St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pretty in Pink…After All These Years

One of my delightful cousins recently sent pictures of her Pink Schoolhouse in Upper New York along with pictures of her reunion. I was so enchanted with the schoolhouse that I invited her to write something about its history so I could share it with my genealogy friends. Without further ado, I give you E.G. Child's Pink Schoolhouse. Enjoy.

On a recent beautiful early autumn evening, a hundred smiling people, some from as far away as California, gathered in the Victorian Garden on the grounds of the Jefferson County Historical Society in Watertown, New York, to toast a newly refurbished icon of a bygone era in the north country. Appropriately, there was champagne available for the toast, since the icon had been donated to the Historical Society by David Champagne, and his sister, Diane Champagne VanDorsselaer, but that part of the story comes later.

Jefferson County, in the northwestern corner of New York State, bordering on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to the northwest, and the Adirondack foothills on the east, is known to the rest of New York as “God’s Country,” or, less politely, “the Back of Beyond.” Probably due to its distance from the more civilized parts of the state and its extreme winters, Jefferson County wasn’t settled until the very late 1700’s. Even the Native Americans tended to use the area for summer hunting and fishing.

The Town of LeRay remained pristine wilderness until the early 1800’s when James LeRay de Chaumont was rewarded for his father’s heavy financial support of the American Revolution, with the opportunity to purchase large tracts of wilderness in Northern New York, for pennies an acre, which he was then able to sell to incoming settlers for dollars an acre. While most of the Towns (or townships) of the county were developed around the considerable water power of the Black, Indian, and Perch rivers, the Town of LeRay, a flatland, in ancient times the bottom of an inland sea, was settled later than much of the county, and Jefferson Valley, the neighborhood of the Pink Schoolhouse did not become populated until well into the first quarter of the 1800’s.

The pattern of the communities in the area was to have a cheese factory, a school and if waterpower was available, a sawmill. The schools were usually used as a church, pastors from larger communities traditionally holding Wednesday evening services at the schoolhouses. According to the custom of the time, and the vivid memories of 96-year-old alumnus, Eldon Schell, the “Pink,” as it was called, had become the social and spiritual center of the district. Mr. Schell tells of box socials, spelling bees and religious services held there, and there were probably singing schools, a popular activity and courtship tradition of the 19th century. There was, in recent memory, an ornate organ with pedals and stops that would have accompanied the hymns and popular ballads of the day.

In those days there would have been horses and buggies or sleighs, depending on the season, tied to the rail fence beside the schoolyard. Later, in the 1940’s and 50’s, there would be bicycles surrounding the softball field after supper and evening chores, and the school would be open for 4-H club functions or school board meetings. By that time, the Valley families drove to Evans Mills, Theresa or even Watertown to attend church services.

Based on the building style and lumber used, the Pink Schoolhouse was probably built in the 1860’s to replace a building that no longer met the needs of the neighborhood. By the 1890’s, according to Haddock’s Growth of a Century in Jefferson County, and Child’s Gazetteer of Jefferson County, there were at least 19 district schools in the Town of LeRay, with salaries ranging from $2.50 a week, plus board for female teachers, and $25.00 to $35.00 per week for male teachers[1]. Over the years, many local families were represented on the school board, most prominently the Van Allen-Drake family and the Schell family.

Dozens of children from those families attended over the life of the Pink, many to go on to become teachers, engineers, librarians and lawyers. One spring, in the early 1930’s, two eighth grade students petitioned the nearby Theresa High School to be permitted to take the New York State Regents’ Examination in calculus. The high school principal agreed despite his better judgments. After all, what district school marm could prepare students in higher mathematics? Miss Iva McLaughlin and Miss Florence Drake (remember her name!) earned the highest grades on that year’s calculus Regents. Miss McLaughlin went on to become valedictorian of her class at Theresa High School.

