Schools in Passaic County

From the Bulletin of the Passaic County Historical Society, February 1953


Manchester School No. 11 at Goffle Hill Road, Hawthorne, NJ


The first settlers along the Passaic River were Dutch.  Being a religious people and appreciating the value of a common school education for their children, they were prompt in establishing schools in their settlements.  In many instances, the office of the schoolmaster was vested in the local clergyman.

In 1693, the legislature of East Jersey enacted its first law relative to public education in its colony.  This law provided for an election annually of a committee in each township whose duty was to select and to employ a schoolmaster and levy a school tax upon the inhabitants of the town to defray the expenses of the school.

The hamlets and the villages of Passaic County were prompt in providing facilities for a common school education of the young.  Most of these schools were semi-public, however.  Some were partly supported by churches, most of them required the parents to pay some of the expenses, while many others were private in so far as all expenses were levied upon those attending.

However, there were schools in the little communities.  Perhaps the earliest on was that established at Pompton.  At Mountain View (Mead’s Basin) a school was operating at an early date; likewise, the old log school at Centerville (Athenia of today) (Athenia is a section of Clifton, NJ.) 

Very early in the 19th century, the Wesel neighborhood (that section laying close by the river in the vicinity of Cedar Lawn of today) established a small school at or near the corner of Market Street and Wesel Road.  This is conceded to be the first school to be established in what are now the confines of Paterson.  It stood for many years and under many different masters served its people as well as schools of its day.

In 1794, Miss Sarah Colt at the young age of twelve, established a school in the basement of her father’s house on Market Street, Paterson.  Here on Sundays she taught the children of the poor factory hands working in the S.U.M., the rudiments of reading and ciphering.  Her father, Peter Colt, was so well pleased with the undertaking that he was able to induce the S.U.M. to employ a regular master and continue the work begun by little Sarah Colt.

In the Spring of 1827, through the recommendation of several leading citizens of Paterson, a Town Meeting was called upon to act on the question of establishing a free school for the poor in the Paterson section of Acquackanonk Township.  Meeting in June of that year, the Township Committee allotted $275 to Paterson and $125 to the remainder of the township to pay the cost for the education of such children whose parents were not able to pay for their education and on July 2, 1827, the FIRST FREE SCHOOL IN PASSAIC COUNTY for the poor children was opened.  (See tablet on Franklin Trust Company Building opposite City Hall, on Market Street, in Paterson.)

The next step toward public education in Paterson Township (organized in 1831) was pursuant to an act of the legislature of 26 January 1836, which compelled the township to establish one or more free public schools.  This provided free education for all children.

After 1836, the designation Free Schools for the Poor was dropped and henceforth the schools were known as Public Schools.  These were free to all classes and creeds.