Thursday, August 9, 2012

60 Halsey Street and the Schoolhouse Behind It

60 Halsey Street, April 2012
This past spring (gosh, was it that long ago already?) an application was submitted to demolish a home on Halsey Street. As of this writing the home has now been torn down (nothing like waking up during the summer to the sounds of a house being demolished), and the site is being cleared in preparation for the construction of a new home. During the inspection of the property last July, to bless or deny the removal of the home, the accessory building at the rear of the property was discovered to be an early surviving schoolhouse, later converted into a cute little two bedroom cottage. Eureka!

Southwest View of the Schoolhouse, Present Day.
Before we dive into the ‘Who-What-Why’ of the school building, though, let’s talk about the main house. According to surviving historic maps, in 1916 the property which is now #60 Halsey Street was vacant. To the south was Alfred Clement with a house and barn (later and today owned by the Wines family), and to the north was “R. Edwards” (Raymond) with a house and garage. The original owner of this home was Thomas H. White (1892-1945). Thomas was the son of Elwyn Parsons White (1849-1936), a real estate broker who also volunteered for the Life Saving Station and lived at 190 Ox Pasture Road. His turn-of-the-century Queen Anne home still survives but was renovated about six or so years ago, becoming the west wing of a much larger residence.  In 1915 Thomas married Harriett “Wray” Brown (1891- c. 1972). He was a house carpenter, and after he and his bride lived with Elwyn on Ox Pasture Road for a bit, they moved into the house Thomas built for them on Halsey Street and started a family. By 1920, they had two sons, Thomas Jr., and Harry. In 1936 Elwyn died after being hit by a car crossing Hill Street, and in 1945 Thomas Sr. hung himself during a bout with depression.
Elwyn P. White's Home on Ox Pasture Road, 1977
The home was described as a typical “Four-Square,” a house style that was prevalent between 1895-1930s, was often locally associated with farming families, and is sometimes linked with the Prairie Style. (33 Norris Lane, in Bridgehampton, is a classic example.) The ‘Four-Square’ got its name from its cube-like massing and its interior layout of four main rooms per floor. They are typically two stories high, with a full-width front porch, a hipped roof with deep overhangs, and a central dormer.  “Built to offer the most house for the least amount of money, there may never have been a more popular or practical house than the American Foursquare. Most decorative features were saved for the front porch which could reflect either Colonial Revival details or Bungalow elements.” (www.goodideas.com)

33 Norris Lane, Bridgehampton
This Four-Square was built right in the middle of the style’s prevalence but differs slightly from the most typical examples. This home was slightly wider than most, and was topped with a Widow’s Walk, a roof-top veranda named after the wives waiting for their sea-captain husbands to return home.
In 1974 the home was purchased from Thomas H. White Jr. by Peggy Martin Crowson (1915-1986). Peggy was a Southampton attorney and the daughter of a Brooklyn Judge, George Washington Martin Jr. (d.1948). Judge Martin was a nephew of the vaudevillian, James McIntyre, who claims to have invented a form of tap dancing and was half of the very famous duo, McIntyre and Heath.

Unfortunately, despite retaining a high level of integrity, the home was not considered to be individually landmark worthy and was therefore permitted to be torn down. Yes, Four-Square homes are common throughout the Hamptons. Still, they contribute a nice traditional aesthetic to their neighborhoods, and should not be so quickly dismissed. I personally would have preferred this home to be renovated and expanded rather than replaced, but that’s just me.
West view of the Schoolhouse, Present Day.
On to the schoolhouse.  There may only be one other original schoolhouse that survives, predating those now in existence on Hampton Road. The one here, is about 20 feet wide by 30 feet long, has a south facing entry with gabled porch, rear center chimney, and uniform double-hung two-over-two divided light windows on each side.

