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Cedar Hill Schoolhouse


Bethlehem Historical Society, District School Number 1, National Register

Photo: Cedar Hill Schoolhouse, District School Number 1, National Register of Historic Places

The Cedar Hill Schoolhouse (District School Number 1) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination documetn. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

District School No. 1 (Cedar Hill Schoolhouse) is located at the northwest corner of the intersection of New York State Route 144 (River Road) and Clapper Road on a less than one acre parcel historically associated with the property. The building sits close to the road on a largely open lot. The building is bounded on the north and west by scattered residences.

The District School No. 1 (Cedar Hill Schoolhouse), originally built in 1859 and expanded in 1907, is a one-story, rectangular massed, seven-by-three bay, Italianate style, masonry building with later Neo-classical details. The schoolhouse is constructed of brick laid in common bond. The building rests on a stone foundation and is covered by a wood shingle clad gable roof, which is surmounted by an elaborate domed cupola (1907). The roof line of the schoolhouse is delineated by broad overhanging eaves with exposed rafter ends. Windows throughout the building are flat arched with stone sills and lintels and contain nine-over-nine light sash. The windows are now protected by wire mesh covers. As originally built, the school included the eastern four bays of the current building. In 1907 the rear (west) two bays were added as was an entrance vestibule on the south elevation and the ventilating cupola.

The three bays of the east elevation (original 1859 facade) are delineated by a blind three-bay arcade composed of brick pilasters surmounted by round arches. Each bay contains a single window. The central window replaced the original entrance to the school, which was removed in 1907. A date stone situated in the gable above the former entrance bay reads, "School H.D. No. 1." Located in the upper gable above the date stone is an oculus.

The south elevation of the school is dominated by a three bay by one bay projecting entry vestibule. The wing is of frame construction and is sheathed with pressed metal siding embossed to replicate brick. This material appears to be original to the construction of the vestibule wing in 1907. Wood pilasters, patterned after the building's brick pilasters, define each of the bays of the wing. The centered entrance is composed of a pair of wood panel and glazed doors, which are surmounted by a fan light set within a keyed arch surround. Flanking the entrance bay on either side is a small window. An oculus is situated in the gable above the entrance. The windows that once occupied the bays adjacent to the vestibule addition were removed and their openings bricked in soon after the 1907 enlargement of the school.

The west elevation of the school dates from 1907 and features two windows and a gable oculus.

The north elevation of the building features seven evenly spaced window bays. The central window bay was altered in the twentieth century to accommodate a second entrance to the building. A seam in the arch over the fifth bay is the only visible indication of the 1907 expansion of the building.

On the interior, District School No. 1 retains its two-room plan from 1907. The entrance leads into a wide vestibule that once served as a coat room. The east and west ends of this space have now been renovated for use as a kitchenette and bathroom. At the rear (north) wall of the vestibule are two doors. One leads into the original front classroom and the second provides access to the 1907 classroom. The two rooms are joined on the interior by a flat archway that spans nearly the full width of the building. Originally multi-fold wood panel doors could be opened or closed to expand or restrict the space in the school. These doors have now been removed. Finishes throughout the building survive with varying degrees of integrity. The front classroom retains its plaster walls above wood bead board wainscotting. A beaded board ceiling also survives in this space. The rear classroom retains similar materials although they have now been obscured by museum display cases and a dropped ceiling.

Located north of the schoolhouse is a modern storage building (non-contributing) and a non-contributing wood frame outbuilding which was moved to the site in the late twentieth century.

Significance

The District School No. 1 (Cedar Hill Schoolhouse) is architecturally significant as a well-preserved two-room brick schoolhouse retaining much of its original form and setting. The school is an outstanding example of its type and stands as an important regional example of schoolhouse architecture in New York.

Cedar Hill is one of several small hamlets that evolved in the town of Bethlehem. Located adjacent to the Hudson River, this enclave served as one of the community's earliest settlement sites. Located just east of the school is the Nicoll-Sill House (1735, 1790; National Register Listed 1973). This landmark home was built by Rensselaer Nicoll (1706-1776) a nephew of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. Much of the land now known as Cedar Hill was part of the vast estate owned by the Nicoll family. Oral tradition holds that the first school established in the town was erected on property near the Nicoll's house. In the early nineteenth century this river front hamlet became an important stop for river traffic on the Hudson River. During this period William Nicoll Sill (b.1786-d.1844) erected a dock, warehouse and store, which was operated by his son, Rensselaer Nicoll Sill and his partner (and brother-in-law) Richard Eugene Thorne. In 1860 Barent Winnie, Sr. (b.1818) established a second set of warehouses, a dock and other commercial ventures at the outflow of the Vlomankill into the Hudson River. This enclave and the earlier dock complex was known as Cedar Hill Landing. It is interesting to note that just north of this site is a prominent rise of land, which to the present day remains heavily wooded with cedar trees. During this period of growth the original Cedar Hill School remained the only school for several miles.

The District School No. 1 (Cedar Hill Schoolhouse) was erected in 1859 to replace the original building on the Nicoll property. The parcel on which the building was constructed was purchased from Barent S. Winnie and his wife Anna for $100.00 The school opened in the fall of 1860. Its first teacher was Mr. Philip A. Miller of Selkirk. The first class had 24 students in it. By 1883 there were 69 students enrolled in the school, which had a total district budget of $520.00.

