194-year-old downtown schoolhouse getting complete renovation

‘Building and Grounds workers were at the Fresh Pond School house Thursday morning doing renovations to the Fresh Pond Schoolhouse. (Credit: Barbarellen Koch)
‘Building and Grounds workers were at the Fresh Pond School house Thursday morning doing renovations to the Fresh Pond Schoolhouse. (Credit: Barbarellen Koch)

Built in 1821, the Fresh Pond Schoolhouse was once one of 15 single-room schoolhouses in Riverhead Town. Boys would sit on one side of the room; girls, on the other side.

The schools were heated by wood stoves, fueled by wood brought inside by the students themselves.

These days, the Fresh Pond Schoolhouse — located on the ground of East End Arts — is in the process of getting a top-to-bottom renovation, soon to be in use by the arts nonprofit as a multi-use building for events such as poetry readings and film presentations.

Schoolhouse2“It won’t be for one particular project,” said East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder. “The idea is to be able to use the space to help extend the season — in the spring through the fall — to bring more people downtown.”

The Fresh Pond Schoolhouse is one of several buildings on a lot leased by East End Arts since 1972 — a parcel which is owned by Riverhead Town. Though the schoolhouse was renovated in the late 1970s, several floods and a leaky roof have done their fair share of damage to the 432-square-foot building.

“It’s a complete makeover,” said town engineer Ken Testa. “Everything it needs, we’ll do.”

With grant funding through a Suffolk County Downtown Revitalization program, the town is spending nearly $30,000  to put a new roof on the building, interior and exterior lighting from the time period it was built, and put in a new heating/ventilation/air conditioning system.

“With the humidity in there in the summer, that could lead to mold all over the building. And this will make the building more usable year-round for educational purposes,” Mr. Testa said.

The town’s Building & Grounds Department is handling the work on the project, saving the town labor costs it otherwise would have spent putting the project out to bid.Schoolhouse4

According to “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic,” a publication written by the town historian’s office, there were 15 different schools in Riverhead Town by 1872 from Wading River to Northville toward the north of town and from Manorville to Jamesport toward the south.

“These school buildings were nearly all the same model,” the publication states. “They were usually 16 to 20 feet wide by 30 to 40 feet long, a single low story in height and plainly built.”

The Fresh Pond Schoolhouse — which represented district No. 12 in town and moved to its current location in the 1970s — measures 18 by 24 feet.

According to Richard Wines, chairman of the town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the schoolhouse is one of about five or six still left standing today. One of the schools, which previously stood near the corner of Sound Avenue and the Northville Turnpike, is now on Mr. Wines’ property.

According to Ms. Snyder, once the renovation to the schoolhouse is complete — which could be by the end of April — it will be open to community organizations that are looking to hold events downtown.

“It should look adorable,” she said. “It has the potential to look so much sweeter than it does.”

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