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1867 to 1886 and Our First Expansion – Part 2 of Our Buildings, Our History

Look at the right of this ca. 1893 photo of
the Germania Club to see the Brooklyn
Meeting House at the far right. Look
closely to see the snow on what seems to
be the rooftop of our school’s 1886 building
 just east of the Meeting House.

In light of the great news of the most recent expansion of BFS, a new home for the Upper School, it’s a good time to return to my series on the history of our school’s buildings. My first entry in the series covered the first building to house BFS, the Brooklyn Meeting House, built in 1857 and extended to the school’s first year, the 1867-1868 school year. Today, we take a look at the years 1868 to 1886 to understand our school’s first physical expansion. The photo on the right shows what I believe is the 1886 building, the very first expansion of BFS.

The words of then-principal Susan P. Peckham to the Trustees of the Schools of New York Monthly Meeting: “Our enlarged and improved accommodations are a source of much gratification to the teachers and scholars and I believe they will prove of the greatest importance as a means of making the school more healthy, more orderly and more prosperous. The scholars certainly appear happy, industrious and well-behaved; the manner in which they have begun the work of the year is most satisfactory.”

Why was a new building necessary? The school’s early years were successful and Brooklyn was growing. The school needed more space for students and more space would help our excellent educational program both keep and grow with the changing times – much the same as our reasons for expanding today.

What was the cost of this 1886 building? $5495.35. $5000 was approved by New York Monthly Meeting’s Property Committee, “the amount so expended to be taken from that portion of the Monthly Meeting fund the interest of which is appropriated to the use of the schools.” The overage of a little less than $500 was paid by the New York Monthly Meeting more general monies. Again, both BFS and Friends Seminary both operated under the aegis of New York Monthly Meeting, the antecedent of today’s New York Quarterly Meeting.

Who was the architect, who were the builders?
William B. Tubby designed this 1886 building, and was the subject of a previous post, and Tubby also designed the 1902 building which replaced this 1886 one-story extension for BFS. He was paid $200 for the 1886 building. The other companies involved in building this extension were John Thatcher ($2224, builders), Martin & Lee ($2386, builders), P.J. Foley ($377.36, plumbers), and Boynton Furnace Co. ($307.95). I found a full list of the contractors and expenses for the 1886 extension, a very exciting moment at the library.

Despite the lack of photos of our first dedicated school building, I did find photos online of the neighboring Germania Club at 120-126 Schermerhorn, including the one above with its nice view of Schermerhorn Street.  Obviously taken in winter, the photo contains a longer and southwestern view of Schermerhorn Street. On the far right, one can see the top of the Brooklyn Meeting House at 110 Schermerhorn, with snow on the rooftop, and one can see that there is also snow on the rooftop of a low building running along the eastern side of the Brooklyn Meeting House, which probably was our 1886 extension. One can also see what seems to be the two vacant lots that would be considered 114 and 112 Schermerhorn, which were purchased for the school by New York Monthly Meeting in 1887. Finally, one can even see a bit of  the row houses which once stood at 116 and 118 Schermerhorn, right next to the Germania Club. This photo can also be found at Montrose Morris’s wonderful piece on the Germania Club at Brownstoner, which includes another photo that clearly shows the two row houses at 116 and 118 Schermerhorn. 116 Schermerhorn became the first separate high school building of BFS in the 1910s and was subsequently redesigned to become a more seamless part of the 1902 building that BFS used until the official move to 375 Pearl Street in 1973.

After it’s founding in 1867, BFS steadily grew in size and it became a popular school. By the end of the first year, Mary Haviland had a temporary assistant teacher since the student body had grown from 17 students on the first day to 48 students. At the beginning of the 1868-69 school year, Miss Haviland reports: “The school seems to have attained a footing and I think will soon number as many as we can accommodate.” The number she estimated we could accomodate in 1868: up to 70 students. She indicated she needed an experienced teacher, a permanent assistant teacher, “Only one of experience and good qualifications could succeed in an ungraded school like this. Where the pupils are of such various ages and attainments, and consequently many classes, it requires, in an assistant, the tact and skill whcih only experience can give.” Clara Lockwood was so hired and, in just a few years, succeeded Mary Haviland as principal.

In the school’s second year, Mary Haviland reported to the Schools Committee of Brooklyn Friends School and Friends Seminary that, with so many students, time was at a premium.  During this year, Miss Haviland and Miss Lockwood together restructured the school and were able to create the Junior and Senior Divisions – akin to today’s Lower and Middle Schools – then further subdivide them into classes according to each student’s “attainments.” Miss Haviland and Miss Lockwood used the highly respected “object method of teaching.”

