Inwood’s First Public School

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“Ward or Public School No. 52 was a landmark on the southeast corner of Broadway and Academy Street from 1858 to almost 1957. This picture dates from about 1902, or midway of that period. Note the gas lamp with a mailbox on the lamppost. At the right is the house where the caretaker lived.” -Source- William Tieck, Schools and School Days.

In 1858, the year Inwood’s first school was constructed , the area wasn’t yet known by its current name. Locals, of whom there were few, all referred to the region on Manhattan’s northernmost tip as “Tubby Hook.” Folks downtown hardly even considered the backwater region as being part of their city.

So imagine the surprise when a monolithic, rectangular red-brick structure capped by fourteen chimneys rose from a cow pasture on what we now know as Academy Street and Broadway.  Everyone, locals included, were puzzled as to the need for such a large and modern structure. There were barely enough children in the area to fill even the first floor. Besides, children in those lean times, like their parents, literally lived off the land, and were needed in the fields to care for the crops and herd cattle. Who really had time for school?

Public School 52 on Broadway and Academy in 1930. Note old and new schools sit side by side before demolition of old school in 1956.

According to the late Kingsbridge historian William Tieck, “the growth of the Tubby Hook school was so slow that during the first thirty or forty years of its existence only the lowest floor of the three story structure was used. Because School Commissioner James MacKean was one of the prime movers in the erection of the building, it was long known as “MacKean’s Folly”. The land itself was donated by Isaac Michael Dyckman, who retained an active interest in the school until his death in 1899.” (Schools and School Days in Riverdale, Kingsbridge and Spuyten Duyvil, 1971).

“Even as late as 1908, when Public School 52 celebrated its fiftieth anniversay, it was surrounded by the wide-open spaces shown in the remarkable vista above. The picture was taken in a northeasterly direction overlooking the junction of Riverside Drive with Broadway and Dyckman Street. To the right of the school is the mansion-like dwelling of the caretaker, Mr. O’Neill. Landmarks include the original Mount Washington Presbyterian Church; above its steeple, the now abandoned powerhouse at 216th Street; and, on the horizon, the two buildings of the Catholic Orphan Asylum and Webb’s Academy and Home for Shipbuilders. A string of subway cars is barely visible on the distant-and then new- elevated line running up Tenth Avenue. Note the trolley tracks and gas lamps.” Source: William Tieck, Schools and School Days.

More than a century before Tieck’s seminal work on the history of education in the Kingsbridge section of New York, a reporter from the New York Herald visited the old Ward School 52 as part of an annual examination of city schools.

According to the article, dated June 16, 1865, “The new and progressive schoolhouse at Tubby Hook is one of the most interesting monuments of that beautiful and romantic region. Yesterday the annual examination of the classes was made by Mr. S. S. Randall, the General Superintendent of Schools, with the assistance of Assistant Superintendent N. A. Calkins, H. Kiddle and William Jones. There were eight classes—five grammar and three primary—consisting of one hundred and fifty children in all. They were under the management of Mr. G. Miller, the principal, and his three pretty and intelligent lady assistants. Indeed, all the lady teachers of New York are pretty and intelligent—so much that, in this respect, they differ from the teachers of other cities. They seem to be appointed for their beauty and intellect. The examination was careful and searching, and embraced mathematics, astronomy, geology, history, grammar and a variety of other studies. All the classes acquitted themselves well, and the result of the examination was by no means discreditable to them.”

Ah the ladies…but we digress.

The sturdy old building stood for nearly a century, with civil war heroes and other famous men passing through its doors before it was demolished in 1956 to make room for an addition to the newly constructed J.H.S. 52.

What follows is a 1911 newspaper description of Inwood’s first public school during its prime:
The Sun
March 26, 1911
TUBBY HOOK’S OLD SCHOOL
ANTIQUATED STRUCTURE UPTOWN WHICH HAS A HISTORY.

