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The first schools in what would later become LaFayette were formed in the 1790s. They were usually small one-room buildings, established when neighbors joined together to create a “District.” For example, LaFayette District No. 1 (originally designated as Pompey District No. 1) was located at the corner of Eager and Coye Roads. A schoolhouse had been at that location since 1799. By 1835, the local area was graced with thirteen districts and thirteen schoolhouses. The school year was considerably shorter then, as in 1851 District No. 1 “was open six months a year, four months under a qualified teacher.” The cost to taxpayers for all this education was a mere $25.60.

District No. 2, a joint district with DeWitt, had a “bad reputation for throwing the teacher out the back window.” During the Civil War, an especially large and strong teacher named Wesley A. Case was hired for the district. His size, and the whip he brought with him, were no match for the boisterous male students who tossed him right out the window anyway. Mr. Case is reported to have said years later “I picked myself off the ground and headed for LaFayette. I decided that farmin’ was a sight easier way of earnin’ a living than teachin’ in that stone school.” This school was later absorbed into what would become the J-D Central School District.

District No. 9, located in the Sherman Hollow area, was a good example of what many teachers faced back then. In 1851, there were seventy-two students between the ages of four and twenty-one in the district. There would have been one teacher! School lasted six and a half months that year. In 1928, planned repairs to the school, which included dividing the school into two rooms and hiring two teachers, caused an uproar. Apparently someone put forth the idea of obtaining a chemical toilet for the school. (Perhaps this citizen knew of Elsan, a British chemical toilet company from 1924.) One elderly farmer, described as “aghast,” declared that “[h]e had never had such a thing when he was a child, and it was immoral for children to sit on such a contraption. It put bad ideas in their heads.”

Even if educational issues such as school taxes, children with behavioral problems, and facilities maintenance seem perennial, the students of today can be thankful for many things. One student from the 1890s described having to get water for everyone each day by walking to a nearby house with a pail. (Everyone used the same dipper.) Older boys were responsible for making sure the wood stove or fireplace stayed lit, and students huddled close to the stove with coats and mittens on for the beginning of the school day. But the joys of education were also bright in early LaFayette. Charles Hoyt recollected his District No. 4 years, between 1810 and 1820, by naming “David Dodge…the best teacher we ever had in the school. He learnt me the rudiments of the spelling book.”

All information from J. Roy Dodge’s excellent “LaFayette, N. Y. A History of the Town and its people.” Manlius Publishing Corporation, Fayetteville, NY c. 1975. Used with permission.


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The LaFayette Optimists, the LaFayette Community Council…there are lots of active groups contributing greatly to our community today. However, one less familiar group from the past was “The LaFayette Society for the Detection of Horse Thieves.” Organized in 1831, the thirty-five original members paid a one dollar fee and promised to personally search for horses stolen from other members. Eventually almost every horse owner in town joined the society, as the area was beset by horse thievery in the 1830s and 1840s.

Soff Winchell of Tully Valley was described as “the most notorious horse thief in the vicinity.” He apparently hid stolen horses in a cave somewhere near Cardiff before foisting the animals off on new buyers. The "Soff Winchell Gang," as his group of equine rustlers was known, were extremely audacious. The gang once stole a white horse, painted it with spots, and rode it right past the unsuspecting owner the next day.

The Society was a tremendous deterrent to local thieves, as the group was called into action only twice in the first forty years. First, some missing colts were found to have just gone astray. Second, a young boy who actually resided with a member took off on a family horse. The child and horse were found fifty miles away, but no prosecution was made as the boy was deemed unable to understand the crime. Apparently the Society also served a social purpose. In 1872 “the members, with their wives and sweethearts, [had] a jollification, with an oyster supper, at the hotel of G.W. McIntyre, in LaFayette, the expense to be paid out of the funds of the society.”

All information from J. Roy Dodge’s excellent “LaFayette, N. Y. A History of the Town and its people.” Manlius Publishing Corporation, Fayetteville, NY c. 1975 pp. 95-96. Used with permission.

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