The size of the student body depended on the number of farm families with children in the district, ranging in its heyday of twenty-five to thirty students, and at its lowest point with only one student, Doris Schell, the youngest of that generation’s Schell clan, for a year. After she had moved on to Evans Mills High School, the school closed until the later 1930’s, when there was a new crop of farm children to be taught their ABC’s and 1, 2, 3’s.

"Why in the world," you ask, "Was it called the Pink Schoolhouse?" Bureaucracy, pure and simple. In its early days, the “Pink” had been painted with durable red barn paint, as many little red schoolhouses were. Sometime in its middle history, the state of New York mandated that all district schools must be painted white. The school board complied, but that year the budget could only manage one coat, and long before they could afford to rectify the situation, the red paint bled through, and the schoolhouse glowed pinkly across the valley for all to see.

Forevermore, even after subsequent coats of white paint triumphed over the red, District School #7 was known to everyone in the county as “the Pink Schoolhouse.”

By the mid 1950’s when it had become part of the Indian River School District, it became difficult for the school board to comply with the New York State Education Department rules and regulations. The two attached one-seater outhouses were specifically frowned upon, as was the necessity for the teacher to tend the big coal stove and pump the water to fill the pottery crock that provided drinking water for thirsty students. Probably there were also insurance concerns to cover liability to the district for 4-H parties, neighborhood soft ball games, and other non-school related functions. By 1957 the neighborhood children were riding the big orange bus to Evans Mills to attend school, and the Pink Schoolhouse became silent and empty. No longer could nearby farmers tell time by the 8:45 a.m. squeak of the big iron pump in front of the school, or the teacher vigorously ringing the hand bell to signal the start of the school day or the end of recess or lunch time.

Spirited bidding took place at the District’s auction, and Florence Drake Champagne won custody of the school. While the Pink Schoolhouse had kept it’s distinctive name, the building had long been pristine white. Mrs. Champagne, whose many relatives had attended and even taught at the school over the years, painted it pink again. Her family maintained it as best they could until the Jefferson County Historical Society accepted the donation of the school by David Champagne, and his sister Diane, to be restored to it’s 1940’s condition as part of the Society’s collection, and once again to be an educational influence to school children of Jefferson County and beyond.


Author Child's note: Some of the historical information included in this essay was provided by Haddock’s Growth of a Century in Jefferson County, and Child’s Gazetteer of Jefferson Countyand some from the unpublished memoir of Mr. Eldon Schell, who attended the Pink Schoolhouse along with his brother and three sisters in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Some of the information is part of my own history, since, along with Mr. Schell’s three children, David and Diane Champagne, and several other Schell and Drake descendants, as well as Iva McLaughlin Walts’ two daughters, I attended the Pink Schoolhouse in the mid-1950’s. My graduating class’ statistics? Eventually 75% of us received masters’ degrees; 50% of us became librarians, 25% an engineer, and 25% a bookkeeper. Yes—“an” engineer and “a” bookkeeper. There were exactly four of us in the class, the largest in the school that year!

[1] Haddock. Growth of a Century, 1895, p. 622

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Holocaust Records Online and Free in October

Thought you genealogy buffs would really enjoy having access to these records at no charge during the month of October. Thanks to NARA and Footnote for bringing these glimpses of history to us all. I spent a few minutes on the site, and then I had to weep for awhile.

Take the time to learn more of this time in history when the whole world appeared to go mad. It's a real eye opener. If only those who say the holocaust didn't happen would open their eyes and look at the documentation....

Here's a story on the collection:

Footnote's New Holocaust Collection Free Through October
Posted by Diane

Historical records subscription site Footnote and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) just released the Interactive Holocaust Collection of a million Holocaust-related records.

The records are online for the first time—and they’re free through October.

The records, which contain millions of names and 26,000 photos, include......Footnote's New Holocaust Collection Free Through October
Posted by Diane

Historical records subscription site Footnote and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) just released the Interactive Holocaust Collection of a million Holocaust-related records.

The records are online for the first time—and they’re free through October.

The records, which contain millions of names and 26,000 photos, include....

