2016-11-17 / Columnists

The long, rich history of the Bishop/Blue house

Good Ole daze
by Stanis Beck

George Street School, 1861-1894 George Street School, 1861-1894 Part II

In Colonial times, most children were never inside a classroom. In 1780, Governor George Clinton of New York pushed for the establishment of public schools and in 1787 there was a system teaching the three Rs: reading, ‘riting’ and ‘rithmetic’. An act to use public funds was created in 1795, but in 1800 it was, unfortunately, dropped. In 1812 there were town schools with matching funds from the state, but it was still not mandatory to attend. By 1825, private funding and some local governments were financially supportive, and there were actually said to be some good schools in the State of New York, but it was still just random pie in the sky to be lucky enough to attend.

Concentrating on the school life of the “good ol daze” of Babylon Village specifically, similar to the schoolhouse addition to the Bishop/ Blue house previously mentioned, the first Southside Hospital building (currently where the village post office is located) was originally used as a boarding house and a day school for a time. There was also said to be a one-room cabin schoolhouse on East Main Street in 1805. This was the first school built in the Village. It was private initially and owned by 22 residents. It went public in 1816. In 1870 there was a Miss Gannon’s Young Ladies Seminary, built next to the Signal Building on West Main Street.

In 1906, on the north side of Montauk Highway, there was Miss Landwehr’s Private School—an elementary school for boys and girls from ages 3 to 12, used for resident and day pupils; but the very first district schoolhouse was originally the third building used as the 1st Presbyterian Church of Babylon (still remaining sandwiched between the Sammis house and the current Presbyterian Church). At first it was private, but later became public. Miss Gloriana Rice (later Mrs. James B. Cooper) was the last teacher in this old building and the first principal of the new schoolhouse, built on George Street in 1861. This new building was utilized as a school for almost three decades. Although it became expanded in 1873, and again in 1884, it could not accommodate the rapidly growing population. The George Street schoolhouse later became the Lyceum Theatre, which ultimately served as a magnate for social and cultural events. (“When films were shown at the theatre in the early 1900s a huge burlap sack was used to catch the film as it was shown…” Good seats were 10 cents and the peanut gallery cost 5 cents.)

In 1894 a new school, built and expanded on the north side of Grove Place, was in use for decades and resulted, in 1927, in a three-story building facing the railroad. The large expansion of this building, in 1957 (the present high school basically) replaced the original and a fire, in 1967 unfortunately destroyed much of what was left of the old historic building. (St. Joseph’s church had also opened a school in 1927 accommodating students through the seventh grade, until 1991.)

In the fall of 1918, the deadly Spanish flu paid a visit to the community. “Not since the bubonic plague in the 14th century was there to be such a dreadful worldwide scourge…Often a person would die within 24 hours after being afflicted…By Oct. 18 the Babylon Village health board…placed a general quarantine upon all public assemblages…

They ordered all schools, churches, theatres, dance halls, lodges and other places of assembly…to be closed until further notice…As the small Southside Hospital in Babylon was completely inadequate, most of the sick remained at home…The situation in Babylon seemed to be worse than at points east.”

Ending on a more positive note, leading up to and including the Great Gatsby days of Babylon Village and its environs, there had been many notable, wealthy families living in the area from Babylon to East Islip. (The Town of Islip actually had the highest tax rates for years, until the Hamptons became more fashionable for the wealthiest.) It was apparently not uncommon then for these families to have their children schooled only from December through March, heading for Europe and other exotic places, having them tutored wherever possible. Some of the best known resident families of old Babylon included: the Fosters (donated Argyle Park to the Village); Austin Corbin (railroad magnate, owner of the Argyle Hotel); the Guggenheims (Stables nursery was the location of the original family horse stables); Edwin Hawley (railroad tycoon and Effingham Park owner); Effingham Sutton (a renowned builder after whom Sutton Place is named); Arnold/Constable (New York City clothiers); August Belmont (politician, financier and builder of Belmont Park); Herbert Yates (founder of Republic Pictures – discovering John Wayne, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers); John B. Stanchfield (the lawyer for Henry K. Thaw, who killed architect Stanford White, and got him acquitted after nine years on the basis of mental illness); and our very own E.W. Howell (who was responsible for building many of the magnificent golden oldies, not only locally and throughout Long Island but New York City too). Babylonians sure have a heck of a lot to be proud of, historically speaking!

Most of this information was obtained from the following resources: Babylon Town History Museum; A Brief History of the Town of Babylon, 1978; Babylon Beacon, 1974; Babylon Reminiscences; Child Life in Colonial Days, 1899; “Huntington Vignettes”; Along the Great South Bay; Long Island’s Story; By the Waters of Babylon, A History of the First Presbyterian Church; Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation; “Village of Babylon,” Mrs. Ralph Howell.

The writer is a local amateur historian and founder of the Babylon Village Historical Conservency.

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