Note: Since this story was first published in 2014, four of those interviewed have passed away: Sally Ann Zollo, Bobby Miller, Charles “Bub” Bach and Marie Post. We’re thankful they were able to share their recollections of a Saugerties that is gradually receding into history.
West Saugerties was a place where children received a memorable education— both in school and in church. Like other hamlets, there was a one-room schoolhouse near a modestly sized church. It was an education both worldly and spiritual, conveniently situated.
“It was a good education because as a young student, you were learning your ABCs and at the same time you were watching the older children,” says Jeanne Marie Fellows, 71. She was a member of one of the last classes in the West Saugerties one-room schoolhouse on the corner of West Saugerties and what is now West Saugerties–Woodstock Road. “You were always aware of what they were doing. You were always looking ahead.”
Fellows and her family attended the Blue Mountain Reformed Church, down the road and around the corner from the schoolhouse. Sunday school, too — for Fellows, her two sisters and two brothers, it was as mandatory as Monday-through-Friday classes. “They were very similar kinds of education,” Fellows recalls.
Indeed, from the earliest days of Saugerties, education and religion went hand-in-hand. The Palatines — German-speaking Protestants who came to the Hudson Valley in the early 1700s to avoid religious persecution — built a school in 1710 “even before they built dwellings for themselves,” according to Benjamin Myer Brink’s 1902 Early History of Saugerties. “From the very first settlement of the town the education of the young was attended to,” and schoolhouses existed “in every settled locality” within town borders by 1763.
Rev. Henry Ostrander was a catalyst for both of these community pillars throughout Saugerties. The pastor at the Katsbaan Reformed Church on Old Kings Highway for 50 years, from 1812 to 1862, Ostrander also conducted services in the hamlets of Saxton, Malden, and elsewhere, including Blue Mountain Reformed Church, which served West Saugerties. According to Brink’s history, Ostrander “agitated” for a “classical” school for advanced education “almost as soon as he came into the town” in 1812. He started the town library with 700 volumes in 1814 and organized the first Sunday school in Saugerties in 1818.
The one-room schoolhouse districts defined the hamlets that now bear their names— Plattekill, Blue Mountain, Pine Grove, Katsbaan, and so on. The schoolhouse that housed the West Saugerties pupils, now located on private property, still has a large piece of slate that served as a blackboard and a few holes in the floor where the desks sat. The wooden walls bear the carved initials of long-ago students, and the coal bin storage has become a kitchen. The school had a deep, dependable well with very good water, says Post: “When our well went dry, the girls would walk down and get water from that schoolhouse well.”
Fellows recalls that, both in school and at church, “We learned from watching the older kids. That was the beauty of it.” Marie Post, Fellows’ mother, agrees with her daughter. “They all sat together around that old stove and the older kids would help the younger kids and watch out for ’em.”
Charles “Bub” Bach remembered of the West Saugerties schoolhouse (which was “the only school I ever went to”): “We got too big for the little seats. We had to teach the younger kids at tables in the back. We had one teacher. If there was snow, the janitor would come in and get the fire going, and if the teacher wasn’t there, she would tell us to get our books out and start reading. The janitor was my father’s aunt.”
Post and Fellows remember Grant D. Morse, superintendent of the Saugerties schools for nearly 40 years until his retirement in 1963, making annual visits to each of the one-room schoolhouses. “It was such a special event, and the children would dress in their Sunday best,” Post recalls. “He would sit and listen to classes, and the students would be so excited about his visit. It meant the world to them.”
When he retired, the Saugerties High School yearbook honored Morse “for his absolute integrity, his complete devotion to his work and the high standards which he always maintained. We feel that to dedicate The Sawyer to Dr. Morse is peculiarly suitable for he acted as its advisor for a great many years and was largely responsible for its continuous growth until it has become one of the outstanding yearbooks of the state.”