Written by John H. Meyer Friday, 14 August 2009 00:00According to my family and several other Massapequa natives that I have spoken with, the first school in Massapequa was built during the year of 1820 on property just west of where the old Grace Church and cemetery is presently located at Merrick Road and Cedar Shore Drive.
The building built entirely of wood was totally destroyed by fire in 1852 during the night, possibly from a stove fire used for heat. It wasn’t until 1910 that Massapequa had a fire department.
Shortly after that fire, the men in the community grouped together and built a new one-room school house very near to where the first school stood. A few years later, the new building was moved closer to Park Boulevard in the vicinity of where the Community Methodist Church now stands. I always heard talk that the school house was moved because the children, while in class, would watch the trotting horses exercising on a track just west of the school, something that kept their minds off their school work. And, if there were no trotters, there could be polo players practicing. The Massapequa area was noted for polo back in those early years, especially south of Merrick Road in the eastern part of the town known then as Fort Neck, South Oyster Bay.
My uncle told me that there were between 25 and 30 kids of different ages under the guidance of one teacher going to that school. Most of the children that attended the one-room school were from farming families and the caretakers that worked on the estates that dotted the tree-lined Merrick Road. He also said that there were times during the lunch break when there weren’t enough kids to make up teams to play a baseball game.
When the board of education was put in place, it consisted of one trustee and was directly responsible for the educational system in a town of less than 1,000 people. During that time a teacher would receive between $100 and $150 per year.
As the years went on and more and more children enrolled, larger quarters were needed. Land was purchased on Hicksville Road. However, the one-room school house was used until June 1925 when the original Massapequa Avenue School designed of true Colonial design and solid brick construction was completed.
Construction of the new school was not easy for the builder. While excavating for the basement, an underground stream was discovered that surfaced just south of the school property, where it created a small marshy pond. The architect had to make some major changes in the depth design of the building’s basement. Once the construction of the five classroom school was completed, about 100 children attended daily classes. The need for a dynamic principal was an important part of the school board’s agenda. At the start of the 1930 school year, Raymond J. Lockhart was hired as supervising principal. Ray and his wife Mary first lived in Biltmore Shores. A short time later they had a house built on Lincoln Avenue, walking distance to the school.
Lockhart, along with his principal duties, taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade mathematics and boys wood shop. I remember when I was in his shop class that he always had to be careful he didn’t hit his head on the heat and water pipes because of the shallow basement. Ray Lockhart was also active in all of the school’s sporting events.
In the fall of 1932, enrollment was now 200 pupils attending daily classes. Student body size was up to 300 by 1938. By 1938, the second school expansion was necessary to accommodate 350 elementary students.
During World War II the building boom in Massapequa made it necessary to build 10 schools to accommodate the increased student enrollment. However, high school-age children had to be bused to the Amityville High School for several years before a high school was built in Massapequa. Before the completion of the new schools, the overflow of enrollment was bused to specially constructed annexes on the second floor of the Hicksville Road Firehouse. The Grace Episcopal Church parish house, a vacant automobile showroom building in Amityville, and the Carriage House of the late George Stanton Floyd-Jones estate was now the site of the Massapequa High School. By 1953, Massapequa had grown so large that it was made an independent school district. Dr. Lockhart was appointed by the school board as the district’s first superintendent of schools. He held that position until he retired in March 1966. Shortly after retiring, Ray and his wife Mary moved to Vermont.
At the time of this writing, 189 years later, there are nine schools, over 8,000 students and more than 600 teachers in the Massapequa schools. The Massapequa School District has taken huge steps to provide education for young people over the past 189 years.