In Clymer, heritage and traditions run strong and deep. The second graders' annual trek to spend a week going to school in the 159 year old Little Red Schoolhouse at Clymer Center has become one of those treasured traditions.
The Little Red Schoolhouse was built in 1853 in the Greek Revival Style by Rinaldo Breman, a local carpenter, and operated as "Clymer District 5" school until 1940, when it was closed due to the New York state mandated school district consolidation. The property and furnishings were auctioned off, and a local farmer, William VanEarden, used the building as an equipment storage barn for years. Later Mr. VanEarden deeded the property to his daughter Bessie VanEarden, a local secretary, organist and artist, who began preserving and restoring the building with the intent that it might become a local museum as well as her art studio. When she passed away in 1976 the property was willed to Mrs. Gladys (Legters) Vidal, a friend, a local historian and a teacher who had taught in the Clymer Center school in 1934, and who, like Bessie, had the same yearning to preserve its history for posterity. More pieces fell into place and when Gladys died in 1989 the property was passed on to her Daughter, Nancy (Vidal) Westerburg, a second-grade teacher in Findley Lake and Clymer.
Nancy's mother Gladys began taking her students from Clymer to the Little Red Schoolhouse in the late 1970s, and Nancy began helping with further restoration of the building, finding the exterior planks, windows, interior partitions and even the original old wooden "black boards" that had been removed when it became a barn, finding them in the wood shed behind the school. Nancy was a new teacher then, teaching in Findley Lake, part of the Clymer Consolidated School District. She decided to do as her mother had done and give her students an educational experience by taking them to a real "one-room schoolhouse" and have them see just what school had been like years before. With the District's blessing she did just that. For her it became an annual trip towards the end of the school year, and soon other teachers were asking if they could do the same thing with their students. After she retired from teaching, Nancy continued to make the one-room schoolhouse available to teachers who want their students to experience living a piece of real Americana and learning firsthand about their local heritage, even making it available to teachers from other school districts.
Over the years Bessie, Gladys and now Nancy have found many of the original furnishings from the school that were auctioned off. Many times people have donated items that they have bought or found to be preserved and put back in their rightful place, in the Little Red Schoolhouse, especially after they have seen what she and her two predecessors have accomplished. In 1994 Nancy's Little Red Schoolhouse became listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, the only preserved one-room schoolhouse in Chautauqua County. Maintenance of an old building is always an issue but so far Nancy has been able to manage with the help of friends and volunteers. This year already has seen the need to open up a wall to get a beehive out of it and that honeycomb became another of Nancy's teaching tools for this year's students to learn about. Paint is needed and some old boards need replacing all in good time.
Here in Clymer it has become tradition for the students to make their trip to the Little Red Schoolhouse during their second-grade year. Today second graders, who have grown up hearing stories of the fun times from older brothers, sisters, cousins and neighbors, can't wait to spend a week in the spring at the Little Red Schoolhouse, answering to the original hand rung school bell, hearing the crackle of wood burning in the pot-bellied wood stove to take the chill out of the early morning air, "toeing the line" while reading aloud for the teacher, using slate boards instead of pencil and paper or computers, learning about their local history and traditions and playing the same games during recess that children played near the turn of the century 100 plus years ago, such as "Pom Pom Pull Away."
Now then, that bell I mentioned; it should be noted that it was donated back to Gladys by the family of another Little Red Schoolhouse teacher, Mrs. Minnie (Schreurs) Nywiede who had used the bell when she taught there in about 1911. Minnie purchased the bell at the school district auction in 1944. Students and teachers alike are encouraged to dress in "period attire" or in a similar fashion to rural students from the late 1800s and early 1900s if they wish to add a memorable flavor to their experience. No catered lunches, hot meals or chilled beverages here; these students bring period appropriate lunches and snacks in lunch pails. No plastic containers or store wrapped goodies in this school. The teaching is left up to the class' regular teacher with Nancy making frequent appearances to answer questions and talk about the schoolhouse, its history and many of the artifacts housed there.
Mrs. Carrie (Wassink) Shampoe never attended a class at the Little Red Schoolhouse when she was in grade school, so there have been times over the years when classes were not held there for one reason or another. After graduating from SUNY Fredonia with a teaching degree Carrie returned to the Clymer School District as a Spanish language teacher. Earlier this year it was discovered that Carrie's great-grandmother, Ethel B. (Schreurs) Wassink had spent the first two years of her teaching career (1908-1909) as the teacher at Clymer Center in the "Little Red Schoolhouse." Ethel was born in 1889 near Clymer and graduated from Sherman High School and then Sherman Normal School as a teacher in 1908 and began teaching at Clymer Center that fall.
After the 1909 year she married Garrett Wassink, a local farmer and miller and had to stop teaching since the rule for one room schools back then was that only men or single ladies could teach school once married ladies had to stop teaching. The assumption back then being that once married it wouldn't be long until babies would be on the way and they would be needed at home to raise the children school districts needed to be assured that the annual teaching contract was fulfilled they had no substitute teachers to fill in; she was the one and only teacher. Ethel didn't resume her teaching career until the untimely death of her husband Garrett in 1926 left her to raise three boys by herself. Ethel, a well-liked teacher and published poet, retired from teaching at Clymer Central School due to health issues in 1949, and she passed away in 1951.
This year Carrie's son, Michael Shampoe, is in Mrs. Sonja DuBois' second-grade class at Clymer Central School, and they recently had their turn to spend a week at the Little Red Schoolhouse. Carrie took the opportunity between her regular Spanish classes at the Clymer High School to drive out to the one-room schoolhouse and surprise her son Michael with a short class about Spanish language teaching in earlier times in our schools. Carrie augmented her short segment with a nearly 100 year old Spanish to English dictionary passed on to her by a Clymer elder. Not only did Carrie get to teach with her son in attendance for the first time, but she also got the rare opportunity to teach in the same one-room schoolhouse where her great-grandmother had taught 103 years ago.
Carrie's father, Randy Wassink, Michael's grandfather, came along on the visit as well and brought with him family photographs of his father Ralph Wassink and his grandmother Ethel Wassink and took the time to explain to the class about the "roots" of the family and community and the importance of the Little Red Schoolhouse to the preservation of local traditions and history, as well as keeping our youngsters well grounded and appreciative of not only what they have now but what has gone on for many generations before them.
The "Little Red Schoolhouse" is located 200 yards east of Route 474 on Clymer Center Road. Although there is no address on the building, the address is 7895 Clymer Center Road (Route 20) some maps show it as King's Corner Road, and there is no road sign at the intersection. The School is owned by Mrs. Nancy Westerburg of Clymer and is open for viewing or use by groups by appointment. Preserving the schoolhouses' past and the traditions are a passion for Nancy. Anyone with memorabilia, artifacts, or furnishings from, or related to, the Clymer Center School, Clymer District 5 - Little Red Schoolhouse, is encouraged to contact Nancy. Items such as old class photos and autograph books or report cards are always sought after. If nothing else she would appreciate seeing it. If you would like to donate an item, loan it for display, or just discuss the item, Nancy would love to hear from you. Her phone number is 499-6391, or you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carl Wassink is a grandson of Ethel (Schreurs) Wassink.