Stony Point’s historic Pyngyp School is being restored by a dedicated group of volunteers who are holding a series of publicity and fund raising events this year to continue the progress they have already made.
The Pyngyp Schoolhouse was built more than a century ago, one of nearly 100 such crude one-room wooden schoolhouses that used to dot the landscape in all five townships in Rockland County. Nearly all were similar in size and function, containing a single room with a wood-burning stove that educated all elementary-aged students in the immediate vicinity. Led by a single teacher, who often was housed in the home of a nearby family with a child attending the school, it would typically have about 30 students, ranging in age from five to 13 and spread out among eight grade levels.
Less than a dozen of these early one-room schoolhouses still exist locally, and none are used as such today. The last ones were phased out in the 1940s, when New York State began forcing local school districts to consolidate, and construct larger buildings with multiple classrooms and teachers for specialized subjects.
Two in Rockland have been restored as early schoolhouse museums, in Nanuet and Chestnut Ridge, New Hempstead is used as a village hall and the spacious two-room Brick Church School is used as a special education facility. Others have been converted into private residences, but most have long since been demolished.
Only two of these early schools have been converted into community centers, in Palisades and in the Pyngyp area of Stony Point. The Palisades conversion, which has been eminently successful, was carried out by a non-profit organization created for that purpose, which obtained the building free of charge from the South Orangetown Central school District.
The Pyngyp conversion was done by the Town of Stony Point more than two decades ago, and was initially successful with dozens of local groups using the facility from Scouting troops to senior citizens and everything in between. That continued for more than a decade, until a series of disastrous storms and floods severely damaged the structure, and made it unsafe for continued public use.
A battle erupted shortly thereafter between two non-profit groups which wanted to restore the structure yet again, and use it as their headquarters. Because the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Historical Society of the Lost Hamlets of the Palisades Interstate Park could not agree on sharing the facility, however, the Stony Point Town Board would give it to neither group, and it sat vacant and continuing to deteriorate from lack of utilities and maintenance.
Now the Stony Point Historical Society has support from the town, and is actively engaged in a thorough restoration of the quaint wooden schoolhouse.
The Stony Point Historical Society is not leasing the Pyngyp schoolhouse from Town of Stony Point. Susan Filgueras says, “We are specifically raising money for restoration of the building on behalf of Stony Point. They will use it for meetings, we are going to try and run it as a community center, working in conjunction with the town board.”
Through their efforts the school was placed on the New York State Historic Buildings Registry last Nov.21, and this January it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the nation’s most prestigious such listing of historic sites and structures.
The first full-scale meeting of the new society was held March 25, and plans for future events and work parties were established.
The first event, held this past Sunday, was a reunion for all graduates of the Pyngyp School, held in the afternoon at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in nearby Tomkins Cove, with dozens reportedly attending, along with their yearbooks, school photos, report cards and other memorabilia.
The biggest announcement at that gathering, according to Filgueras, it that a brand new roof was put on the school last month, and the exterior will be painted all white, its original color. It was also revealed that a century ago children attending the school were expected to carry one extra log apiece every day they attended, so there was plenty of wood for the potbellied stove each winter.
Early students at Pyngyp included many members of the Rose, Conklin, Jones, Waldron, Bulson, Goetschuis, Brooks and Knapp families, and the last known teacher was Mrs. Grace Weyant in the 1940’s, when the school closed. And although the school was always white, many current residents recall its being red. The reason, it was revealed, was that when the town first took it over in 1984, an eagle Scout project gave the building a new coat of paint, bright red, under the mistaken assumption that all such schools were “little red schoolhouses.” That has now been corrected, with the original white color scheme will bere-applied as the restoration continues.
The next event will be a stroll through history at the historic home of Rose O’Redard at the junction of Blanchard Road and Gate Hill Road, just west of the Pyngyp School, which itself is located at the corner of Route 210 and Cedar Flats Road. Called “Mansions in the Mountains,” the event will feature strolls of the house, gardens and surrounding area, led by historian Dr. Andrew (Andy) Smith, starting at10 a.m. The stroll is expected to take about2-1/2 hours, and attendees are cautioned to wear appropriate walking or hiking shoes and to bring along a bottle of water and some mosquito spray. Further information on the stroll can be obtained by calling (845) 942-5030, or emailing Susan Filgueras at firstname.lastname@example.org
The next event will be a garage and bake sale on April 28 to benefit the restoration fund, being held at RHO Cottage at the former Letchworth Village Developmental Center campus in Thiells. For those unfamiliar with the former state hospital campus, RHO cottage is now owned by Stony Point, and has been converted to use as a secondary Town Hall. Town Board meetings are held there, along with Planning Board sessions, senior citizens meetings and other activities. To reach RHO, turn north off Willow Grove Road at the only traffic light on that street, in the center of the former campus. The first left leads to RHO Cottage and the town golf course.
Filgueras says the Stony Point Historical Society and its Pyngyp Restoration Committee, with the blessings of town officials who continue to own the property, are undertaking the restoration of the Pyngyp School. The goal, she says, is to return the school to the people of Stony Point, as a community center and a welcome center, where maps, lists of special events, restaurant menus, theater schedules and similar material will be displayed and distributed.
“The Pyngyp School will once again be a schoolhouse, teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, with no electronics,” she notes.
“To accomplish this the building must be restored. We ask the community’s assistance to help us save this piece of Stony Point history.”
The Historical Society, chartered by New York State on May 17 of last year as a non-profit corporation under state education law, is a federally-recognized 501-c-3 tax exempt corporation, meaning all donations to it are tax deductible to the donors.
Further information on both the Historical Society and the Pyngyp School are available from Mrs. Filgueras at the phone number and e-mail address listed earlier.