Here you can learn about the history of the schoolhouse:Yesterday and Today +
Yesterday: Free Union Schoolhouse about 1917
Today: The Schoolhouse As a Home
Free Union Schoolhouse operated as a one-room school from 1835 until 1945. Read on to discover more...
The First Settlers +
The first settlers and the rural industries - By Jack
Before the first settlers, native people lived in the area now known as Liberty Township. The first settlers came to the area at the beginning of the 19th century. Garrett Smith was one of them, and he came to this area in 1812.
Garrett Smith was an apprentice saddle-maker, but did not take up that trade. He instead moved to the area which is now known as Lake Just It. In fact, he built Lake Just It. He actually dug out the lake.
Can you guess why he did it? Maybe it would help if I told you his trade.
He worked in a saw mill that he also built himself. He needed a body of water to power the saw mill.
But that wasn't everything he did. He also built a distillery and made his own Apple Jack (also known as Apple Whiskey). He sold it to the hot, thirsty and tired miners who came out of the Oxford mines and made a lot of money that way!
Speaking of mines, during the period 1871 to 1900 a new mine opened in this area. It was called The Kispaugh Mine, and it was an iron mine that produced magnetite ore. It was located on the eastern slope of Jenny Jump Mountain, two miles north-west of Danville.
Farming was a very important rural trade in the Liberty Township area. But for growing good, healthy crops, the farmers needed good, healthy soil. The farmers spread lime on the soil to help the crops grow.
That meant that lime burning was very important in the area. There was a lot of limestone around, so there were a lot of resources for burning.
The lime from the lime kilns was so explosive that it sometimes burst into flames if it came into contact with water. There were also lots of strange stories about the lime kilns, which flickered and let off eerie noises when the farmers moved the burned lime.
The Log Cabin Schoolhouse +
The log cabin school house 1816 - By Rachel
From 1816 to 1835 Free Union school house was a log cabin. It had no desks only benches made of wooden boards with sticks for legs. The teacher was Sally Jennison. She was paid $14 a term. The school house was worth $6. The children went to school only a little over one third of a year. In 1830 the school was taught by Emanual Conkrite in an old log school house that may not have been the same one as in 1816. It was located about 300 yards north west of the present school house we are studying. The schools value went from $6 to $15. Emanual Conkrite was paid $21 a term, a total of $42 a year. He was also paid in meat, butter, flour and store trade. The land was owned by John Addis. Emanual Conkrite was driven off after he disciplined the owner's son. He went on to teach at another school.
The Founders of the Free Union Schoolhouse +
Who Were the Founders of the Free Union Schoolhouse? - By Jack
The deeds for the Free Union Schoolhouse were signed on August 6th 1835. They were recorded in the Warren County Deeds Book I-3 page 389. The grantors were Moses H Fleming and his wife, Garrett Smith and Daniel Mixsell. The grantees were John Wildrick, Charles Swayze, and Jesse L Moor, and they all bought the land for the schoolhouse to be built on.
Were these men the trustees? Why were they involved?
We know that Jesse L Moore (who died 11/20/1853 at the age of 51) and his wife (who died 3/27/1878 at the age of 78) had a daughter named Sarah Anne Moore who was two years old when the schoolhouse was established.
In the draft centennial report, the trustees in 1835 were noted as being Jesse L Moore, William Runyan and J H Hendershot.
William Runyan (who died 5/16/1870 at the age of 70) married Letisha Poyer (who died 10/17/1881 at the age of 75) and they had three children: Elizabeth, Nelson and Sarah Runyan. They were 12, 9 and 2 years old when the schoolhouse was established.
Conclusion: The grantors probably had children who had attended the log cabin schoolhouse and weren't interested in becoming trustees for the school because their children had already left school. However, they were happy to sell the land to the grantees. Jesse L Moore was one and he had a young daughter. It is quite possible that William Runyan joined him because he had young children who would have also benefited from the establishment of the schoolhouse. There was oral evidence of the log cabin schoolhouse burning down, so perhaps the trustees thought it was time to build a sturdier schoolhouse to provide education for future generations in the area.
Doris' Profile - By Amy
Doris was born in 1924. She lived on Free Union Road in a farmhouse. She lived with her Aunt Elizabeth Gruver who was also her school teacher. Her chore at home was to bring in wood. Doris walked to school with her sister who was two years younger than herself. She carried her books in a paper bag. Doris went to grades one through eight in the Free Union school house. She played hopscotch, marbles and ring a round the rosy. She was a good little girl who had a very strict father. She always did what her father said because of the cat of nine tails (which was a nine-tailed whip!). Her jobs at school were to keep the coat closet and around her desk clean as well as the school floor. She did not enjoy school.
