A century ago, 14 young men and women happily posed for an unknown photographer in front of the Red Hook Union Free School, the town’s first high school, which was built in 1905. The happy group may well have been the Class of 1912, but we don’t know for sure. What is certain is that they were a privileged minority because few “scholars” (as students were called back then) went beyond the eighth grade.
Red Hook back then was a town of small one- and two-room schoolhouses that served an overwhelmingly rural population. There were 10 districts, each with its own school building, schoolmarm (or master), slates and chalk for writing and “figuring,” potbelly stove, bucket of fresh well water for drinking (from a communal, long-handled dipper), and a nearby outhouse.
The school term typically ran from September until March, then school closed so that farm children could help with spring planting It resumed in May and June, then shut for summer vacation.
By the 1930s, though, although the rhythms of farm life still prevailed in Red Hook, more area children were deciding to go to high school. And come they did, as Clare O’Neill Carr described it in an article celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Red Hook Central School on Linden Avenue:
“…They traveled from Nevis, Milan, Upper Red Hook, Clermont, Elizaville, Barrytown and Annandale to attend. They would come by horse and wagon in the earlier days; they would sometimes catch the old New England Railroad train (the “Hucklebush” Line) from Cokertown and points east and west of the village, as the milk train made its way through Red Hook between Rhinebeck’s New York Central connection and Connecticut, stopping and farms and hamlets along the way…”
Today, the narrow ties and “Gibson Girl” hairdos of 1912 may have given way to t-shirts and ornamental piercings, but what remains the same is the bright-eyed self-confidence of youth about to set the world on fire.