By Eli Ruiz
HURLEYVILLE, July 2017 — Back in 2014, brothers and lifelong area residents, Gordon and Henry MacAdam published the first volume of their Irish family’s more than century-long history in Sullivan County.
Inspired, as Gordon MacAdam related in a 2014 news article highlighting the work – titled “Family Remembrances” – in the early 1980s by a Port Jervis couple he’d read about who’d penned a familial history of their own in the then bustling railroad town.
Since then “Family Remembrances” has grown to four volumes, spanning many generations from 1790 to 2016.
While working on the tome, the brothers learned that local families can be honored through the placement of historic markers, or plaques. Last year, they were able to erect four official historic markers in the towns of Thompson and Forestburgh, commemorating their Irish immigrant ancestors’ contributions to both municipalities’ development and growth. But the MacAdam brothers’ work was far from done.
Through the extensive research they did for their initial project, the brothers discovered a grossly neglected aspect of Sullivan County history: chronicling the existence of dozens of one-room school houses dating back to the 1800s. Seven of those schoolhouses still stand in the Town of Thompson. One is right here in Hurleyville.
Fascinated by these tiny educational centers, Gordon MacAdam made it his next project to research, locate and commemorate with official historical markers as many of the one-room school sites as possible.
Mr. MacAdam would soon discover 20 one-room school sites in the Town of Thompson alone, so he enlisted a committee to help with the project.
Fortunately for MacAdam, one of those committee members was an old friend, Paul Lounsbury, who had grown up in Hurleyville. “His [Lounsbury] family turned out to have owned the Hurleyville property,” offered MacAdam. “We were able to obtain the original leases, dating back to 1836, to the Monticello School District.” According to MacAdam, the Lounsbury family eventually sold the property to the District in 1903.
All this could easily have been lost to history if not for the Lounsbury family’s foresight at the time of that sale. The Lounsburys included a “reversionary clause” in the deed, stipulating that once the land ceased being used as a school the family would re-assume ownership of the property. “It was likely agreed upon due to the very low price the land owners sold the property to the school for… after-all, it was for a school,” offered Mr. MacAdam.
One might ask oneself why the Town of Thompson would require 20-plus one-room schools back then, but to Mr. MacAdam it makes perfect sense.
“With transportation being what it was back then, and the fact that most kids did walk 2 to 3 miles to school, it was logical to place most of the schools where the population clusters were.”
The process for obtaining each historical marker is no easy endeavor, though, with extensive historical provenance required by the state, and official historical markers don’t come cheap either, costing, as Mr. MacAdam said, “between $1,300 and $1,800 each.” To cover the cost, Mr. MacAdam would have to appropriate the funds from the municipality where each individual property is located. “It really was quite the process to get it all done,” admitted Mr. MacAdam. “I would get on the board meeting agendas in the different municipalities and explain to them exactly what the project was all about.”
During this work, Mr. MacAdam discovered a Syracuse, N.Y. based philanthropic organization that might be able to help streamline the process: the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. Mr. MacAdam says that Pomeroy, a wealthy businessman who passed away in 2007, “had a big interest in having historic markers erected throughout New York State.” According to Mr. MacAdam, upon Pomeroy’s passing his wife set up his namesake foundation.
“Now what we’d do is submit whatever historical data we had on each school to the municipality like usual,” said Mr. MacAdam. “They would then submit it to the Pomeroy Foundation, as per their funding guidelines.”
Mr. MacAdam has found several former students who actually attended the one-room schools before District centralization. “They’re [the former students] now all in their eighties and nineties,” offered Mr. MacAdam, adding, “and sharp as whips. Many I know because two of the schools were close to where I grew up, so a number of my neighbors who are 15 or 20 years older than me went to these schools toward the end. So they usually know who the last teacher was, which may be something we may want to commemorate on the plaque… talk about history right from the source.”
Mr. MacAdam says that some of the sites were “nearly impossible to research” due to the sometimes convoluted lease, sale and resale arrangements of the past, so he enlisted the help of yet another friend, Mary Ann Drobysh-Berens, who owns an insurance and title search business. “I’ve known her for 30-years, so I hoodwinked her into being my volunteer,” quipped Mr. MacAdam.
Mr. MacAdam expects the first of the plaques to be approved for funding sometime around December.
Any former one-room school students interested in participating in the project are encouraged to reach Gordon MacAdam by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.