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Marble School House
The first provision for education in the colonial town of Eastchester was made in the Eastchester Covenant of 1665.
The first set of town laws was drawn up by the original settles who migrated from Fairfield, Connecticut in 1664, and
settled in the vicinity of the present location of St. Paul’s Church, Eastchester (now South Columbus Avenue, Mt. Veron).
The fourteenth paragraph of the Covenant reads: “that provision be endeavored for education of children and
encouragement be given unto any that shall take pains according to our former way of rating.”
According to Town Records, in 1683 it was determined to erect a schoolhouse in Eastchester but there was no clear
indication this was done. It was not until a town meeting held on January 25, 1726 that the dimensions of the building were specified along with the date of its completion by May 1st next.
As early as 1729, provision was made for the education of school age children in the upper part of the town when a lot was designated for a
schoolhouse in the wooded area near the home of John Vails, at the present junction of California road and North Columbus Avenue, Mt. Vernon. The school which stood on this corner was the forerunner of our Marble School. In 1835 this building was torn down and the site of the school changed slightly. The new school (The Marble School), stood on the North Columbus Avenue (White Plains Road) on the opposite side of the street near Devonia Avenue, and was considered quite elegant for its day. Until 1869 children from Bronxville, Tuckahoe and northern Mr. Vernon, and all that section of the town east to New Rochelle and north to Mill Road attended school there.
The Marble School was moved in 1869 to its present location near the intersection of California and New Rochelle Roads, Eastchester. Children from the eastern
section of the district north to Mill Road, and east to the New Rochelle line, attended this school.
At the end of the school year in 1884, the Marble School closed its doors. It later became the property of Valentine Kloepfer, whose land adjoined the school property. The
Kloepfer estate bequeathed the land and the school to the Town of Eastchester in 1952. On October 14, 1959, the Town Council officially granted to the Eastchester Historical Society the custodianship of the Old Marble School.
THE MARBLE SCHOOL HOUSE TODAY
The Historical Society has restored the schoolhouse to its 1835 appearance. The furnishings, which are all authentic, were found in many places and after much searching. The school desks came from Proctorsville, Vt., the cast iron stove from Sudbury, Vt., and the schoolmaster’s desk and blackboard from Newton, Conn. The two
cupboards are both Eastchester pieces. Many of the small accessories such as slates, toys, maps and textbooks, including three titles actually used in the Marble School, have been donated by local residents.
At the time of the school was moved, Union Corners was a rural hamlet. Mc. Bertrand P. Burtnett, late Town Historian, and a pupil at the Marble School, has left us a description of the building and its surroundings in the late 1870’s. The following account was written by him in 1933: “Fifty one years ago last fall, a little boy started on a great adventure. One bright morning he walked down a narrow, country road with his mother, toward the place where on learned to read and write and do sums.
He didn’t want to go at all. He would much rather stay at home and play in the barn an pick the fall pippins just ripening in the orchard, back of the house. But his grandfather was President of the Board of Education, and the Board was doing everything it could to make Union Corners School one of the best in the state, his mother told him. Then she told him that the teacher was a lovely kind land – and old friend of hers and of her father. She knew all about little boys, how to make them happy, and would teach such wonderful things. The boy was almost persuaded that perhaps going to school wasn’t so bad after all. But he just couldn’t forget those fall pippins in the orchard, and ordered if anyone would pick them before he reached home after school. Then mother and son reached the gate in the high board fence enclosing the schoolyard, and entered. A yard with a row of apple trees on one side; a great flat-topped roc in the center; nearby a rock, a well and wooden pump. In the rear of the yard stood the school the bell in the tower was pealing forth its call. Children were coming from all directions, running toward the entrance, shouting and laughing. It didn’t seem at all like what the little boy thought school would be. Everyone was having lots of fun.
The boy in the lobby, who had been appointed bell ringer for the day, (a prized task, by the way), ceased his efforts and a great stillness filled the room.
