Where are the old schoolhouses? There are more than 170 common (elementary mostly one room school buildings) remaining in Cattaraugus County. We would like to compile them into a brochure to make them accessible to everyone; however, many are now private residences. It is not feasible to place that many private homes in a public forum and expect to receive consent from owners. What we will do is showcase many, some in the early 1900s while others will be current day photos. The schools that survived were adapted for other uses; the majority becoming homes.
As you travel around Cattaraugus County you will see many one room school houses that resemble those of our ancestors. The Amish residents are building versions of the one room school house. Often they have a bell tower, swings and other playground equipment and are equipped with outhouses. These school buildings may have metal siding or wooden coverings. Usually they are white.
Concern for education was a priority with the early settlers in Cattaraugus County. Early school construction stories can be found in practically every township of a log structure being erected and a teacher in place.
Rural common schools were shown on two vintage Cattaraugus County maps, one dated 1905 and the other 1915. Common schools were shown in every one of the 33 townships at that time. The combined number of schools, both rural one room and village multi-room schools in 1915 was 308. The education of the children in Cattaraugus County was under township supervision for over one hundred years. Many factors led to the closing of the rural one room school houses, including changes in transportation and the movement to centralized school districts. By the1950s there was not even one township that had a one room school house still functioning as a place of education.
Residents that attended these rural schools have many fond memories and enjoy sharing their experiences with others. This writer can attest to that sentiment. Having attended the three room school in East Otto, it can be said those were the best days of my education. Six years were spent on those grounds and in that building with three wonderful teachers. Almost impossible as it is to believe specific lessons are easy to recall. Students in these schools experienced many of the educational trends embraced in the 1990s. Multi-age classrooms were the norm as well as peer tutoring and students working in groups especially during recess. In the East Otto school rules of games and the playground boundries by grade level were managed by students very effectively. Lessons being taught in the one room for two grades were heard by all providing reinforcement of the learning.
Rural schoolhouses are a cherished part of the heritage and culture of education in Cattaraugus County. That statement was from the authors of the research project on finding surviving rural common schools in Cattaraugus County, George and Linda Kanoti. The information in this article is based on their research which was completed over a three year period ending in 2004.
Submitted by Sue Cross, Town of Mansfield Historian