Something About the District in Which It Stands—Many Well Known Men Went to School In Old 52—The Late John B. McDonald One of Them.

In the upper end of the city, on Manhattan Island, surrounded by up to date apartment houses, electric railroads underground, and in the near distance over-head trolley roads, the elevated part of the subway as well as the main line of the New York Central Railroad, stands an old fashioned brick schoolhouse where formerly a genuine excuse for absence from school was given by the parents of pupils as “the boys were needed to drive the cows to pasture.”

The Sun, March 26, 1911

Up to about twenty-five years ago the place, 206th Street and Broadway, was known as Kingsbridge Road.  Inwood: locally and unofficially it was also known as Tubby Hook; muddy in winter, dusty in summer and looked upon by a non-resident as not being part of the city of New York. The origin of the name Tubby Hook may be traced to a family named Tubb who lived in the neighborhood of a point of land just a short distance south of the Spuyten Duyvil. This locality was later known as Inwood on the Hudson, warranted by the extensive woods surrounding the Dyckman tract of land, and is known now as Dyckman street and Broadway, about a hundred feet south of where the old schoolhouse stands.

To get at the history of this old familiar landmark, which is part of our present local school system, it is necessary to inspect the records of the township of New Haarlem, of which Washington Heights forms a part. A few years after the town was established in 1658 by the last of the Dutch Governors, Peter Stuyvesant, the famous one legged soldier recognized the need of some one person to perform the duties of a schoolmaster for the poor children of the district; the population of Manhattan Island at this time, December 4, 1663, was about 2,000 souls. The Schepens, or Magistrates, held a lengthy meeting, and at its close “a capable man” was appointed; but the very limited means of the residents prevented them from contributing toward the schoolmaster’s salary.

The best they could do was to give two dozen schepels of grain each for his support. The absence of money made it obligatory on the part of the Magistrates, Daniel Tournier and Johannes Verveelea, also Jan Pieterson Slot, who could not write his own name, to petition the Director General and Council of New Netherland for a grant in aid of the appointment of Jan La Montegne, Jr., son of a physician, who was one of the first settlers of New Haarlem. At the time of his appointment the future schoolmaster, who was secretary of the Board of Magistrates and a parish clerk, resigned to take up his new duties at a salary of fifty guilders ($20) per annum, which was considered “the least possible salary.”

For seven years, or until 1670, Mr. La Montagne served in the capacity of schoolmaster, when he moved away. Hendrik Van der Vin succeeded him and fulfilled the same duties at a salary of eight times as much as that paid to Mr. La Montagne. The increase in the schoolmaster’s salary was evidentially too much for the residents, for when his salary was not forthcoming in 1678 it became necessary to make a house to house canvas for subscriptions, which netted 300 guilders, an matters were squared with New Haarlem’s second schoolmaster, at least for the time being. This subscription, together with the rent of the town meadows, was devoted to the salary and support of Mr. Van der Vin, who agreed after some persuasion to accept it for the first year, after which his full salary was assessed upon the residents. The town also voted to rebuild his residence. Nevertheless he lived in poor circumstances and finally fell into debt, the town being compelled in 1682 to pay a bill of $6 for Van der Vin’s pens, ink, paper and writing material.

Reginald Pelham Bolton, a civil engineer, and a well known resident of Washington Heights, whose ancestors owned considerable property in the neighborhood of Bolton road, just west of Broadway and near the old schoolhouse, has in his possession a large quantity of old time official records, one of which bears testimony that Van der Vin was a gentleman well acquainted with Latin and Spanish, remarkable for his accuracy, methodical in his habits and very precise in his duties as a clerk.”

He was succeeded by John Tiebout, who resigned after some years and gave way to Guiliaem Bertholf, who served for one year. Tiebout returned and served until 1690, when he and his family of twelve children moved to Bushwick. Tiebout was succeeded by a young man, a recent arrival from Vlissingen by the name of Adrien Verrautl, and “judging from his penmanship, a scholar,” who filled the place until 1708 when he became voorleser at Bergen, N.J., being recommended by the people of New Haarlem.

