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Garrison School History

A look back at the 200+ year history of the Garrison Union Free School.

Public education in New York State was largely under the control of churches through the 18th century. In 1793, the minutes of the Vestry of St. Philip’s in-the-Highlands, an Episcopal Church, report a resolution to build a Free School by subscription. The small wooden school remained on church grounds until 1866, when it was designated the Garrison Union Free School District by New York State. Local landowner Frederick Philipse gave another site (farther north along River Road, now Route 9D) and the schoolhouse was moved. Its second home was a wooden building across from the current Post Office.

By 1908, the school had outgrown its 1866 building. The family of the late railroad president Samuel Sloan, wanted: “a school…which by its improved furnishings and appointments will afford better facilities and advantages to aid in carrying out the plan of education therein contemplated to be given to the children of said District…” and gave the District a piece of land of approximately four acres in exchange for $1. The building that is the heart of the current school was constructed thereon of local stone in 1909. Garrison families contributed funds for furnishings.

The land given by the Sloan family for the school had been purchased by Sloan in 1882 from Judge John Garrison, for whom Garrison’s Landing was named in 1847. Garrison’s sons, William and George, built and ran the Highland House hotel on the property next to the school. This property, 100 years later, was given by William H. Osborn to the School District to almost double the size of the School lot to 9 acres.

John Garrison’s father, Harry, had originally moved to Garrison in 1785, when he married Jane Nelson, the daughter of Joshua Nelson and the granddaughter of Jacob Mandeville. In 1803, Harry Garrison bought 125 acres from Cornelius Nelson. The Garrisons were descended from Gerret Gerretson, who came to America on the “Gilded Beaver” from Holland in 1660.

Before railroads and, later, roads and highways, each one-room schoolhouse and its neighboring families (most within walking distance) constituted a separate school district. In 1853, the State authorized the creation of “union free” districts, formed from the merger of smaller, “common” school districts. In 1870, there were over 11,300 school districts in the state; that number has steadily decreased to 704 today. A 1947 Master Plan encouraged small district consolidation (technically known as reorganization). Small neighboring school districts mutually agreed to merge together, usually in order to support a high school. Small school districts, which essentially represented neighborhoods, merged because of commonly held educational goals and similar tax bases, and without particular regard for town political boundaries.

The Garrison Union Free School District was so designated on November 3, 1866 (“Union Free” is a designation that describes a school district formed from the union of other districts). It was District Number 4 out of 14 separate districts in the Town of Philipstown in 1913. The GUFSD subsequently grew through the process of merging with a number of former school districts: Graymoor (District 3, which joined Garrison in 1925), and Travis Corners and Nelsons Corners (Districts 6 and 7, which joined in 1932). Continental Village (District 5) was annexed to Garrison in 1933; however, in 1948 (when hundreds of new homes had been built there) it was transferred to the Lakeland School District by mutual agreement of all districts. In 1971, Garrison merged with the Manitou School District, which had for some years existed without a schoolhouse and sent all students to the Haldane Central School District, also located in Philipstown.

Today, children living in Philipstown attend school in the Haldane, Garrison, or Lakeland districts. When children graduate from Garrison School in eighth grade, they have the choice of attending high school in the Haldane or Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery Central School Districts, and GUFSD pays tuition to those districts.

The Garrison Union Free School District, with a population of around 1300 households, currently has 293 students in elementary and middle school, and 100 public high school students. The District is one of 30 union free school districts statewide providing elementary education only.

The original 1909 building continues to be the heart of the School. It was added on to in the 1950s and 1960s. In October 2002, the District celebrated the opening of a new addition, the first in 35 years, that added a new gym, computer lab, and eight classrooms that form a separate middle school wing.

In addition to the main 9 acre campus, the District also owns the 4.5 acre playing field located across Route 9D and a 181 acre School Forest located to the east of the school. The School Forest was donated by the Sloan and Osborn families and some neighbors beginning in the late 1950s. It offers hiking trails and contains the ruins of a Revolutionary-era redoubt that was part of the defenses of West Point.

Anita Prentice
Board of Education Member, 2004
Additional Reading