a sketch written by,
Guss Neuss
November, 2000

Yaphank's Octagonal School

A sketch is attached which depicts the interior of the school as it was in the period I was in attendance, 1921-1925. The building was located on the south side of Main St. with the students' desks facing to the north. The teacher's desk was in the north end facing the students. A blackboard was on the north wall. A small foot pumped organ was against the northeast wall and a storage unit at the northwest wall. All of this was elevated about eight inches above the classroom floor.

In the center of the building was a cast iron pot bellied stove which was the heat source for the school. The stovepipe went directly up to the octagonal cupola on the roof. Double desks for the pupils were arrayed as depicted in the sketch. A small cast iron sink with a pitcher pump was the drinking water and wash-up facility. This was located at the southeast wall.

The school entrance was at the east and a wood shed at the south. Fuel for the stove, cleaning utensils, etc. were stored in the woodshed. There was no electricity, light was through large windows in the north-east, south-cast, north-west and south-west walls and from the cupola. There must have been oil lamps for additional light as school board meetings were held in the evening hours. I have no recollection of these lamps being used during class hours.

Toilet facilities were primitive. About one hundred feet southeast of the main building was a two-hole outdoor toilet [privy] for the boys with a similar facility southwest for the girls. Playground equipment consisted of four eight inch diameter posts set in a row solidly in the ground with two inch diameter pipes set at different elevations for use as exercise bars.

Teachers 1920-1925
School Year
1920-1921 Nettie (Mrs. George) Baker
1921-1922 Lucy Kinsella
1922-1923 Mildred Blanchard
1923-1924 Bessie Bliss
1924-1925 Mrs. Caswell

Mrs. Baker was a native of Yaphank and resided in the town. Misses' Kinsella, Blanchard and Bliss were new to Yaphank. All three, during their tenure, boarded at the Gustave Neuss' residence on Main Street. Mrs. Caswell and her husband rented the Richard Homan-Olsen house.

Teaching Methods

The teacher had to instruct eight grades in the various subjects appropriate for the class level. Rarely did a class exceed five students. In addition to the three "R's" of reading, writing, and arithmetic, subjects included geography and some history. While a class was receiving instruction, other students were to utilize their time in study. Any student with a desire to learn could get knowledge of advanced grade material by listening to the presentation of the upper class students. When called upon by the teacher, a student would respond at his or her desk. Class size was such that the teacher was able to act as a tutor.

The few books required were school furnished. Palmer method was the choice for writing. Geography was primarily about the Western Hemisphere with the United States accented Appropriate texts were available for reading and arithmetic. One teacher made a practice of reading from a novel for a period of at least twenty minutes a day. This was scheduled for immediately after the noon lunch period. Needless to say, most of the students dozed during this rendition.

Each Wednesday, a traveling physical education teacher arrived at the school to have the entire student body go through a stand-up exercise routine. Since many of the students were from farm families where daffy work was the rule, the exercises were viewed as unnecessary by many of the class body. In addition to the phys-ed class, there was a personal hygiene inspection for ears, neck dirty fingernails, etc.

A typical school day commenced with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States. Then a hymn or song was sung from the Golden Book of Song. There were no restrictions on mentioning "God" in public schools in the 1920's. Songs such as " Abide With Me" and "Sweet Hour of Prayer" were sung, as were Stephen Foster favorites, Even Civil War numbers such as "Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground7 were remembered. The "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance when Eisenhower was president.

Janitorial service for at least two years was performed by the Neuss brothers, Bill and Gus, Jr. The duties included sweeping the school floor, dusting of desks and emptying waste baskets. A supply of firewood was maintained at the base of the pot-bellied stove. Ash removal from the stove was accomplished as required. The American flag was raised and lowered daily while school was in session. Pay for this work was five dollars per month.

Discipline was not restricted as it is today. Student misbehavior was treated promptly. Talkers were corrected with the application of wide adhesive tape over the culprit's mouth. Other misconduct was, depending on the teacher, more or less severe. Whipping with a ruler or a rubber strap was not unusual. Detention was not used as a punishment. Physical action was the rule.

During the 1920 time period there was considerable debate by the local school board relative to school consolidation. The purpose was to reduce class size and limit a teacher to the teaching of a single grade. To accomplish this, school districts of Yaphank, West Yaphank, Coram and Middle Island would have to agree on a central school location and have students bussed to that location. The Yaphank school board, after heated discussions, decided against consolidation. It was felt that the local control of the education process should not be relinquished. The result was the building of a two-room school on the site of the one room octagonal structure.

Click here to see a floor plan of the Yaphank School

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