Russell's Profile - By Jack
Russell was a lonely child at school. His best friend, Ralph Cummins died at the age of 10. He remembers that, on the first day of 1st grade, he wouldn't go into school. He just stood outside for the whole day. The teacher (Miss Gruver) checked on him from time to time. Russell said that they studied reading, arithmetic, geography, and history. He remembers one field trip when he was in 6th grade. They went to Washington's Crossing. Miss Gruver had a very interesting way of punishing the students. She picked them up, shook them, and put them down. Russell said that Miss Gruver and his mother (Sadie Hildebrant) went to school together. Russell said that, overall, he did NOT like school.
Mildred Hopkins' Profile - By Rachel
Mildred Hopkins was a student at Free Union school. And a good one too! Her family were homesteaders that lived on Lake Just-It Road and she walked all the way to Free Union. Her family had cows and chickens. They grew potatoes and hay. Instead of a refrigerator they would put food that needed to be kept cold in the cellar. And they made bread twice a week. She would play games like: Muggins (domino game) and Quoits. She wore dresses and put on pants underneath in the winter. Her school day consisted of: The Lord's Prayer, a hymn, lessons grade by grade, lunch and recess. In the Winter her father would walk in front of her in the snow so she could walk in his foot prints and not sink in the snow. Sometimes during recess she would go and get water from the Cummins' farm. Her best friend was Edna Cummins' and she also knew Sadie Hildebrant. They would sometimes play on a big rock outside the school house at recess. Sometimes she would do black- board duty. If you were bad you got a smack on the knuckles! Mildred attended Belvidere High School and the Newton Normal (teaching) School. She became a teacher and taught at Lommasen Glen School near Belvidere and the Ebenezer School around 1924. She purchased a Model T Ford for transportation. She taught for 4 years then married.
Edna Cummins' Profile - By Jack
Edna Cummins was born on the 24th of August 1906 and died on the 8th of May 2005. She was brought up on the Gruver farm and was taught by her older sister, Miss Lizzy Gruver, at the schoolhouse. Lizzy was 20 years older than her. Edna enjoyed playing the piano at the schoolhouse and climbing the rock on the side of the schoolhouse. When she finished at the schoolhouse, Lizzy encouraged her to continue her studies, but Edna went back to the farm. She married young and had 7 children. 2 died young, one of which was Ralph Cummins, Russell Petersen's friend.
Helen's Interview - By Jack
Helen was born in Connecticut on May 24th 1913. There was a naval base near their house, and her father didn't think that this was a place for girls to grow up. So Helen moved to Great Meadows, New Jersey and stayed at her aunt's, who was also called Helen.
Helen went to the Free Union Schoolhouse when she was 13. Her teacher was Miss Fish. She remembers sitting on the big rock out front to have her lunch.
Two things that she didn't like were the two Hopkins boys, who stole Miss Fish's shoes. One of them used to swear a lot, so the teacher dragged him away and washed his mouth out with soap.
Helen said she was a good speller, and went to all the the spelling bees. Unfortunately, they were all in Hope, so every time she wanted to go to one, Helen had to cross Jenny Jump mountain.
Helen also went to the Marble Hill Schoolhouse, and switched around a lot between the two schools.
Helen remembers walking to school in snow that was higher than her head! “The road was cleared, but nothing else!” Helen told us. “It was like walking in a tunnel.”
Helen's mother made clothes for all of her ten children. Helen said that she was fussy and didn't want to wear the homemade clothes, but she did because she had to.
Helen remembers that she and a friend made fudge, but it didn't get hard. So they spread it all over the rock in front of Helen's house, hoping it would get hard in the cold.
Helen's family were share croppers, which means they grew crops on land owned by someone else.
During the depression, Helen (now grown up) became a nanny at a game farm on Rockport Road, Mansfield. She remembers taking their little boy on a wild sled ride across the frozen lake.
In New York, she was a nanny to a little 3-year-old boy. She said she used to take him to the park along with a bunch of other children.
Helen is our oldest former student at the age of 93. She now lives in Belvidere.
Profile of a Teacher: Mary Edith Depue - By Rachel
Miss Mary Edith Depue was born November 11th 1873 and lived in Mount Hermon near Hope, N.J.
Her father was George G. Depue and her mother was Sarah Catherine Brands Depue. She was 22
when she taught at Free Union. She was a kind, good teacher. She may have attended the academy
in Mount Hermon. She married William Theodore Greenberg on April 13th, 1898. He was the
superintendent of the Atlantic Highlands, Red Bank and Long Branch Railway, a trolley company.
His brother, Adolph Greenberg, was the company's president. Bill and Mary originally lived in
Red bank after their marriage. However, the trolley company went into bankruptcy a little over
a month later. They eventually moved to East Orange and, by 1904, had moved to 206 South 11th
Street, Newark, NJ. Mary had five children, the first two dying at childbirth or shortly
thereafter. Mary died on December 14th, 1916.
Added by Phil: Mary Edith Greenberg Depue died in 1916. William outlived her by 18 years.
Profile of a Teacher: Elizabeth Gruver - By Rachel
The last teacher Free Union School saw was Miss Elizabeth (Lizzie) Gruver. She liked to teach.
She was strict but fair and really liked children. It was much harder to teach then than now
because she had to teach all eight grades. She lived in the Gruver farm house on Free Union Rd.,
that house still stands today. She would drive a horse and wagon. She liked to bake. The Gruvers
were dairy farmers and were very likable people. Lizzie was like a mother to her younger sister.
Lizzie's teaching career was very important to her. She taught reading, geography, history,
arithmetic, etc.... For discipline she would pick you up by your shoulders and put you back
down again. She wore sweaters and long skirts with her hair in a bun. She also taught at Fredon,
Petersburg, and Marble Hill Schools. She stopped teaching in 1958. Our group is looking forward
to trying Miss Gruver's brownie recipe.
Added by Phil: Elizabeth Gruver lived to the age of 71 and is buried in Free Union Cemetery.
A photograph of her headstone is shown below.
Lizzie Gruver Brownie Recipe
Lemuel Harden (Added by Phil)
Lemuel Harden is the teacher in the photograph of the school from 1900. The names of the
teachers and pupils were recorded on the back of the photograph. The whereabouts of Lemuel
Harden's grave is not known.
Isaac Newton LaRue (Added by Phil)
Isaac LaRue was the teacher in in 1873-74 and 1876-78. We know this from the registers
that Ron Petersen owns and shared with us. An extract showing his certificate of attendance
at the annual Institute of the County, and his signature, can be seen below.
It is believed that this he is buried in Free Union Cemetery and his grave stone is shown below.
It is interesting to note that he died an ordained minister.
Estella Dildine (No information apart from name provided by Doris Drummond)
Miss Fish (Helen Sipple said this was her teacher's name in 1926. No further information.)
Traditional Games for the Yard +
Old Fashioned Games to play in the yard!
Hide And Seek! (The shed is a BAD hiding spot.)
Hoop games are fun!
Traditional Games for Recess +
Old Fashioned Games to play at Recess!
Here's Mom and I playing marbles!
Amy tries out a whirligig!
My friend Mathew was a Hopscotch champion!
Rachel liked skipping!
What Makes a One-Room Schoolhouse? +
What Makes A One Room Schoolhouse? - By Jack
Before our schoolhouse, there was another place of learning in the area. A log cabin served as the area's school. It was extremely crude and was valued about six dollars! It stood about three hundred yards North-West of the present schoolhouse. The desks were made out of slabs of wood with sticks stuck in the bottom.
The log cabin was a temporary structure, and may have been abandoned because it was falling apart or burnt down.
Our schoolhouse, built afterwards, was of a better construction. It had a high ceiling and three windows on each side. A blackboard stretched across one whole wall. It was painted white and had a slate roof. It's value in 1835 was thought to be about fifteen dollars.
There were double desks, and they were made according to the age and size of the child.
In one corner there was a bookcase and a sewing machine in another. In the middle of the room, a coal stove gave off warmth. In the basement there was coal for the stove.
The teacher's desk sat on a raised platform behind the stove. Under the teacher's desk there was a little bell (which would be rang in the morning).
There were little shelves for the children to put their lunch pails on, on one wall.
There was a rock in front of the door that acted as a step and to one side there was a flagpole taller than the schoolhouse.
Pictures from the Schoolhouse Collection +
Pictures from the Schoolhouse Collection
Mary Edith's Brother's Teaching Certificate
Registers And A Bell Like The One In Our Schoolhouse
Registers And The Bell
Amy And Lynn At One Of The Desks
A Leg That Was Replaced
Manufacturer Details On One Of The Desks
A Bible From The Schoolhouse
A Paper Fastener From The Schoolhouse
Below: Mildred Hopkins' Collapsible Cup - Open
Below: Mildred Hopkins' Collapsible Cup - Closed
The Three R's +
The Three R's
...And a surprise... We found this surprise tucked into the pages of Swinton's Fifth Reader. It's a report on the spinal cord. Wonderful.