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why is My Tavern Not Listed?

This link about early American inns really provides a great look into early America. I have yet to read it all, so I don't know if they will mention any of my family inns or not.

But what I did notice was the glaring omission of a tavern owned by my 5g-grandfather. The location of the inn was on Wall St and it is well documented in other books, records of New York City and old tourist guides. Why was it not mentioned in this book? Was it because the children pretty much left the city after the death of their father in 1795?

The tavern was the old Brock Tavern, which my grandpa renamed the "Sir Peter Warren" in 1770. Sir Peter Warren was a British Naval Hero who resided in New York City from 1730-1747. My grandpa did have to leave New York for a time when the British occupied during the Revolution as he was a staunch supporter of the American Patriots. The address for his inn was 63 Wall St and was next to the Presbyterian Church. The inn was also close to Federal Hall which is where the Declaration of Independence was read publicly on July 18, 1776. My grandpa was also given permission to try and negotiate with the British regarding removing canons from the ships overlooking New York and he supplied food to the American prisoners of war. In addition, city council records show many payments to my grandpa for food and drinks over the years.

So why isn't it mentioned? My guess is it burned c. 1850 and none of the family remained in New York City to rebuild it. By then, they had moved on. Some were in the government in DC, some were in Pennsylvania, Ohio and beyond.

Just another one of those interesting stories in American history that we genealogy buffs like.

Go and read this book. It is entertaining and chock full of Colonial life tidbits.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's My Constitution, My Family Fought for It

Today, September 17, 2009, marks the 222nd anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. Hip, hip, hooray.

It's a great day, even if the majority of Americans don't know the significance of today. How important is the Constitution?

Considering it is the basis of our government and reflects the ideals of freedom of the 55 delegates who participated in the Constitutional Convention in 1787, I'd have to say the Constitution is super. It is the oldest document of its kind still in use today in the world and is the shortest at 4400 words.

The men who debated the issues of our freedoms and limited government were able to frame a bedrock for a government that has lasted. If it is to continue to survive, we as Americans must strive to defend it and protect it.

How important is the Constitution? Colonists committed treason against the King of England and demanded freedom from an overbearing government who sought to tax and tax again. The colonists were willing to give up their fortunes and lives for their beliefs.

How important is the Constitution? My family fought for the colonies' quest for freedom over 200 years ago and still fight today for our wonderful country and to defend our freedom.

So, yeppers, the Constitution is highly important. It's important enough that Americans have shed their blood for it, then and now.

My thirst for knowledge for my roots has inspired me to learn. Not only do I learn of my past through genealogy, I also learn of my past by learning history. After all, America's history is the story of my family as well.

So how important is the Constitution? It's important enough that I will bow my head in prayer as I pray for the future of our country and those who defend it.

Today in particular, I say a prayer of thanks-- thanks to our patriots, past and present.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back in Time Today- with South Carolina Archives

We genealogy buffs are always looking for more to satisfy our seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge of the past. Let's all remember that our country will be celebrating the 222nd anniversary of the framing of the Constitution later this week. So, take a moment and step back into that time. Right now, my quest for my roots is on hold as I am starting my county wide tour of speaking on the Constitution to my local schools. With that said, I say the following article this morning and thought some of my readers would enjoy knowing more about some early South Carolina records.

It's good to see that not all records were destroyed during the "Recent Unpleasantness". I haven't had the time to go digging around for my roots at these online archives yet, but I shall.

The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at

South Carolina Archive Documents Online

The South Carolina Department of Archives and History has a rather simple, but impressive, web site. The site includes images of many orignal documents as well as indexes that allow the documents to be found quickly.

The documents available include:

Title Number of Items
Confederate Pension Applications 1919 - 1938 10,242 items
Criminal Journals 1769 - 1776 2,087 items
Index to Multiple Record Series ca. 1675 -1929 173,042 items
Legislative Papers 1782 - 1866 53,489 items
National Register of Historic Places 1,415 items
Plats for State Land Grants 1784 - 1868 51,809 items
School Insurance Photographs 1935 - 1952 2,662 items
Will Transcripts 1782 - 1855 11,059 items
TOTAL: 305,803 items

You can search the on-line index for documents by entering a personal name, geographic location, topic or a combination of these search factors. You may also specify a time span.

