Landmarks: School-turned-grange could experience another rebirth

Vacant and left to waste away since 1989 when members of the Niskayuna Grange decided to leave and j

Vacant and left to waste away since 1989 when members of the Niskayuna Grange decided to leave and join forces with their Glenville colleagues, the little white building on Rosendale Road in Niskayuna may soon be springing back to life.

Once the Rosendale Common School and later home to Niskayuna Grange 1542, the one-and-a-half story, timber-framed structure was added to both the State and National Register of Historic Places earlier this year. A possible new tenant, the Environmental Clearing House of Schenectady, remains interested in the site, and town of Niskayuna Supervisor Joe Landry is hopeful things can be worked out and that the restoration process on the circa 1855 building can start soon.

“It’s in pretty tough shape right now, but we’re hopeful of coming up with some grant money and a plan to reuse it,” said Landry. “ECOS has some grant money, they’re interested, and we’d love to help them move their offices in here. It’s right next to the main entrance to the Lisha Kill Preserve, so they would be a perfect fit.”

Funding needed work

ECOS has a grant of $50,000 they’re willing to spend on rehabbing the place, and the town is trying to get another $100,000 to $150,000 in grants to finish the job.

“We have received a couple of grants that were directed toward the renovation of the Grange,” said Patrick Clear, executive director of ECOS, a nonprofit group formed in 1971 dedicated to understanding and preserving the natural environment throughout the Capital Region. “The town has an application in with the state so we’re just waiting for that. Then we can sign a lease with the town and get work started on the building.

“It’s a great location for us, with the Nature Conservancy’s Lisha Kill Preserve right in back of us and the two schools right down the road [Rosendale Elementary and Iroquois Middle School]. We do a lot of kids’ educational programs, so it’s a great fit for us.”

Originally a school

The building was constructed around 1855, sometime soon after the Free School Act of 1849 removed tuition requirements on parents and allowed districts to create new property taxes to fund schools. It attracted students K-8 for a half century before closing in 1915 when the Van Antwerp Middle School was built.

“There were three other schools in the Niskayuna area back then, and they were basically individual schools because they were not united into one district,” said Schenectady historian Frank Taormina, a former history teacher and high school principal in the Niskayuna district. “It was the county superintendent who was charged with supervising these schools. And while he had four schools in Niskayuna, he probably had a similar number in Glenville and Rotterdam. In the 19th century, they were typically all K-8, and if somebody wanted to continue and go to high school, they might go to a place like the Union Classical Institute in Schenectady.”

In 1908 at the age of 19, Charles T. Male taught classes at the school. A rare photograph from that year shows Male seated with a class of children numbering around 30.

“He was a Union College grad who created his own surveying company and went on to teach math and civil engineering at Union,” said Taormina. “He did quite well for himself and his family, got involved in politics and served in the state assembly. He was also chairman Republican Party in Niskayuna for a long period of time.”

Vacant for years

The building remained unused from 1915 until June of 1948 when it was sold to Niskayuna Grange 1542, a group that had been organized in 1935 with 57 charter members. Affiliated with the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the national grange was an agricultural organization created in 1867 to help farmers make better use of their land. The group still exists but its ranks have diminished significantly in the last 30 years. Farmers, who made up a third of our nation’s population in the early 20th century, now account for less than 2 percent.

Famous for its gingerbread cookie contests and roast beef dinners throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Niskayuna Grange slowly began declining in the late 1960s, and by 1988 decided to close its doors and sign on with Glenville Grange 1544.

“I can remember when it was a hustling, bustling place,” said Edwin Reilly Jr., president of the Schenectady County Historical Society and the first Democratic Niskayuna town supervisor. “They used to have some grand dinners, and they also would let both political parties hold their meetings there. I think it might have been at the Niskayuna Grange that I was nominated to run for supervisor in 1969. There used to be a lot going on at the place.” Reilly served from 1970-79 and again from 1989-97.

A badly damaged piano and what may be the original desk and chairs from the Rosendale School are still in the building, along with a collection of ribbons won at various Grange competitions. Also, a large painting still hangs on the east wall of the building, which along with the one main room has a small addition to the rear.

Work to get in shape

“We have to lift up the foundation, restore it, and then place it back down,” said Landry. “It’s actually a pretty good foundation, and then we would start some other renovation projects inside. We don’t know who did the painting, but we would possibly keep it there, have some exhibits out here in the public space and then the ECOS offices in the back after we redo that.

“We want to preserve it, put it in good shape and then get some use out of it,” added Landry. “It’s a town asset we’ve had for many years, and it’s time to try to do something with it. Hopefully, within the next couple of years, it will be restored and also being used.”

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply