The Education Interests
By Captain Franklin Ellis28
The educational interests of the town have given it an exalted and enviable reputation. Much interest was early manifested in the welfare of the common schools, and under the generous care of the town many of them have become noted for their efficiency. In most districts good school buildings have been provided, and in a few instances they are noteworthy for their comfort and neatness. In District No. 5, Mary E. Drowne, a graduated of the Albany Normal School, has taught successively, summer and winter, since 1849.
The commissioner's last report of the public schools shows fourteen districts, having eleven hundred and seventy children of school age, from which a daily attendance of three hundred and sixty-three pupils was secured. About five thousand dollars is annually expended in the support of these schools.
The first high school in the county,
was established in Claverack. It was begun in 1777, and successfully founded in 1779. Its originator was the pastor of the Reformed church, the Rev. Dr. Gebhard. Having privately taught the sons of some of the leading citizens of the town, he became convinced of the necessity for a school where the classics and higher mathematics could be more advantageously taught. Dr. Gebhard became the superintendent of the new school, and filled that office until the close of the seminary. Dudley Baldwin was placed in the charge of the classical department, and Abraham Fonda of the mathematical. In 1780, N. Meigs was appointed principal, and filled that position with acceptance until he was succeeded by Andrew Mayfield Carshore. The latter had come to this country with General Burgoyne, as an impressed British soldier, and after the surrender at Saratoga went to Kinderhook, where he opened an English school. Leaving this, he came to Claverack, and became an inmate of Dr. Gebhard's family. Here he acquired a knowledge of Greek and Latin, which he turned to profitable account in the seminary. He possessed unusual genius, and having great aptitude as a teacher, Washington Seminary achieved a famous reputation under his principalship. At times it had more than a hundred students from the surrounding country, Albany, and New York. Mr. Carshore continued his connection with the seminary about twenty-five years, when he left to become the principal of the Hudson Academy.
"Among those who were educated during this period at this seminary were General John P. Van Ness, attorney-at-law and member of Congress; Hon. William P. Van Ness, judge of the southern United States district; Hon. Cornelius P. Van Ness, governor of Vermont, minister to Spain, and collector of the port of New York; General Jacob Rutsen Van Rensselaer, secretary of state for New York, often a member of Congress, and always the poor man's friend. The above were all natives of this town. Martin Van Buren, Robert H. Morris, and many others afterwards conspicuous in public life, were also students here. Here, too, the Monells, Jordans, Phillipses, and Millers acquired the beginnings of their education. Claverack has a just right to the honor which theses illustrious names confer upon her maternal brow; and she claims them all to-day, while she bids the present generation to emulate and imitate the virtues of the great men she has reared."1
In the course of a few years, after Mr. Carshore left, the seminary was merged into a common school. The building it occupied stood near the church, directly north of the railroad depot, and was a conspicuous landmark many years.
But the demand for a school of a higher grade was so urgent that the Rev. Richard Sluyter, who had succeeded Dominie Gebhard in the pastorate of the church, was incited to take measures for the erection of an academy which should meet the wants of this region. His efforts were finally successful, and, in 1830, the academy was opened, with the Rev. John Mabon, a man of great attainments and worth as an instructor, at its head. The building which it occupied was erected by Colonel Ambrose Root, and its business affairs were managed by a board of eighteen trustees, composed of the leading men of the town. The school was prosperous, and had among its students several youth who rose to distinguished eminence.
The Rev. Ira C. Boice, who followed Mr. Sluyter in the pastoral office, carried forward the work of his predecessor, (page 243) and conceived the idea of endowing the school with collegiate proportions. His plans were ably seconded by some of the enterprising men of the town, and, in 1854, the academy was rechartered under the name of the present.
1 Rev. E. S. Porter, D.D.