Images of records available are made possible by the support of an IMLS/LSTA grant administered by the South Carolina State Library.

You can access the South Carolina Archive Documents at

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy 400th Anniversary to New York!

Hudson, Hudson, hmmm....

Back in 1609, Henry Hudson, an English sea explorer, took a trip down the river now known as the Hudson River in an effort to find a quicker route to the Orient. Well, he may not have found that route on this adventure, but we in America can now celebrate the area in New York he explored 400 years ago.

To help celebrate 400 years, has gathered its databases on NY on a special New York Anniversary page.

The majority of the databases there at this time are from the mid 1800s on. So, it most likely won't be a jump for joy moment for genealogists who are always searching for those elusive New York roots from the 1700s.

Me? My quest in genealogy certainly has taken me back to the mid 1700s in New York. I have been fortunate to find some records on my family as they owned a tavern on Wall St before and after the American Revolution. Now, if I could just find the place of burial for "Big John" when he died in 1795. The papers at the time named him the largest man in New York. He was also a member of the Trinity Anglican Church in New York City, but we family genealogy types have not uncovered any evidence of him being buried there or in the other really old New York Cemetery.

So, enjoy the databases on New York. Perhaps, Ancestry will release more that really date back in time. Perhaps, someone, somewhere will point me in the direction so I can finally put "Big John" to rest.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Old South Carolina News to Become New Again

GT Note: This is just so neat for genealogy buffs and for those who are interested in history. Read the story below to see how newspapers from 1860 to 1922 will come new again-- only this time, it's online!

Project putting old news online
S.C. newspapers from 1860 to 1922 going in database

The Post and Courier
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

South Carolinians will soon find it easier to read newspaper accounts about the start of the Civil War, discriminatory Jim Crow laws and Gov. Benjamin Tillman's South Carolina Dispensary, which was once the only entity legally authorized to sell alcohol in the state.

The University of South Carolina's S.C. Digital Newspaper Project.....

Wordless Wednesday: Our National Anthem

Here's a tremendous video on the history of the National Anthem. You'll be in awe and truly appreciate "our" song. Just make sure you swallow the lump in your throat before you listen to the students sing.

Listen to the awesome voices of these students as they sing "our" song.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Higher Taxes Lead to Angry Mob at the Miller Place in Allegheny County

Recently, a reader requested information on the MILLER family that I talked about in my blog on "Tax the Whiskey?". The blog entry provided a little information about the Whiskey Rebellion which took place in southwestern Pennsylvania some 215 years ago.

At the time, the fledgling government needed money to pay its debts, so Alexander Hamilton decided it was time to tax the whiskey. The good folk in Pennsylvania were opposed to this move, as trading whiskey was the typical way to do business. Cash was a rare way to buy something back then.

Funny, but in writing this, I could almost change the year and a few words, and I'd be talking about today.

Anyway, back to the past. The farm on which the shot was fired during the flaring tempers of the Whiskey Rebellion was the Oliver Miller Homestead. The home is located in South Park in Allegheny Co, and is now a museum. I've been there and felt the presence of my past. I should, as it was a family home.

The house was built by Oliver Miller, who was born in Antrim, Ireland, and emigrated to Cecil Co, Maryland. He and his family came to Pennsylvania around 1770.

Oliver died in 1782, and left the farm to son James who married Mary SMITH. Mary SMITH was my aunt as her sister married my 4th greatgrandfather.

To answer the question proposed by a reader takes some digging. Oliver was the son of Alexander MILLER who died 1765 and is buried in Northampton Co, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Mary, had several children.

I trust this information will lead my reader to find the answer of her genealogy question. Let me know!