Religious discussion of an acrimonious nature left the town without a schoolmaster for about fourteen years, or until 1722 when John Martin Van Harlingen arrived from Holland, who held the position until 1741, although for a long time after this the New Haarlem church people made no appointment. The war of the Revolution did away with education; something more important at this period, many sought protection inside the American lines, returning after evacuation to find their homes ruined.

Chapter 189, Laws of 1801 enacted by the Legislature then holding its twenty-fourth session at Kingston, N.Y., provided that a sum of be raised by a tax for the further support of government, such moneys to be invested in real securities and the interest thereof to be expended for the instruction of poor children in the most useful branches of common education. A town meeting was held in this year and arrangements were made to lease a portion of the common lands to establish an academy for the education of the children of the township, these lands were then situated in the old Ninth ward of the city of New York and caused considerable controversy with the city. A legislative act caused the land to be sold, the proceeds to be placed in the hands of various trustees, who paid $3,500 to the trustees of the “Hamilton School.” The exact date of the establishment of it is in doubt, but references show it to be prior to 1820. Valentine’s Manual shows the Hamilton free school to be located at 181st street and Fort Washington avenue, the teacher then (1852) being Hosea B. Perkins, who died in 1903, the trustees being Isaac Dyckman, Tunis Ryer and John P. Dodge. This school was the predecessor of the present school system on Washington Heights.

Public School 52 in 1905 Postcard

In 1858, when the population of Manhattan Island was about 750,000, the Tubby Hook school—now Public School 52—was formally opened, the land upon which it stands being given to the city by the late Isaac Dyckman, on condition that a school be erected thereon. Until recent years only the first floor was used.

In 1903 a change was made in the building, which measured 40 by 70 feet, with classrooms about 16 square feet, the census of the old red school being less than 150, an addition of twenty-five square feet was added, the class rooms enlarged, the top floor occupied, giving more room, making the census of the school at the present time about 300, including about two dozen in the kindergarten. At the same time that the addition was made the old familiar brick walls were given a coat of paint and the “old red school” became a rich cream in color. It is only within the last few years that the old time stoves were replaced by steam heat.

John B. Mcdonald: “The Man Who Dug the Subway.”

It is questionable if any school in greater New York can show a list of well known graduates that are more respected in the community, among the alumni being the Rev. William J. Cummings and two brothers, John and Frederick; Lieut. Samuel K Allen, a graduate of West Point; his brother, Ethan Allen; J. Crawford McCreery, a partner of the dry goods firm; Samuel Isham, the artist and author; also his brothers, William and Charles; Dr. Norton Denslow and William Wallace Denslow, the well known illustrator and cartoonist; Elijah Cutts, late Senator from Minnesota; Joseph Keppler, artist and editor of Puck; Counsellor William Flitner and brothers, Walter and Charles; and William S. Hartt, director of the Tropical Fruit Growers Association. The old school also furnished some civil war heroes, such as Col. Charles N. Swift and Thomas C. Wright, both of whom rose from the ranks during the war; Col. Cornelius Schermerhorn, John Whalen, first Corporation Counsel of Greater New York and at present the president of Bank of Washington Heights; Blake Wales and his brother Alexander, Corporation Counsel of Binghamton in 1908; Robert Veitch and his son Charles of Dyckman Street; Theodore and Benjamin Barringer, both physicians, Former Alderman John J. McDonald, Andrew Thompson, one of the active members of the Stock Exchange; his brother William, and last but not least John B. McDonald, “the man who dug the subway,” and who died a week ago.”

The following images and text come from the 1857 Annual Report of the New York City & County Board of Education:

1857 Board of Education annual report.
1857 Board of Education annual report.
Ward School No. 52 from the 1857 Board of Education annual report.
Ward School No. 52 from the 1857 Board of Education annual report.
Ward School No. 52 from the 1857 Board of Education annual report.
Ward School No. 52 from the 1857 Board of Education annual report.
Ward School No. 52 from the 1857 Board of Education annual report.
Ward School No. 52 from the 1857 Board of Education annual report.
Ward School No. 52 from the 1857 Board of Education annual report.
Ward School No. 52 from the 1857 Board of Education annual report.