The Free Union School Flag +
A Flag With 48 Stars - By Jack
On the date of July 4 1912, the US flag grew to 48 stars when New Mexico and Arizona were added to the United States. The flag was official for 47 years – longer than any other flag, and eight presidents served under it.
A Fire? +
Down in Flames: A Mystery
One thing about the schoolhouse intrigues us. There is oral evidence that our schoolhouse burned down and was rebuilt, and oral evidence that it didn't. We found a charred beam in the basement, but that just means something burned down, not necessarily our schoolhouse. We searched the NJ school reports from 1846 to 1852, and from 1870 to 1896 and we found no evidence of a fire. There was also no evidence in the Draft Centennial Report for 1876. There is possible evidence that the schoolhouse was enlarged at one time (possibly after a fire?).
Letter from the Warren County Superintendent +
Letter From the Warren County Superintendent 1876
1876 School Report: Yet Another Mystery +
Another Mystery: 1876 School Report - By Jack
In 1876 the Warren County Superintendent sent a letter to the trustees of The Free Union Schoolhouse to ask if, as America was celebrating 100 years of freedom, they could send him a report of education in the area for the last century.
A couple of years ago a draft centennial report showed up in a drawer in the Petersen's farmhouse. We found the 1876 NJ school report in the NJ State archives, and Warren County was the only one missing, so we assume that a pamphlet was published. Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate it. We will keep looking for it.
Schoolhouse Closure +
Why did the schoolhouse close? - By Jack
The one room schoolhouse doesn't really operate anymore in America. Why is this? After World War II, transportation improved. No more horses and buggies. More people had cars, making it easier and quicker to travel. So the superintendents and trustees said: "Why don't we close all the little schools, and make one big school for each township? It would save us time and money!" So that's just what they did. They closed down all the one-room schools, and established a big school for all the children in the area to go to. Our one room schoolhouse with it's two sister schoolhouses was closed alike and the children were sent to Central School in Independence township. This is strange because 20 years earlier, Liberty was formed to save those three schools from being closed by Hope Township. We were unable to locate the minutes for the 1945 Liberty board of Education meeting, so we don't know how people felt about the closure. Our schoolhouse was closed in 1945 and a year later, it was sold as a house, which we live in today. But that's another story. And with the demise of the one-room schoolhouses, went an important part of American history. What have we lost?
Chores and Clothes +
Chores and Clothes for Boys - By Amy
Boys in a one room Schoolhouse would wear bib overalls, knickers and pants. Knickers are pants that go down to the knee. They also wore gansey sweaters and plaid shirts. Boys would always wear shoes to school, although they may spend the whole summer bare-footed. This display shows a boy student wearing typical clothing at the schoolhouse, a hat and goggles, a red shirt, green pants and a pair of brown boots. Clothing was simple and practical. The hat and goggles were for shielding boy’s eyes from snow during winter. One person we interviewed said he would bring a knife to school and would carry it in a pocket on his boot. Since the schoolhouses were rarely more than 3 miles away, school never closed for a winter storm, because students walked to school. Students packed peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, because there was no electricity or refrigerators. One student had a peanut butter sandwich every school day for 8 years at the Free Union School, and hasn’t eaten one since. Boy’s jobs at school were to start the coal stove and to fetch coal for the stove. Boys would study arithmetic, spelling, reading and history/geography. Boys would get report cards.
Chores and Clothes for Girls - By Amy
Typically, girls in a one-room schoolhouse would wear dresses, sunbonnets, stockings and shoes. Dress colors were red, green, blue, brown and white. Stocking colors were white and brown and shoes were oxford or high button. Sunbonnets were white and tied underneath. One person we interviewed said she wore a skirt, blouse and hand-made moccasins from her father’s hunting. Another person we interviewed said she went to school in Ireland and, although their family was poor, she had the finest clothes because her father was a tailor. Girls NEVER wore pants to school. In the winter girls wore snow pants under their dresses, winter boots and a winter coat. This display shows a girl student wearing a sunbonnet, a flour sack dress, stockings and oxford shoes. A student of the Free Union School told us her dresses were made of flour sackcloth, which is the exact type of material the girl in this display is wearing. The soft cloth would come from store-bought flour bags. Farm families could not afford to waste such beautiful cloth. Girl’s jobs at school were to clean the blackboard, fetch water and to keep the coat closet and around their desk clean as well as the school floor. Girls would get report cards. For a year of perfect attendance, a student would receive a pack of three pencils.
Fall of 1900 - Teacher: Lemuel Harden (Elizabeth Gruver, student, is fourth from the right, back row)