There was a brief drop in enrollment during the the 1871-72 school year that greatly concerned the Schools Committee. Both Schools of New York Monthly Meeting were expected to be self-sustaining, and, like everything at NYMM, were expected to be run with the highest degree of integrity and financial prudence. One idea for the reason behind this 1872 drop were that other schools were offering more than our school could at less than 5 years old, but it is possible that the enrollment was affected by economic issues or declining birth rates of the 1860s which later rebounded. Some suggestions from the Schools Committee then were to add a kindergarten and begin newspaper advertising: only newspaper advertising was adopted, a kindergarten would not be added at BFS until 1902.

BFS Closing Day Exercises of June, 1879

Thankfully, that decline in enrollment was short-lived, so BFS continued to grow over the next decade, improved its program, added still more subjects which were often taught by itinerant teachers, a practice common to many schools of the time. The school was in excellent shape, thanks to Miss Haviland, Miss Lockwood and our other teachers. Miss Haviland sadly resigned at the very beginning of the 1873-74 school due to serious issues with her eyesight, and Clara Lockwood became our second principal, a role she held until 1884 when Susan Peckham assumed the role and became our longest serving principal, leaving in 1902 after serving for 18 years.

By 1885, it was clear that Brooklyn Friends School, which then had 67 students, was ready for further growth, that the classrooms in the lower level of the Brooklyn Meeting House were no longer sufficient and the school needed to expand for its present and future students. Keep in mind that the population of all of Kings County was growing, from 420,000 in 1870, to almost 600,000 in 1880, then to over one million residents in 1900.

In May, 1885, the Schools Committee of New York Monthly Meeting informed the NYMM Property Committee of its wish to expand and add to the facilities at both Friends Seminary and Brooklyn Friends School, including erecting a building on the eastern side of the Brooklyn Meeting House. The subcommittee was charged with discovering whether any changes could be made to lower level of the Brooklyn Meeting House, whether the two lots adjoining the property on the east side at 112 and 114 Schermerhorn could be obtained and at what cost, the estimated cost of “erecting a building which would be adequate for school purposes” and whether there might be an advantage to selling the entire Brooklyn property and purchasing elsewhere. The owner of 112 and 114 was unwilling to sell at that time, the Property Committee seemingly shelved the idea of selling the Brooklyn property and further decided no expansion was needed at either school, though moving the classroom “partitions” at the Brooklyn school was recommended. The Schools Trustees later decided against modifying those partitions. In December, 1885, the Property Committee’s subcommittee in charge of the Brooklyn property had to purchase two portable heaters to replace “the nearly useless furnace” in the Brooklyn Meeting House.

A year after the first request, in May of 1886,  the Trustees of the Schools asked again to build an extension, this time having the Property Committee’s monthly meeting convene at the Brooklyn Meeting House with the Schools Trustees, ostensibly to see the Brooklyn school’s facilities for itself. The proposal was basically the same as a year prior: modifying the existing rooms in the lower level of the Brooklyn Meeting House and building a one-story extension on the eastern side of the Brooklyn Meeting House. The new school building could be built on what would be considered the eastern part of the lot that comprised 110 Schermerhorn. This time, the Property Committee agreed, took the idea to New York Monthly Meeting which also approved it. $5000 was authorized for the entire project, with the Property Commmittee noting that “the amount so expended to be taken from that portion of the Monthly Meeting fund, the interest of which is appropriated to the use of the schools.”

Property Committee minutes indicate that the extension was built over the summer break of 1886. In August, 1886, a plan was presented for heating the new Brooklyn extension, mentioning the possible expediency of changing the heating in the Brooklyn Meeting House at the same time. In December, that furnace replacement for the Brooklyn Meeting House was reported as completed at a cost $800 with half the funds apparently coming from that $5000 that was authorized for the school’s expansion, the other half being paid by the Monthly Meeting. Thank goodness our students did not need to wear padded bags over their legs in indoor classrooms as our early 20th Century students did in our outdoor classrooms, mentioned in my earlier post about our former teacher Miss Ella Woodward, and which led to our long tradition of rooftop play spaces.

BFS 4th graders in 1925, those seated are bundled into leg bags
so as to warm them in their open-air classrooms on the roof