29 COMMENTS

  1. I was in the last class to attend the old building. Went to PS98 in ’56 and when I came back for 7-9th grade it was JHS52, and the cafeteria and gym had replaced the old building.

  2. I graduated PS98 in 1962 and JHS 52 in 1965. k thru 6 teachers Miss Grow, Mrs. Bader, Miss Stewart, Mrs. Weiss, Mrs. Edelman , (not sure of 5th grade), horrible Mrs. Shindler for 6th grade. Still think about how mean she was. JHS 52… Had Mr. Polokoff for girl’s gym, Mr. Risbarg for Social Studies, Mr. Taft and a wonderful English teacher, can’t remember his name right now.

  3. Many pleasant memories of “the old neighborhood”. I attended Kg – 3rd at PS 52, 4th – 6th at PS 98, then, back to PS 52 (in 1955) for 7th and 8th. 🙂

  4. Veronica –

    You were in those schools at the same time I was. I went to 52 for grade 1-3, then PS 98 for 4-6, then back to Jr. HS 52 for 7 and 8 – I was in class 7-1 and 8-1, leaving for Music & Art high school for grade 9/freshman.

    I was in Miss Haggerty’s nursery school in Payson Park and then Miss – I forgot her name – I used to remember it – kindergarten in the Ft Tryon Park playground before 52.

    Another kid from my 7th – and I think first part of 8th – forgot now – not sure if I should mention names, but it can be deleted if felt to be inappropriate – turned up last year and I had a brief correspondence with him – and that kid was Gerald Amster, a rather colorful character, even back in school days. There’s a book and a film about him.

    Could we have been in the same class? I do remember Veronicas…

    Larry L.

  5. I attended IS 52 back then it was known as JHS 52 from September 1975 – June 1978. I went there from 6th grade to 9th grade. Had many wonderful teachers too many to recall. Mr. Dritsas, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Carter, Mr. Griffin, Ms. Sperring, Mr. and Ms. Raphael, Ms. Garcia, Mr. and Mrs. Risbarg, Mr. Perman, Ms. Batista, Mr. Small, Mr. DeMeglio, Ms. Young, Ms. White, and countless other. Later on I returned as a Math teacher in 1990 and taught there for 18 years. Working alongside many teachers who nurtured and taught me many valuable lessons I appreciate until this day.

  6. I received my diploma from “52” on 27 June 1952. Abraham Wiener was the principal. I lived on Academy Street between Post and Nagle Avenues and would walk to school every day. The red brick “Annex” was connected to the main school by a bridge. The only class I remember taking in the Annex was a shop class. We used to play in the schoolyard all year long and in the summer the main building was open for use of the gyms for baskeball, shuffleboard and othe indoor sports. I remember meeting a tall, skinny red-headed guy one summer name Vin Scully who later became famous as a baseball announcer for the Dodgers. I believe he was a summer activities director of some type. I attended “52” for three years; 7th, 8th and 9th grades. I remember most of my teachers who were instrumental in preparing me for the test for Stuyvesant High School. Included are Binello, Bernd, Harwood, Virgilio, London, White and Hoover. I have fond memories of the old Annex. It’s a shame they didn’t preserve the it as a historical landmark.

  7. Attended school in 1966 and 67 in 3rd grade. First school I attended in US after coming by way of the Cuban Freedom Flights. Will never forget the day I missed the bus and got lost going back home on foot. My dad was furious. Did not know the bistory of PS 52 where I learned to speak English..will treasure my memories of this school now even more..thanks.

