2016-11-10 / Columnists

Good Ole daze

The long, rich history of the Bishop/Blue house in Babylon
by Stanis Beck

The Bishop/Blue home circa 1808, and today. The Bishop/Blue home circa 1808, and today. Part I

Seeing the “FOR SALE” sign on the Bishop/ Blue residence at 75 Fire Island Avenue, was inspiration enough to do a bit of research and share some historic information about this lovely home in Babylon Village, as some local residents may be unaware of its true significance.

In 1974, the Babylon Village historian, Thomas E. Hanaway, ran a contest through the Babylon Beacon, trying to uncover the oldest house in Babylon Village. The Bishop/ Blue house was listed as a contender, possibly being the oldest house in the Village, the operative words here being “in its original location!” (This house had remained in Bishop ownership continuously for decades and rumor has it that this old Babylonian family may have ancestral roots reaching back to Abigail Adams!) “Charles Bishop built his historic house in 1780 and his descendent, also Charles joined fellow musicians - James Cooper (managing editor of The Leader) and Benjamin P. Field (author of Babylon Reminiscences) as the “fifer” in their martial tril, Company A, beloved by the locals who were proud of their citizen soldiers. They charmed all with drills and parades, marching in the village to the tunes of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Soap-suds Over the Fence,” etc. One can only imagine the pageantry they must have supplied on the Fourth of July! Bishop’s now historic house, with gabled roof and attractive dental molding, was described as “an excellent early home…one of the most important houses in Babylon.” It well represents some of the best-preserved houses on Fire Island Avenue when trolleys transferred vacationers from the train station to the ferry dock heading to the Fire Island seashore. It also has a very special asset, worthy of celebrating in and of itself! That is, the kitchen wing (an addition still seen in the rear since 1840) is said to have been the Babylon Village schoolhouse in 1836! On top of this, the original use of these same antique timbers actually comprised the cabin of a brig named “Brilliant,” which had previously crashed on Fire Island! Now, that’s what’s called “whole hog recycling!”

This history led to more questions about the original schoolhouses of the very early days of our Island’s history. According to the historic magazine, Huntington Vignettes, other local towns were less eager to start schools. Instead, local churches, or the royal governor, under earliest British rule, provided instruction. Schoolmasters were generally well respected (viewed just under the minister) and they often had many other church jobs too, moonlighting as bell ringers, clerks, messengers and even gravediggers!

The earliest old school buildings were bare, neither plastered nor painted inside and outside, and lacked essentials such as blackboards, chalk and even pencils! There were no maps and rarely a globe. Even paper was minimal and, therefore, all were encouraged to write very small. Children brought in goose quill pens and ink was also made at home. Lead pencils were rare and those in possession of them were envied. Neatness, penmanship and discipline were important and teachers, who sat on higher stools, had hickory whips and/or cat of nine tails at their disposal, if necessary. They would normally use a charcoal stick to write on birch bark.

Reading (alphabet, prayers and word lists) was learned from the New England Primer. In the early days, the alphabet was often illustrated, in the primer, through woodcuts and rhymes. For example, a rhyme for the letter K originally went: “King Charles was good, no man of blood.” At the time of the Revolutionary War, however, it changed to “Kings and Queens are gaudy things.”

Children sat on hard wooden benches and were often expected to clean up at the day’s end. It was more typical for boys, not girls, to be schooled, but eventually “dames schools” came into the picture, even though girls were more often expected to learn their letters from cross stitching letters and/ or their mothers. Some said it would be too far for girls to walk to school, too hot or too cold (wood stoves kept the temperature just above freezing) and that they should remain at home, warm in their kitchens. It got cold enough to proclaim that, “Occupants studied in a cloak of goosebumps.” Parents would cart the wood; older boys cut it and the smaller ones would cart it in.

The very first student to arrive was expected to start the fire with live coals brought from the closest house. Girls, who did finally attend, were expected to sweep and occasionally scrub the floor, after boys brought in the water. Some girls, who were denied access to the boys-only schools, were so dedicated to be educated, they were said to eavesdrop on the schoolhouse steps in their efforts to learn.

The writer is a amateur historian and founder of the Babylon Village Heritage Conservancy.

Return to top

Suffolk County Shelter Locator and Storm Surge Zone Mapping Tool
The Shelter Locator and Storm Surge Zone Mapping Tool