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History of Orange Public Schools

Information from The Orange Historical Society

Orange was one of many communities with strict Rules for Teachers.

The Academy

The white clapboard building on the east side of the Orange green is known as 'The' Academy. It is the second two-story structure to stand at this location. The first was built in 1812 as a school for students who paid a small tuition, hence the name The Academy. Classes were held on the second floor, while the first floor was used as an assembly room. In 1878, this building was moved and a new structure of similar design was built on the same site for use as a high school; it later became the Orange Town Hall. When the present Town Hall was completed in 1967, The Academy was turned over to the Orange Board of Education, which occupied the building until 1989, when it was leased to the Orange Historical Society.

Mary L. Tracy School

Mary L. Tracy School opened in 1910 as Orange Center School for students in kindergarten through grade eight. It celebrated its Centenniel in 2010 with a town-wide celebration.

Orange Center School was re-named in 1956 to honor Mary Tracy, who had dedicated many years of service to the Orange community as a teacher, principal, and ultimately as the acting superintendent. According to records, Tracy herself attended Orange Center School (the MLT building) from kindergarten to grade 8; and then upon graduating from college, she returned to teach as a first and fourth grade teacher. So, except for her eight years in high school and college, Mary Tracy spent her entire life from five years old in 1910 to her retirement in 1970 at the building which now bears her name.

After she retired, Mary Tracy wrote in the 1979 MLT School Yearbook: “The children were my greatest delight and the teaching my special joy - a work of love. A special spirit permeated the building - an ideal atmosphere for learning. Of greatest importance were the enthusiastic, loyal and capable teachers and also the other school workers who contributed their services, thus helping the process of learning. Enrichments to curriculum were added by the Parent-Teacher Association and other townspeople who offered their talents and help. The understanding and cooperation of our superintendents, Board of Education, the town officials, and the finances and interest from the whole town made the working at Mary L. Tracy School a dream realized.”

In 1989, The Orange School district re-dedicated the building as an Early Childhood Center; and to this day, the school serves as home for all of the districts pre-school and kindergarten classes.

Credits: Terri Yanetti, Orange Milford Bulletin, 4.28.2010.

Picture: Orange Historical Society: A postcard from Scobie Brothers who ran a general store on Orange Center Road depicted the new Orange Center School. Circa 1913.

Did They Really Adopt Them?

by Ginny Reinhard, President of the Orange Historical Society

Research is a wonderful tool to keep history straight and true but you have to analyze the data as thoroughly as possible to see if you spot any misaligned facts, especially dates. In the case of “The Rules”, there is no doubt that Orange’s 5 district schools were governed by these nine edicts as the date corresponds to the time the town had district schools. In 1909, they were consolidated into the Orange Center School, known as Mary L. Tracy, which was renamed in 1956. Initially there were four rooms, with two grades per room for the first to the eighth grade, and the district schools were abandoned.

'Abandoned' is not quite the right word, as they were 'recycled.' Stepping back in time when the school system of Orange (North Milford) is reported as being established, we have a quote from the History of Orange 1639-1949 by Mary Woodruff that in 1750, it was “voted that money should be appropriated to the inhabitants of Bryan’s Farms, for the purpose of setting up a school in winter, it being so well settled that one is deemed necessary.” Sadly, there is no indication of where this school was located.

As soon as the Church was organized in 1805, the members of the town established the North Milford School Society with the first meeting in 1806. At that time, there were three distinct districts showing that the original 208 acres that were established by Richard Bryan in 1700 had significantly increased. The southern part of the town was called the First District, located on the corner of South Main Street (Orange Center Road) and Morse Road (Old Tavern Road). The Second District, to the north, was located at the triangle formed by Grassy Hill Road (now Old Grassy Hill) and Milford Road (Ridge Road today). The western end was the Third District with its location at the corner of Clark Lane and Race Road (Grassy Hill Road). A sum of $599 from the Milford budget was allowed for the expenses for the year with a committeeman chosen for each district to make the arrangements for the teacher and to secure enough firewood. School visitors were chosen and given the responsibility to visit the schools and “pass judgment.” Ouch! Talk about the fox in the henhouse!

It appears that no special preparation was necessary to qualify as a teacher in the beginning; but in checking the names of the various teachers, the better-known citizens were chosen. One such educator, Benjamin Clark (1814-1890) was remembered by a student as being a generous-hearted, educated man having been thought of as the best he had by far.

With increased population in the eastern portion, an additional district was formed to accommodate what was known as the Allingtown section; and by 1882, the population in Milford was moving closer to North Milford, so the citizens requested to be included in the third district. The First remained to service the south, the second covered the northwestern part, the newly-formed Allingtown section was now the third, and what had been the third was the fourth. After the New Haven and Derby Railroad was established in 1871, the Fifth District School (Tyler City) was established in 1873 with classes being held in one of the waiting rooms of the Tyler City Station. By 1874, Samuel Halliwell and Philander Ferry, partners of the newly formed Tyler City, donated land for a building to be constructed between what is now New Haven Avenue and Spring Street.

Today, four of the five district schools are still standing with interesting “new” lives. District 1 is the home of our First Selectman; District 2 is the second story of a house on Ridge Road; District 3 is on the corner of Racebrook Road and Woodside Avenue; District 4 burned down; and District 5 is Our Lady of Sorrows Church. There is an adjacent building on this property that was built to house the horses and carriages, as there is evidence that the schools were also used for religious services. Winter school began in the middle of November running for four months with a male teacher; summer school, beginning in April for six months, was held with a female teacher. The teacher was supposed to be boarded with the inhabitants throughout the district taking turns; anyone who refused was taxed at the rate of $1.25 per week. The “school rules” did not mention the rod, but it appears that it was available to be used. In his Orange Historical Collections, Edward Luke Clark writes that Charles Wheeler, hired for the Third District in 1837, whose only qualification was his determination to preserve order, indeed kept a supply of rods for that purpose. Mr. Clark’s uncle was the recipient of the thrashing on many occasions having “natural boyish propensities” and being disliked by Mr. Wheeler.

The subjects taught at our district schools appear to follow what we think of as the “old school” subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic with spelling, grammar, geography and history to round out the day. Each morning started with devotional singing of at least eight religiously-based songs; and there were three recess times, two of which were “whisper recesses.” The afternoon singing was secular with 'The Old Oaken Bucket' a favorite. The report card of the Orange Center School in 1909-1910 shows some changes in the curriculum, but not in “The Rules.” Careful note of absences and tardies, as well as dismissals, topped the card with conduct the next in line. A letter system was used with E 90-100 (excellent), G 80-89 (good), F 70-79 (fair), and P 0-69 (poor). The card was issued monthly with parents’ signature on the back with the note saying, “If in either scholarship or deportment, a pupil fails to receive a mark as high as F or 70, he is in danger of losing his place in school.

Although history and nature study are listed, we have a report card, in the archives of the OHS, that doesn’t have any grades for those subjects marked for the entire year and with geography being given a mark in only five of the nine months. Of the school year, excluding September, arithmetic, drawing, language/grammar, music, reading, spelling, writing, and effort were considered the requirements.

The School Society itself had a myriad of responsibilities in addition to the education of its young people. In 1836 it voted to repair the fence at the burying ground and to purchase a hearse; and in 1855, the Society voted to buy a new hearse, selling the old one. They also voted to pay Benjamin Clark $120 to expand the cemetery, but this vote was later rescinded and the land was bought by the town.

So goes the history of the “Little Red School” houses, though according to the History of Orange, the school houses were always painted white.

Note: The History of Orange 1639-1949 is available at the Town Hall Town Clerk’s office