  8. I went to P.S. 98 from 1946-1951 and JHS 52 from 1951-1954 followed by George Washington High School 1954-1958. We took our metal and electrical shop classes in the old building with Mr. Farrell and it was a rare opportunity to learn a trade. Those years you were tracked by your class number. I was in 7-3, 8-3 and 9-3. The Principal was Abraham Weiner. I must admit I was not the best student contributed by my interest in girls. I was in love for the first time with Carmen Cruz. I made best friends those year that have continued for 60 years. We were allowed to go home for lunch and there was a garden in the north end of the playground.

  9. We lived in the Inwood Area from 1955 till 1971 and first went to PS 152 on Nagle Avenue from 1956 till 1958 and then we were transferred to PS 98 , where we when there from 1958 till 1963. We were at PS 52 till 1966 then on to George Washington High School. I enjoyed reading the story of the Ishams and Isham Park. And really enjoyed the old images. What was real interesting some of the Ishams children went to PS 52 ( the original building)

  10. I went to 52 from 1948 thru 1950. I was in the sp class and we won the softball tournament 2 years in a row. my home room teacher was Mrs. Mayer, but my favorites were Mr. Harwood, and mrs. Virgillio. (I think I was in love with her).
    Does anyone know what happened to them?
    Please feel free to contact me directly.
    Billy Stone

  11. Attended P.S. 52 from kindergaten in 1941 through Jr. High in 1947. Then GWHS where I graduated in 1952. Remember the Principal Mr. Abe Weiner, but also Miss Daugherty before
    him. She was very much a turn of the century lady. High collared blouse, long skirt, glasses on a ribbon that pinched on to her nose, and upswept hairdo. Yes, the boys all had a crush on Mrs. Virgilio.
    She was a WWII widdow, her husband having been killed when serving in the Navy. I recall that the School Nurse was also a very attractive young woman. My teachers ranged from lovely and fun to terrible and almost abusive. Mrs Cohen was one of the best and Miss Form was notorious for her temper. I can recall her dragging a poor boy down the hallway as she screamed,”Look at this little rat”. Mr. Leonard taught Electric Shop and would have the class hold hands in a circle while the boy on each end held an electrode from a generator. As he cranked the handle a shock went through us until we couldn’t let go. We had wood shop and sheet metal shop as well. Great memories. So glad I found this site.

    John Stone (Attended before my parents divorced and remarried as John Goldstein)

  12. This is a wonderful history of the school. I remember the old building! I was 11 when it was torn down and replaced by the gym/cafeteria building. I attended P.S. 98 from Kgn-6th grade, and then went to what then became JHS 52. I remember Principal Abe Wiener, and my favorite teacher, Mr. Grosser, who taught math. A lot of good memories there…

  13. I went to PS 98 starting in the late Fifties. I had Mrs. Newberger, Miss Etlinger, then Mrs. Lewis for both 4th and 5th grades. She was an amazing teacher – and my classmates were a very interesting and gifted group. I had the honor to have partnered with Jimmy Lee and we won the City Science Fair in the 4th grade. Some of my classmates were Andy Kowal, Elliott Hurrowitz, Irene Price, Janet Judge, Amy Brenner, Elizabeth Asch, Robert Sachs and of course my good friend, Jimmy Lee.

  14. I went to kindergarten at p.s. 152 in 1957. My two teachers were Mrs Simon and Miss Seigel. I was transferred to p.s 98 after the building i lived in at the dyckman projects was deemed to be in a different zone. I had Mrs. Bader for first grade, Mrs. Bickhart and later Mrs. Mcgrab for 2nd grade. Third grade was Mrs. Gluck. Fourth was Mrs. Dauber and fifth was Miss Rothblatt who went on to marry my gym teacher Mr. Kauffman. Sixth grade teacher was Mrs. Baranker. In 1964 i started 7th grade at p.s. 52. My homeroom teacher was Mr. Harris. Some of the teachers i remember were Mrs. Zimmerman, Mrs. Stecker, Mr. Keisler and Mr. Gallan for gym. Mr. Tobin was my home room teacher in eighth grade and Mr. Perry for 9th grade. High school i attended was George Washington. Great neighborhood and great memories.

