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June 24, 2013

Portlandville School closing ended a country tradition

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The Daily Star

---- — It was considered a last remnant of the country school of yesterday in our region, as the Portlandville School closed its doors for the last time on Friday, June 24, 1983. It ended a more than three-quarter century era of the place where kids learned their “three R’s.”

“No longer will the familiar yellow school buses wend their way up the hill, discharging first-, second- and third-graders in the pastoral setting,” The Daily Star reported the next day.

The school, now privately owned and still seen today on Schoolhouse Hill Road, came to be due to the rising floodwaters from the construction of the Goodyear Lake Dam. In one of Sandra Martin Bullard’s volumes on the history of the Town of Milford, a picture of what was Portlandville School #3 was condemned in 1906. On a map it was seen on the east side of the bridge over the Susquehanna, on a road to the railroad depot. The new school was built on higher ground.

By September 1983, the 80-plus elementary students were taught in two mobile classrooms on the grounds of the Milford Central School in Milford.

Mrs. Aulis Waters, then president of the Milford school board, said it was not economically feasible for the district to continue to operate the Portlandville School.

“It needed a lot of repairs,” she said. “We just didn’t think it made sense for us to put money into the building that we felt it needed.”

Paul Mendelsohn, a third grade teacher at the school said he had mixed feelings about the closing.

“We lack a library, that’s the biggest thing. Any kind of proper first aid service from a nurse. There are communications problems. But as I packed up for the last time, I thought about the real advantages of being here. It’s nice and quiet. You can coordinate things quickly with only three other teachers who are willing to cooperate.”

“We’ve been able to do things like walking down to the sawmill for fieldtrips, go over to the cemetery to get gravestone rubbings, all sorts of things. We even had a garden. Things that we are not able to do in a larger setting.”

Other teachers at the school at the time were Margaret Hough, second and third grade; Marilyn Garman, second grade; and Arlene Wormuth, first grade. Frieda Scanlon was a teacher’s aide.

A Daily Star editorial on June 29 called the closing of the school a wrong decision. It pointed out that the district had never sought formal estimates for the necessary repairs. Superintendent of Milford Schools, Dr. Gordon Hammond said the cost of the mobile classrooms would be about $25,000. The Portlandville School needed a replacement for an old coal-fired furnace, as well as most of the electrical wiring in the building. The Star contended that with proper bidding and careful oversight, the replacement costs would have been very close to the price of the mobile classrooms.

It was around this time that the Milford Central School was beginning to ponder its future of operating an old, too small school, which will be covered in a future article.

As for the Portlandville School closing, a former student, Dr. David Denny, then a professor of education at the State University College at Oneonta, recalled how he was a sixth grade student in 1943, and his teacher was Bill Robinson.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it there, and I do not necessarily agree with the idea that bigger is better. It’s sad, really, to see it go. But I guess it has to happen.”

This weekend, local Civil War veterans headed to Gettysburg for a 50th reunion in 1913.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.