the man on the other end of the "log" as connected with the beginnings of Vineland High School. As previously stated, that man was Charles H. Wright, a New Englander, who had been trained for teaching in the Connecticut Normal School at New Britain. Mr. Wilbur says his strong points as a teacher were thoroughness and a keen insight into the nature and needs of his pupils. He was a firm but gentle disciplinarian. His influence was such as to inspire his pupils with high ideals and to develop life-long student habits.
Soon after the close of the first term, a school meeting was held, April 19, 1870, at which a committee reported in favor of buying a plot on which to erect a school building. Adjournment was made until May 3, when the committee reported in favor of buying lots on the west side of the Boulevard in the village, and asked for an appropriation of $5000 for the purpose; they also advised purchasing the building of the academy if such could be obtained at a reasonable figure. After much discussion the meeting was adjourned sine die with no action taken.
Evidently a period of lethargy followed, for the Vineland Independent of Sept. 16, 1870, contains a communication lamenting the existing educational conditions. It says: "Considering the amount of intelligence in Vineland, and the boast we have made of our educational advantages, the present onslaught upon the settlement gives rather poor promise in the matter of schools * * The High school is to work for three months, perhaps for four or six months * * because the Directors say they cannot meet the expense * * This is rather a melancholy prospect, and * * as humiliating as it is melancholy."
From the fall of 1870 until the fall of 1872 the free High School continued its sessions in Plum St. Hall so some means of maintenance must have been found. For further progress of educational matters in general and of the High School in particular, we are again indebted to the Vineland Independent. The substance of an article in theissue of Aug. 31, 1872, is as follows: Among the early residents of Vineland were many New Englanders who were accustomed to having the church and schoolhouse side by side, inviting all to avail themselves of the privilege. It is not strange that people brought up under such influences should desire to transmit them unimpaired to their posterity. The first settlers even before they had made for their families comfortable houses, set about providing means of education for their children. The first schoolhouses were necessarily rude affairs, but they answered for a beginning.
The buildings as well as the qualifications of the teachers have been gradually improving, until now when our schoolhouses will compare favorably with those of much older communities. We have now six good brick schoolhouses on the tract. The others are wooden structures. The establishment of the High School made an additional building necessary and Plum Street Hall was rented for two years.
The people voted the present season to build a suitable building for High School purposes. A good lot of land has been purchased and the building will be started soon. In the meantime, the academy building has been rented for the use of the High School. In the issue of June 4, 1873, we learn that the trustees of District 44 have made a "raise" and are going on with the High School building; and that it is hoped that they will give us a building that is a credit to the place.
The attainment of all worth-while things represents patient and persistent effort; the struggle of progress against indifference and opposition; the overcoming of obstacles; and numerous sacrifices and discouragements. All honor to those who bore the brunt of endeavor through these trying years and who succeed in achieving the sought for end.
On August 22, 1874, the six room High School building on the corner of Plum and Sixth Streets was dedicated with elaborate ceremonies. Mr. C. K. Landis was in Europe at the time and relates in his journal of receiving from his sister a slip from the paper "to the effect that the High School at Vineland would be dedicated in a few days, and that President Grant would attend. I am glad of this for it will benefit the High School. One of my principal points of policy in establishing Vineland has always been to make it one of the first educational places in America."
About eleven o'clock of the eventful day, the special train from Long Branch, which brought the President and other distinguished guests, was met at the Vineland station by Governor Parker of New Jersey, Company D, Vineland Cornet Band, and a large number of citizens. The guests in carriages were escorted to the residence of Henry Hartson, Seventh and Wood Streets, where lunch was served. Thirty-seven girls, representing the several states of the Union, arrayed in white with red or blue sashes rode in the band wagon and were a prominent feature of the procession. To quote the reporter they "looked pretty enough to make the great Ulysses bow low and look again as they passed."
The afternoon exercises were to have been held in the grove back of Plum Street Hall but because of a shower it was necessary to use the hall instead. Henry Hartson, president of the board of education, presided. After a prayer which was offered by Rev. Merritt Wellman, Prof. Marcius Willson introduced President Grant. The president spoke briefly but his utterance showed that he appreciated the effort which had been necessary to achieve the result which they had met together to celebrate. He said "Ladies and gentlemen of Vineland, it gives me great pleasure to visit your thriving little town of Vineland. It is pointed to as one of the greatest places for industry, prosperity and intelligence, and all the improvements and progress I have seen and heard of have been accomplished under trying circumstances."
Other addresses were given by Governor Parker, Secretary of the Navy Robeson, and ex-senator A. G. Cattell. A history of the High School was read by Dr. James Ingram, secretary of the board of education, and Miss Estelle Thomson read an original poem "The Royal Road."
From The Royal Road
"And now to crown the waiting years that swift have fled,
We meet to day, to dedicate to learning's use
The Hall wherein, so much, perhaps of glory waits.
The teacher's smile shall greet
The children's faces sweet,
While youth and maiden meet
To enter in together here at learning's gate.
Ah, who can read the years to come, and rightly say
What honors may be waiting here some childish brow?
The Hall we dedicate today where are bestowed
Our cares, our trust, our fears,
Our hopes that future years
Bring only that which cheers,
Oh, may it prove, at last to many, a royal road."