  15. To Dan … was Mrs. Stecker a very short woman? I had a substitute teacher at Washington Height’s PS 189 named Mrs. Stecker, and her son attended the school, too.

  16. I went to PS 152 from 1952 to 19th (kindergarten to 6th grade). Sixth grade teacher was Miss Lang. We made marionettes in her class the entire year. She was attractive but older and had a mirror in the door of her closet where she always put on her make-up.

    I then went to JHS 52 for 7th to 9th grade. I was in the 7-2, 8-2, 9-2 classes. Graduated in 1962 and went to GW.

  17. I attended 52 from 65-68, after attending 152 for elementary school. Mark Mayo’s comment intrigues me because he and I were friends at 152 before he was “redistricted” to 98. I lived in the Dyckman projects in bldg 5 which remained at 152. I never saw him again. When I got to 52, Mark was nowhere to be found, and I assumed he had moved. But I was friends there with several folks he mentioned: Eliot Hurwitz, Janet Judge, and Robert Sachs. After 52, however, we all went our separate ways and to separate high schools, but it’s great to hear again these names from my nearly forgotten youth of a simpler time!

  18. January 11, 2015

    I attended JRHS 52 (Inwood JHS) from 1953 to 1955 for 7th – 9th grades, the SP classes. I am wondering what happened to many of my classmates. I went on to George Washington H.S., graduating in 1958, then Antioch College in Ohio, and finally, Boston University for graduate school. I would like to hear from classmates from that time. There were 2 SP classes at that time, and we formed friendships among the two classes.

  19. I am so glad I came upon this sight. I was very interested in seeing any history of P.S. 152 on Nagle Ave. and JHS 52 on Academy.
    I attended 152 from 1955 to 1962 and then went right to 52 until 1965. I then attended Stuyvesant H.S. from 1965-1968.
    The two comments that I read here that really got to me were Miss Simon & Miss Siegel in PS 152. I had a crush on Miss Siegel, and, in fact saw her many years later at a reunion at the Nagel Ave. YMYHA. Also, Mr. Risberg; he kept our 8th grade Social Studies class after school for misbehaving. This was Friday Nov. 22nd 1963. And when a boy named Michael came in to tell him about the events in Dallas, he thought it was a ploy to get us dismissed. How about that guy? Of course we finally got dismissed, and can still see everyone crying in the street as I was walking home. If there is anyone out there who can remember these events let me know.

  20. I attended PS152 from 1955-1962 and then JHS52 from 1962-1965. I then went to Stuyvesant H.S. from 1965-1968.
    I recall having Mr. Risberg for Social Studies and on one occasion he kept our class after school for misbehaving. This happened to be on Friday afternoon November 22, 1963. Soon a boy came in and told him what had occurred in Dallas. He thought it was a ploy to get us dismissed. But he soon found out that it was true and sent us home. A day I will never forget, of course.
    Also I had Miss Simon and Miss Siegel for kindergarten in PS152 in 1955.

  21. I taught math at 52 from 1968-1969 during the infamous teachers’ strike. Worked with Mike Levien, Mike Fisher, Sonia Ginsberg, Nettie Gonzalez (probably have the spelling wrong on some of these).

  22. Attended PS 52 1952-55 for 1st (Mrs. Auerbach), 2nd (Mrs. Smith) and 3rd (?) grades, then on to PS 98 for 4th (Mrs. Brogan), 5th (Miss Smith – until she became pregnant and had to leave) and 6th (Mrs. Velger), and back to JHS 52 for 7-9 SP classes, finishing in 1959. I’ll never forget the 2 principals (Mr. Weiner at 52 and Mr. Rothman at 98), and Mrs. Minnie Wecker, the ferocious algebra teacher.
    Ate many a “black and white” pastry from the Blue Bakery on the way to school!

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