All eyes were turned toward a teacher as she read a verse from the Bible, followed by a short prayer. Then with music from the melodeon, the treble voice of the children blended with hers n singing some old hymn. So began the school day of a half-century ago.
Mrs. Eliza Burwell Merritt, a lady of charming personality and wondrous understanding of the hearts and minds of children, presided over the destinies of the little school during the last few years of its existence. She carried on under difficulties that would have discouraged anyone not equipped with strong will which she possessed. Arriving early in the winter mornings, it was often necessary for her to start the fire in the old iron stove and break the ice in the wooden water bucket. When deep snows covered the roads and the children waded through drifts that reached above the copper-toed, red-topped leather boots of the boys and soaked the woolen leggings of the girls, boots and stocking were taken off by teacher and placed near the stove to dry. Chilled feet and frosted ears were rubbed back to warmth and steaming tears wiped away by her loving hands.
The entrance door to the school led into the lobby. On the left, on a shelf fitted to the side stool, stood a wooden water bucket and tin dipper. Above the shelf, and on the other side of the lobby, wooden pegs were inserted in the walls on which hang hats and coasts. The Bell rope hung down in one corner, to be touched only by permission of teacher. The place to store lunch boxes and baskets was under the shelf. From the lobby, another door led directly into the school proper. Pushing his way through this door, the boy entered a room with a high vaulted ceiling. Across one end of the room was a raised platform with a desk on one side and an old-fashioned melodeon on the other. In the center of the room squatted a high cast-iron stove, bulging in the middle and tapering toward the top and bottom. Two rows of desks stood on each side of the room, the initials of former generations of pupils crudely carved on their tops. One side of the room was for boys, the other side for girls. Woe betide the pupil who ventured on the other’s territory, except when a boy was punished by being forced to sit with a girl – a disgrace not quickly forgotten. A row of wooden benches in front of the platform was reserved for classes reciting their lessons. Another row in the back reserved for those who were a little backward and had to study or perhaps were sent in disgrace to the back of the room to thin over their misdeeds.
Late in June came “exhibition day.” It is called commencement now. Arms full of flowers and ferns brought by scholars to festoon the schoolroom, turned in into a woodland bower for a day. Drawings, specimens of handwriting, and sums in arithmetic were hung on the walls to catch the eyes and praise of the school trustees and visitors. The trustees seated on the platform during the exercises, gravely listened to the nervous little girls recite, and the frightened little boys declaim. Next came
the spelling match, the test in reading, geography and grammar. The successful ones were awarded prizes by the president of the school board, in a speech that seemed without end, and it was over! Out into the sunshine for two glorious months of carefree fun. Fishing in the streams, splashing in the old “swimmin’ hole,” and maybe a picnic over to Rye Beach, a long journey in those days.”
In the springtime, the banks of the brook I the rear of the schoolyard were fragrant with mint and crisp watercress grew in the still shadows. Frogs sported in the long grass, and were often captured and brought into the schoolroom – much to the discomfort of the girls and annoyance of teacher. The brook was the cause of many wet feet and involuntary baths. But what fun to go barefoot, while shoes and stockings dried in the sun! on lazy June afternoons, teacher presided over her classes seated on the great flat rock under the apple trees in full bloom, explaining the mysteries of common fractions, or telling the story of the founding of our country. Every Wednesday afternoon during the school term, teach read stories from the “Youth’s Companion,” played on the melodeon, and led in singing the old school songs. Thanksgiving was celebrated with a turkey dinner for parents and pupils Then Christmas with its tree, carol singing and happy good-byes for the holidays. Washington’s Birthday was gay with tableaux in colonial costumes gathered from ancient hair trunks reposing in attics of the older houses in the district. Spring came, and with it the coveted privilege of being sent to the pump for a fresh buck of drinking water, during school hours. It took a log time to get the bucket of water. There were so many interesting things to see between the lobby and the pump on a warm spring day!