Students and staff gather at the former Roosevelt Grammar School in Newark for a photo before the building is demolished

NEWARK — A familiar educational landmark in Newark for more than 100 years will soon be remembered only through photographs, artifacts, and personal recollections.

The long-empty East Newark School, referred to most often as the Roosevelt Grammar School, is slated to be demolished. At the end of December, former students, teachers, staff, and interested residents gathered at the school to take a group photograph before it’s gone.

“I was impressed with the turnout,” said Chris Davis, the executive director of the Newark-Arcadia Historical Society, referencing the panoramic photograph for which approximately 130 people lined up in front of the light-yellow brick, two-story school at the corner of Vienna and East Union streets.

The historical society helped promote the gathering through its Facebook page, an email blast, and local media outlets. The most senior former student at the photo shoot was Dorothy (DeWispelaere) DeMay, who attended first grade there around 1935. Students of the Roosevelt Children's Center for special-needs children, which occupied the building after it closed as a public school in 1976, also participated in the photo. The Roosevelt Children’s Center has since relocated to a new school building on Peirson Avenue in Newark.

Eileen Godfrey is credited with the idea of taking the milestone photograph. Godfrey taught half-day kindergarten classes at Roosevelt for a decade and saw several of her students, their parents, and former teachers at the end-of-year picture-taking event.

“Of course I would love to see the building saved,” said Godfrey, “but I would want it used and it has been empty so long that that is not possible.”

The former school will be torn down and replaced by a Byrne Dairy convenience store and gas station.

Grammar school memories

“I was straight out of college (Geneseo) when I came here … I enjoyed the fact that it was a small school and more like a family,” said Godfrey, who started teaching at Roosevelt in September 1965 and describes its teachers as her mentors.

“I remember being so excited to have my first Halloween at school,” Godfrey said. “The kids dressed in costumes and walked across the stage in the gym. In the winter the kids would go out to slide downhill with the principal while the teachers ate lunch in the cafeteria. Mr. Galbraith, the principal, was a kid himself enjoying the kids and the outdoor fun.”

Her morning class would leave and with over an hour before her afternoon class began, Godfrey said she would often be invited home to have lunch with the students.

After the school closed in 1976, the Newark resident continued teaching kindergarten for another 24 years at the Perkins Elementary School, which opened in 1926.

Godfrey said she will go to the demolition of the building -— saying her last goodbye to what she describes as “10 wonderful years” with 20 classes of kindergarten children at Roosevelt School.

Wayne Williams started at Roosevelt in the fourth grade after leaving country school, describing it as quite a change from the one-room school.

“I enjoyed meeting a varied group of students,” Williams said.

His three siblings, Norman, Ronald and Sharon, also went to Roosevelt as did his wife, Marlene De Bout Williams, and her sister, Joan DeBout Knapp. Wayne and Marlene remember the names of their former teachers, the principal, and even a school nurse who they playfully describe as resembling the illustration from “the Old Maid Cards” and who drove a 1940s Chevrolet Coupe.

“I remember playing marbles in back of the school,” said Williams, “going across Vienna Street to Ike Tierson’s store for penny candy, and occasionally to Rawden’s dairy (then Margrove’s dairy) for ice cream.”

Williams went on to receive degrees in sculpture and then taught art at Finger Lakes Community College for 35 years.

“At one time I might have wished to have the building saved, but it has been left too long and damaged beyond repair,” said Williams.

Jane Allen said she is not going to avoid the demolition because she believes the school’s spirit left a long time ago. She went there from first through sixth grades.

“It was a neighborhood school and many kids could walk,” said Allen, whose home was only 2 ½ blocks away. She describes the neighborhood as “proud and blue collar” with a hard-working and skilled population.

The teachers, mostly women during that time, were excellent, according to Allen, who went on to become a science teacher in Waterloo.

“They are happy memories of place, time and people,” said Allen, who is anxious that the recollections of those associated with the school and the neighborhood be recorded for future generations.

That would be something he would definitely like to see happen, said the historical society’s Davis, who is also the appointed historian for the village of Newark and town of Arcadia.

“I was able to talk to several at the photo op, and learned more in that hour than ever before about the school,” said Davis.

Named for a president 

The school, named for Theodore Roosevelt in 1920, was built in 1912 to replace the two-room school that still survives as a residence on Church Street. John Zornow, a self-described history buff and newspaper columnist, said Newark was a very progressive community in the years 1911 and 1912.

“The new wider and deeper Barge Canal had opened. Many new homes were being built, the local banks were prosperous and our many nurseries and manufacturing companies were employing many hands,” Zornow said. “Even though the Mora Automobile Company had closed, the board of trade was aggressive in finding a new tenant, which turned out to be Hallagan-Thompson Manufacturing, still in business today. A division of the C.W. Stuart Co. started a direct-selling business that eventually became Sarah Coventry. A locally printed flyer stated that Newark was planning to ask for city status in 1915.”

Closing the school in 1976 was all about numbers, explained Zornow.

“According to the school board the student population in East Newark was not enough to keep the building open,” Zornow said. “Many disagreed so a special vote was held. That vote confirmed that there was not enough support to keep the school open.”

The North Ward School on North Main Street, later renamed the Lincoln School, was built at the same time as the Roosevelt School and is still in use today.

“When you think about it, the opening of two new grammar schools in two years was a very progressive move by a forward-thinking Board of Education. The neighborhood schools were a very important part of quality community,” said Zornow, an Eastman Kodak Co. retiree.

Looking back and ahead

The school’s cornerstone, laid on June 20, 1911, contained a box with papers that described what led to the building, some local newspapers, and a shiny new Lincoln penny. As yet, however, it has not been located.

Zornow believes it was covered over when the cafeteria was added to the school in 1957 and he is communicating with the Byrne Dairy developer of its probable location.

At the December photo shoot, speculation focused on what will happen to the bricks after the building comes down. One historical society member suggested they be sold as a fundraiser, if permissible, while a former student would like to gather some to build an outdoor fireplace.

“We are hoping to have some of the bricks for the collection at the Newark-Arcadia Museum,” said Davis.

The museum already has the brass plaque that was attached to the building as part of the 1928 addition that provided more classrooms and a gym.

The view on a major route through Newark will change when the school building is gone. Zornow said developers hope to start demolition sometime this month.

 “It will take some getting used to not seeing the school, which still appears quite beautiful despite its major problems inside,” said Davis.