There is a wonderful little booklet called “The Public Schools of Southampton, New York: 1664-1923” which was published by the Southampton Press in 1923. It narrates the development and history of the Southampton School district verbally and pictorially very well and is very useful in determining exactly which schoolhouse the surviving building on Halsey Street is, and how it got there.
The first schoolhouse “for English speaking pupils” was built here in Southampton Village in 1664, “the same year the English took possession of “New Amsterdam.”  It served the entire township which was not divided into smaller districts until 1813. This first structure was 15 feet wide and 20 feet long and it was used for school related purposes for over 100 years. “The white population of our school district in 1651 was 29. In 1666 It had increased to 54 and in 1696, the population was 973.”
The rear schoolhouse-like addition to Mrs. Etheridge's home.
The second schoolhouse was built in 1767 on the west side of Main Street near Nugent Street. It was 20 feet wide and 30 feet long. In 1804 it was replaced by a building twice its size. In 1814, the third schoolhouse was cut in half; half of it remained where it was, and the other half became the fourth  schoolhouse, and was moved to the south side of Job’s Lane, down near Windmill Lane. That marks the beginning of the district being divided into smaller areas: the “North End” (No. 16) and the “South End” (No. 6) districts. The third schoolhouse remained at the intersection of Main and Nugent Streets until 1860. At some point it was moved behind the Bethel church on Windmill Lane. Today there is a home owned by the Etheridge family which has a rear kitchen that strongly resembles the exact proportions of an old schoolhouse, but Mrs. Etheridge isn’t convinced they are one and the same.

Sometime between 1813 and 1833, the fifth schoolhouse, “The Academy,” was built. It was located on the northwest corner of Main Street and Job’s Lane and was in operation until 1889. After that it was sold and moved to the lower west end of Job's Lane. It survives today as a retail store in need of some TLC. It's dentil moldings along the roof's edges make it easy to identify.

89 Jobs Lane Today: The Old Academy
Between 1857 and 1860 the sixth and seventh schoolhouses were built. One in the South End district, just east of the fourth schoolhouse on Job’s Lane, and the other in the North End district, on the west side of Windmill Lane.

In 1890 the voters elected to consolidate and form the Union Free School District. A year later, the eighth schoolhouse was built, a large Victorian beauty (above) on Windmill Lane, just south of the seventh schoolhouse. That building was designed by George Skidmore and built by Horten and Jagger for $12,575. At that time, all of the previous little school buildings were sold for private use.

“The school board thought at the time the new grammar school building was erected in 1891 that the new building would supply all school demands for many years, but this was not true. The school growth at that time was very rapid … Owing to this rapid growth the capacity of the building was increased to more than double its original size in 1895, and in 1901 a room in the attic was finished off to provide for the continued growth. In 1907 two more rooms were finished off in the attic for the same purpose and from 1908 to 1912 school rooms were hired and … maintained until the present high school building … [now Southampton Town Hall] was erected in 1912.”
The schoolhouse at 60 Halsey Street appears to have been built about in the 1880s. That means that since it is not one of schoolhouses 1-7, it was likely originally a private school building. When it was discovered, the historic consultant to the Architectural Review Board immediately recommended that it become a village landmark. To my knowledge the current owner hasn’t expressed an interest in designation (even though, in Southampton Village owner consent is not needed), but he has – thankfully – expressed a desire to preserve it and adaptively reuse it as a poolhouse on the redeveloped property.

Detail of 1916 Map by E. Belcher & Hyde
I asked several older residents in the neighborhood about the schoolhouse but no one knew of it. I looked up several old Halsey Street deeds in the vicinity but found no mention of a schoolhouse. One day, while looking for something altogether different, a newspaper clipping or scrapbook photo or journal entry providing the proof and clarification we need about this old schoolhouse will turn up. The question remains, however, how did it get there? Here’s my theory: The following families were actively involved with the school system, as trustees, on the school board, as owners of private schoolhouses, or as teachers: Halsey, Payne, Edwards, Fordham and Aldrich. Coincidentally, all of these families owned property nearby. There must be a connection there somewhere. I think the building was built nearby for the Fordhams. Among the Fordham family alone, were trustees, school board members, and teachers. Later, the building migrated to 60 Halsey Lane and was transformed into a cottage. I’ll bet that if we could speak with Wray White today, we would learn more. To be continued.
60 Halsey Street Property Owners:
Jasper Rose LLC, Jan. 2012 – present (Michael Wolohojian)
Dr. Douglas F. Allen Trust, 2003-2012 (Patricia Dede Lavas, Trustee; Peggy’s daughter)
Dr. Douglas Finley Allen, 1986-2003 (Peggy’s platonic partner and best friend)
Peggy Martin Crowson, 1974-1986
Thomas H. White Jr., 1972-1974
Harriett “Wray” White, 1946-1972 (Thomas Sr.’s widow)
Thomas H. White Sr., before 1920 – 1946
Edward J. Halsey

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