On the evening of Wednesday, March 24 area residents gathered at the Malta Ridge Methodist Church to listen to a presentation by Town Historian Paul Perrault and learn about the history of Malta’s one-room schoolhouses. Throughout the presentation, Perreault sought to illustrate Malta’s longstanding emphasis on education from its very founding to the present day.
At one time there were nine one-room schoolhouses in the Malta area, but according to Perreault no images of their interiors have survived.
His presentation included an 1866 map of Malta showing the locations of all nine of the schools. Some of the schools still stand today, while others are gone; most do not appear exactly the same way they did over a century ago.
Some of them hold very interesting stories, though, and plenty of the attendees Wednesday evening had attended one-room schools, including some of the ones in Perrault’s presentation.
School #1, on Malta Avenue, was integrated and included several African-American students, a significantly uncommon circumstance for the time. Perreault displayed a photograph from 1932 showing some of those students posing with their class.
School #3 was and is on Route 9, in the building that now houses Art of Aesthetics, formerly Schoolhouse Antiques. Driving by the blue-grey building, the section jutting out towards Route 9 is the original schoolhouse; a closer look reveals differences in windows and roofing.
“Education in New York state had no single starting point,” Perreault said. “Those living on the frontier … took the responsibility for transmitting the skills and attitudes necessary for survival.”
The state established the Board of Regents in 1784, but that body did little at first. In 1812, the state legislature passed a law establishing self-governing common schools, or grades one through eight, in each town.
That same law also created the position of state superintendent of schools. The very first superintendent was a local man from Charlton named Gideon Hawley, known as the father of common schools in New York state.
“The Town of Malta responded immediately,” explained Perreault. “At the annual meeting of the town board held on April 6, 1813, three commissioners were selected and four inspectors of schools were appointed.” A resolution to fund school projects was also passed.
A publication from 1813 reports Malta alone had seven schoolhouses and a small library. Contemporary records and documents were brought by Perreault, and attendees had the chance after the talk to examine them.
Students at school had an hour break for lunch, often returning to their homes. Almost all of their teachers were women aged 19 or in their early 20s.
School #2’s curriculum included “physiology, drawing, geography, physical training, and agriculture, humane and nature,” although Perreault was unsure what the last two subjects entailed, exactly.
Malta’s school history extended back before official state promotion, though, according to a minute book from 1813 which records the building of a new schoolhouse on the location of an old one. The original building was to be sold to fund the bricks for the new one.
“There was a school in operation before 1813,” Perrault said. “We don’t know anything about it; they sold it and what became of it we don’t know. But even before the state was promoting education, it was being provided in some form by the citizens of Malta.”
Malta’s cutting edge educational status extends from that time directly to today. TEC-SMART, run by Hudson Valley Community College, was pointed to by Perreault as an example of strong local education, something which he believes Malta has an extensive tradition of.
“It’s my contention that Malta has been on the front lines of education since at least 1813 and before,” Perreault said, “and that the citizens and parents and taxpayers of this community have done a wonderful job of supporting the education their children … They continue to do that today.”
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