Education’s Roots Run Deep in City Where Leaders Were Well-Schooled

Culture and Education
Published August 14, 1997

Education’s Roots Run Deep in City Where Leaders Were Well-Schooled

| Published August 14, 1997

James W. Baxter, principal of the Colored School from 1864 to 1909. The Newark Public Library

On May 17, 1666, when Robert Treat arrived in Newark as leader of a band of Connecticut Puritans, he brought with him a good education, a knowledge of books and the ability to put his academic talents to good use in the East Jersey wilderness.

As early as Feb. 7, 1671, the records of the Township of Newark reported the need for a local school master who could 'do his faithful, honest, and true endeavor, to teach the children of English, and also Arithmetic as much as they are capable to learn and he capable to teach them …' On the site of today's 744 Building on Broad Street, John Catlin opened his home as a school and was appointed to teach Newark's first class of schoolchildren.

A few years later in 1714, the Town School was built on the south side of Market Street, adjacent to Newark's Old Burying Ground, as a private school supported by an annual assessment to Newark parents. In 1806, the first structure was replaced by a `new' stone structure, which stood until 1900. Between 1735 and 1755, an extraordinary thing happened. The Rev. Aaron Burr Sr., pastor of Old First Church, wanted to educate ministers for the local church. Burr founded and supervised the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University on Broad Street. Newark was home to the college from 1747 until 1756, when the school was 'removed' to its present home in Princeton.

In 1774, the well-known Newark Academy was built in Washington Park, the only building to occupy land designated for the 'common good.' Tory sympathizer William Hedden, its former headmaster, fled to New York City during the Revolutionary War, as did many local Tories when British fortunes began to ebb during the conflict. In 1780, the building — then serving as an American barracks — was burned during a British raid of Newark. While the academy remained closed for 12 years, it was later rebuilt with money raised through a lottery. Other sites of the school included Academy Street and First Street near Branch Brook Park.

The Lyons Farms Schoolhouse, erected in 1784, replaced earlier buildings constructed in 1728 and 1782 on land purchased from the Hackensack Indians for a 'quarter of a pound of gunpowder.' When the 1783 school was built, it was actually in Clinton Township, which was annexed to Newark in the 19th century, and moved into the Newark Museum garden this century. Originally located at Lyons and Chancellor avenues, once called 'Pot Pie Lane, ' the site was where Gen. George Washington stopped to pay homage to the people of Newark in 1797 and where Talleyrand, the French statesman and diplomat, is alleged to have taught classes during the year that he lived in Newark.

A nearly forgotten school is the old 'White School House' or the 'South Literary Institute' built by Capt. Jabez Parkhurst. Its name was derived from its frame structure or its location in old South Park, today's Lincoln Park Area. This school stood in the center of Clinton Park where the Colleoni Statue now stands. Also in 1792, Moses N. Combs, Newark's first industrialist, built what some have referred to as one of the nation's first schools for apprentices, possibly the country's first night school. Combs, a devout man, opened a training school for his apprentices on the south Side of Market Street near Plane Street, now University Avenue, where he offered both commercial and religious training for 10 shillings or roughly $2.50 per annum.

When the old Township of Newark gave way to the modern city in 1836, education along with safety and fire protection were uppermost in the minds of the residents. Within two years, the Newark School Committee voted to establish a free high school. In 1854, a school building was opened at Washington and Linden streets. In 1899, the new high school, later named Barringer High, opened.

In 1864, 19-year-old James W. Baxter came to Newark as a teacher for the Colored School. During his lifetime, Baxter worked to improve education for Newark's African-American children. When he died in 1909, more than 1,000 black students were enrolled in the city's elementary and high schools. A plaque on the old State School attests to Baxter's many accomplishments. His name is remembered as the man for whom Baxter Terrace on Orange Street was named. Addison Poland, Newark's much respected superintendent of schools from 1901-17, is remembered for the introduction of free textbooks, the development of summer playgrounds, the innovation of physical education in the curriculum, and the promotion of care of handicapped children. In 1810, Dr. Meta Anderson established the first Newark class for retarded children, Grace Wright began classes for the deaf, and Janet Patterson started classes for the blind. These pioneering Newark teachers 'anticipated by nearly a half-century the concern of the school system for the inherent dignity and worth of the handicapped child.'