Schoolhouse bell rings for victory
Oh, that schoolhouse bell.
Greater Patchogue Historical Society treasurer Steve Lucas rang it to announce on Monday that the Swan River Schoolhouse in East Patchogue was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After getting applause, he looked around the crowded room at the building’s fans.
“It’s surprising it’s lasted all these years,” he said of the 1858 structure. “There’s at least 35 or 40 people here and it hasn’t collapsed,” he quipped.
Lucas and other GPHS supporters have been doggedly advocating for this treasure, now a Brookhaven Town building. The bell was historically used to alert children working on nearby farms that classes were about to begin; a 400-square-foot room accommodated grades one to eight when electricity wasn’t around and a potbellied stove was utilized for heat. Students sat in wooden seats attached to desks.
This was before school districts were created and required school attendance came to be, so it was up to a community to hire a teacher on their own.
The town had made some improvements, but the new status enables GPHS to apply for state grants, Lucas said.
Former president and now corresponding secretary Dorothy Pavacic wrote the 29-page National Register grant. She showed the official Sept. 1 letter from Michael F. Lynch, director of New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s Division for Historic Preservation, which noted the Aug. 18 approval.
“We can get a matching grant from the state to fix the exterior walls, interior floor and replace the lead-base paint on the walls,” Pavacic said, adding that a meeting with the group already took place with Brookhaven Town parks commissioner Ed Morris; an engineer would be providing an analysis. Councilman Neil Foley, she said, had been completely on board.
Lucas said they hope to restore the bell tower blown off in the Hurricane of ’38 so the bell can return to its rightful place.
“This is what we’ve been doing for years, waxing desks and dusting display cases, since the 1980s,” she added, as Rosemary Lucas, vice president of GPHS, was moving from area to area with a Swiffer. Husband Steve has been the frontman cheerleader for the schoolhouse.
As with anything historical, there are anecdotes. Supervisor Ed Romaine, a staunch supporter of several historical restorations in the town as well as history in general, commented he went to school when there were no ballpoint pens, pointing to the inkwells on the wood desks, “so I know where these things come from,” he said. Foley reiterated definite plans were afoot at the town to renovate the school. “I just have to ask my supervisor for money,” he said to laughter.
Passerby Linda Schlosser, who lives on Chapel Avenue, stopped in when she told her dog, Duke, “pick where you want to go.” The smart Maltese made a beeline for the schoolhouse. She wound up signing up as a GPHS member and promised Lucas a photo of her aunt, Amy White, a former student here, with her classmates.
Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri said his grandmother, Rose Romeo, attended the one-roomer when she first immigrated as Rose Mazzotti at age 12; her father worked at the Roe Farm when it was operating just a few feet away on Roe Avenue.
There have been special school tours as well as those offered during the summer. Toni and Maury Dean remembered them. “I brought the kids years ago,” said Toni Dean. “It’s a great place to see what it was once.”
“That’s an awakening experience to have young students come and sit in these seats,” agreed Brookhaven Town historian Barbara Russell, who was privy to the reactions.
Patchogue-Medford Schools superintendent Michael Hynes ducked in on the presentations last. “When I think of a one-room school, I think of individual instruction,” he said admiringly. “We’re really blessed and thank you.”
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