It is also during this period in the history of education that a number of financial and academic reforms were being undertaken to improve the state's rural school system. Many communities, including Bethlehem, established its first formal education system as a result of the passage of an act, by the New York State Legislature in 1812, that permanently established a common school system. This act allowed for the collection and distribution of funds to the common schools. Under this bill monies were allocated to towns based on population and specified that towns would then need to raise sufficient local funds to match the state monies. Under this system each town was divided into districts, each with a single school and a board of trustees.

In the late 1840's and 50's, the New York State Legislature attempted to improve public education throughout the state by amending its system of financial support. The Free School Act of 1849 eliminated the direct assessment of rates upon parents and provided instead for the levying of general real estate taxes for educational purposes. Controversy lead to the repeal of large portions of this act and the return of rate bills in districts. The Union Free School Act of 1853 allowed a district to fund schools from a general real property tax if the district created a department for "academic" or secondary education. Contemporary with these legislative reforms were those of educational reformers, who advocated improvements in classroom plan and design to facilitate the learning process. These changes included the raising of ceilings to improve ventilation; the separation of classroom and vestibule/cloakroom to prevent drafts and to formalize the place of learning; and the use/introduction of window bands along one wall of the building to provide adequate light that would not cast a shadow over the shoulder of the student.

As built in 1859 and later renovated in 1907, District School Number 1 displays a number of the characteristics associated with schoolhouse development and reform of the mid-nineteenth century. These renovations include the building's two-room plan, separate entry vestibule/coatroom, high ceiling (for increased ventilation), and large evenly spaced windows on three elevations providing bi-directional lighting. The building also displays a number of stylistic features associated with the Italianate style. These characteristics include the building's rectangular plan, overhanging roof eaves, and blind window and door arcades.

The architectural significance of the school is further enhanced by elements added as part of the 1907 renovation. Under the direction of regionally prominent architect, Marcus T. Reynolds, the school was enlarged and renovated. These alterations included the addition of a new entry and vestibule wing and the extension of the masonry block of the building to incorporate a second classroom. Most striking of these changes was the addition of a central domed cupola. This ornate element not only served as an architectural focal point it also served as a ventilation tower to aid in the movement of air in the newly renovated building.

Marcus T. Reynolds (1869-1937) was one of Albany's most prominent and prolific twentieth century architects. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1869, he attended school in Albany, New York and studied in New Hampshire and at Williams College. He received his architectural training at Columbia University. Reynolds worked extensively in the city of Albany and is credited with many of the city's most significant early twentieth century architectural designs. Among his most significant works are the United Traction Company Building (Albany, 1899, National Register Listed 1976), First Trust Company Building (Albany, 1904-08, National Register Listed 1972), and the Delaware & Hudson Railroad Company Building (Albany, 1914-18, NR Listed 1972). The D&H Building is considered to be Reynolds' seminal work. The massive Flemish Revival edifice was based on the design of the Cloth Building, Ypres, Belgium. This impressive landmark spans a city block and serves as the visual separation between the Hudson River, State Street and the New York State Capital building.

In addition to his major commissions, Reynolds was also a prolific designer of residential architecture in and around the city of Albany. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the river front at Cedar Hill had begun to develop as an enclave for large estates and summer residences. Marcus T. Reynolds was involved in the design of several of these properties. These include the estates of Governor Martin Glynn (1907-1910, opposite River Road from the school) and printing tycoon, James B. Lyon (1905). There is little doubt that Reynolds' involvement with the school expansion was brought about through his work on these two neighboring estates.

In 1962, after 102 years of continuous use in Cedar Hill, the schoolhouse was closed as the students were assigned to several other local schools. In 1964 residents of District No. 1 of the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District voted to present the school to the town of Bethlehem. In 1965 the Bethlehem Historical Society was formed and the school was offered by the town as home for the new group and museum. It continues to serve both these functions to the present day.

Today the District School No. 1 (Cedar Hill Schoolhouse) survives as a rare and highly intact example of this once common building type. It also stands as a rare reminder of the community known as Cedar Hill. As such, it is an important reminder of the history of this small hamlet and is an important reminder of nineteenth century education architecture and history in the town of Bethlehem and in New York State.

References

Combination Atlas Map of Albany County. Philadelphia: Everts, Ensign & Everts, 1876.

Bennett, Allison. Times Remembered. Bethlehem, N.Y.

Brewer, Floyd I. Ed. Bethlehem Revisited. Albany, N.Y.: Bethlehem Bicentennial Commission. 1993.

French, J.H. Gazetteer of the State of New York. Syracuse: R.P. Smith. 1860.

Giddings, Edward D. Coeymans and the Past. Rensselaer: Hamilton Printing Co., 1973.

Parker, Amasa J., ed. Landmarks of Albany County. Syracuse, N.Y.: Mason & Co. Publishers, 1897.

Reynolds, Kenneth G. "Marcus T. Reynolds." Albany Architects. Albany, N.Y.: Historic Albany Foundation. 1978.

Warren, Susanne R. "Context Study: The Schools of New York State, Development of The School as a Building Type." New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Albany, New York. 1990.

Miscellaneous Correspondence

Letter from Dunkin S. Sill to Harry C. Dinmore, Jr. April 26, 1934, Torrance, California.

Letter from Dunkin S. Sill to Harry C. Dinmore, Jr. June 7, 1934, Torrance, California.

† John A. Bonafide, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, District School No. 1 (Cedar Hill Schoolhouse), Albany County, NY, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Other neighborhoods named
Cedar Hill

Cedar Hill Schoolhouse Map

Street Names
Clapper Road • River Road • Route 144

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