Knox School District 5

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Past echoes in one-room school

By MARC PARRY Staff writer

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2005 Albany, New York  TIMES UNION

Kiwanis are restoring only building in Knox to earn place on national historic register

KNOX — From the road, you're more likely to notice the thin maple tree with its fiery streak of orange leaves than the boarded-up, one-room schoolhouse behind it with its dull, gray cedar siding.

Its metal roof is ugly. Its door is kept shut with a rusty padlock. But to local resident Dan Driscoll, the late-1890s state-owned building on Ketcham Road is a historical treasure chest whose rich past he hopes to one day share with the public.

Driscoll is helping lead an effort by local Kiwanis Club members to renovate the old schoolhouse, known simply as Knox School 5. He is also writing a book about the place.

The 20-by-24-foot wood-frame building, set atop the Helderberg Escarpment in western Albany County, is the only one of the town's 13 former one-room school- houses still viable within Knox's borders.

It is also the only building in Knox to be honored with a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The school closed in the 1930s.

"It's very closely tied to the history of this area," said Driscoll, a 67-year-old retired state worker who wears a white chin-strap beard in the style of Abraham Lincoln.

When Driscoll first saw the building a couple of years ago, he had this thought: What a perfect project for the Kiwanis club.

But what he didn't realize at the time was that the New Scotland Historical Association had a leather-spined book of school board minutes that opened a window on the area's history from 1824 to 1905.

The book's 148 pages of surviving board minutes are filled with colorful characters, like Isaac Hungerford.

Hungerford took a stand in the Anti-Rent Rebellion when, as author Henry Christman wrote, "the people of the hilltowns determined to throw off the yoke of bondage to lifelong servitude under the patroon system."

The undersheriff who came to evict the Knox School 5 trustee from his land in 1839 found himself staring at Hungerford's long knife.

"You'd better get home and be in some other business — I warn you as a friend to go no further," Hungerford said, Christman wrote. "You can't go through this country with patroon papers and get home a live man."

Over the years, the schoolhouse has gone through several incarnations since its closing.

It was used as a private home. It was also once the meeting spot of a local raccoon-hunting club. The building was sitting there abandoned when the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation acquired the property in 1999. It's now on the grounds of the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center.

Driscoll and others from the Kiwanis club and the community have since reroofed the school's shed and are now at work installing new hemlock sills on the main structure and rebuilding its stone foundation.

Driscoll estimates that about $1,000 has been spent on renovations thus far. By the time the group replaces the flooring with yellow pine, they'll probably spend another $1,500. Driscoll hopes the former school building will eventually serve as an educational tool for children who visit the nature center.

A few surviving alumni of Knox 5 still live in the area. But some had some not-so-fond memories of attending the school.

"I don't want to know nothing about that school no more," alumnus David Sagendorf told Driscoll in a bedside interview at Sagendorfs nursing home. "I don't even want to hear about it now. I hated it."

Pauline Williman, a 79-year old court reporter who still lives about a quarter-mile from the school she attended as a child, recalled how two bullies tormented the little kids when they tried use the outhouses.

"It was very embarrassing," Williman said. "They would open the door and make funny remarks and what not."

She said her mother took care of the problem for good by talking to an older girl, who threatened to tell the boys' parents.

Williman also recalled the cold winter morning that she and her brother showed up at school in their brand-new sheepskin coats and found no one there. They stayed at the empty school as long as they could, their toes freezing, and then finally trudged back home to report to their father that not even the teacher had shown up.

"At least you tried," he said.

Marc Parry can be reached at 454-5057 or by e-mail at

Schoolhouse #5 Restoration Continues!

Knox School 5 - work continues

Friends of Thacher/Thompsons Lake State Parks c/o Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center 87 Nature Center Way Voorheesville, New York 12186-2601

Dan Driscoll's Report from June 30, 2008

Thanks to John Elberfeld, Homer Warner, Homer's friend Tim, Pauline Williman and two young fellows from Parks (thanks to Chris Fallon) we got a lot done Sunday, June 22nd. Homer finished the final schoolhouse window; John painted window and door trim and then helped Pauline wash and paint the small storage room. The two fellows from Parks removed some rotted siding from over the front door and began repairing one of the doors.

Meanwhile, Tim, who is experienced with laying flooring, showed us how to install the dcuglas fir flooring. The floor is about 20% done; it looks great!

Next month, Sunday, July 27, we should be able to finish flooring the classroom and install the doors. A friend, Ken Malcolm is going to help by spraypainting the exterior before then.

Schoolhouse #5 Reopens!

Friends of Thacher and Thompsons Lake State Parks

Emma T Thacher Nature Center, 87 Nature Center Way, Voorheesville, NY 12186

September-October 2009 • Vol.13 No.5

By John Kilroy

All photos by John Elberfeld

If you have driven to the park or nature center going east on Ketcham Road, you may have noticed a small, unremarkable building on the right just before Nature Center Way. Over the last few years, you may also have noticed that it was looking better and better and no longer would be considered "run down." This small building is Knox Schoolhouse #5 and has been renovated by a small group of volunteers. (Helderberg Kiwanis)

On July 11, the park had an opening ceremony to celebrate the completed project. There was a small, but interested crowd at the nature center which included two former students of the school. Park Manager Chris Fallon gave a great synopsis of how the project was started and eventually brought to fruition under the leadership of Dan Driscoll. Dan spoke for a few minutes on the history of the schoolhouse and of the school district(s) and boards under whose jurisdiction the schoolhouse existed. He also covered the local history of the area including the rent wars. When I say he did his homework, it's a vast understatement. This was truly amazing research into local history.

We then made our way up to the schoolhouse for a look at the restoration, the interpretive panels and some light 4t, refreshments. Fortunately, it stayed dry for the entire time while people roamed inside and out, kids rang the school bell and everyone was duly impressed. The old CCC gong from the campground has been moved next to the school and is a great addition to the area.

You have to see the inside to believe it. Everything is beautiful! The floors are brand new (almost a shame to walk on them), the desks that were in disrepair were disassembled and reassembled by Dan and left unfinished. This way, students' carvings and scratchings could be seen clearly. These were mostly initials and dates ('26 and '29 are two that I remember). In the center of the room is a HUGE pot belly stove which was donated by Wally Quay of Knox. According to the pictures, this stove looks very similar to the one that was in the schoolhouse originally.

It's taken many years to bring this old building back from the brink, but I can say, as an observer, that it was well worth it. Thacher Park is well known as a place to explore the state's natural history but thanks to Dan and his hardworking crew, we now have an authentic look at our local history as well.