Miss George saves a cemetery

Sepia Saturday 448: Seventh in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

In addition to her career in education, my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George was active in civic projects in the Endwell, N.Y., community where she taught.

So in 1960, the same year she directed me and my classmates in her play about Endwell’s early settlers, Miss George was also hard at work on a committee to restore the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery where they were buried.

Hooper-Patterson Cemetery as viewed from River Road in Endwell, Broome County, N.Y. (2018) Rather than a scary place, this cemetery became a fascinating destination for me and my fourth grade classmates. We would ride there on our bicycles to read the tombstone inscriptions and keep tabs on the restoration project our teacher Miss George was involved in. Photo: Molly Charboneau

My fascination with cemeteries — which I share with many genealogists and family historians — took root during my year in Miss George’s class, where she held forth on the disgrace of a historic cemetery overgrown with weeds and neglected by the town.

A fascinating cemetery

Miss George gave us regular updates on the cemetery restoration efforts — and we wanted to see them for ourselves. Thus the small Hooper-Patterson Cemetery — rather than seeming a scary place haunted by ghosts — became a historically interesting destination that my classmates and I often rode to on our bicycles.

We also wanted to know more about the characters we portrayed in Miss George’s play — and as we read the tombstones we were surprised to discover many graves of children, some of whom had died when they were younger than us. An unforgettably sobering experience for a fourth grader!

Grave makers in Hooper-Patterson Cemetery (2018). Miss George was involved in early restoration of this historic Endwell, N.Y., cemetery, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. These efforts are continued today by volunteer restorationists. Photo: Molly Charboneau

A few years back, I contacted the Broome County Historical Society to see if they might have copies of Miss George’s plays. They did not — but instead they sent a copy of a small brochure titled “Endwell’s Early Days: A Profile,” which Miss George wrote in 1960.

When the brochure arrived I suddenly remembered having seen it as a child — with its careful sketch of the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery and tombstones, along with transcripts of each stone and a narrative history in the voice of settler Amos Patterson. Rereading it was like being in Miss George’s class all over again! (Click here to see the brochure.)

A collective restoration campaign

Probably because she loomed large in my fourth-grade life, I always thought Miss George was the catalyst of the cemetery restoration.

http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn90066578/1960-05-25/ed-1/seq-5.pdf
Endicott Daily Bulletin article (May 25, 1960). “The restoration committee with assistance by Miss Helen George, a Hooper School teacher, is compiling a brochure which will include the location of each tombstone, and the inscription and history,” the Bulletin reported. Source/full page: nyshistoricnewspapers.org

But according a May 25, 1960, article in Endicott Daily Bulletin, the Endwell Rotary Club (which my dad belonged to) and the Garden Club of Endwell were key players on the restoration committee.

“The project has included the replacing of tombstones, restoration of the cemetery fence, grading, and seeding of the lawn,” the article said. “The Garden Club expects to do some planting.”

The  project was not without its challenges. According to the article, “Inclement weather has hindered the project schedule. The committee last Saturday found two sections of the cemetery fence in the Susquehanna River.” Nevertheless, the restoration moved ahead — as did publication of Miss George’s brochure.

“The restoration committee with assistance by Miss Helen George, a Hooper School teacher, is compiling a brochure which will include the location of each tombstone, and the inscription and history,” the Bulletin reported.

Restoration efforts continue

I pay a nostalgic visit the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery whenever I am in Endwell, usually for my high school reunion — and this year was no exception.

The cemetery overlooking the Susquehanna River still looks good — grass mowed and damaged tombstones propped up. No signs of the weedy neglect Miss George was so worked up about in 1960.

While researching this blog post, I made the happy discovery that the cemetery has inspired a new generation of volunteer restorationists to take up the task of keeping the grounds and stones in shape — after one of them happened upon the graveyard during a walk on River Road.

They’re raising funds, resetting pavers, clearing brush, trimming trees and doing what they can to keep the cemetery looking good — just like Miss George and her committee did when she was around. I’m sure she would be pleased.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here. 

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Miss George directs a play

Sepia Saturday 447: Sixth in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

My fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George was a history buff — so is it any wonder that she wrote and directed plays about local and state history for my classmates and I to appear in?

In her play “Hooper’s Favored Site,” Miss George created a drama about the settlers who ventured west in the early 1800s and came to rest near Binghamton, N.Y., in what is now known as Endwell — but back then was called Hooper.

Washingtonian Hall (2108). This historic home of Amos and Ann Patterson stills stands on River Road along the Susquehanna in Endwell, N.Y. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Settler history at school

In Binghamton, Its Settlement, Growth and Development: And the Factors in Its History, 1800-1900, published in 1900, William Summer Lawyer described the town’s founding:

Hooper is the name of a small unincorporated village of perhaps less than a dozen dwellings, with one general store, a district school, and a milk depot on the main road leading from the city to [Town of] Union. One of the earliest residents in this locality was Elisha Hooper, who came from Massachusetts in 1807, and died in 1869. The hamlet, however, was named for Philander Hooper, son of the settler and one of the prominent men of the locality.

Miss George based her play on these local details, and we fourth graders portrayed the families of Hooper and another early settler Amos Patterson — whose large house still stands on River Road near the Hooper-Patterson family cemetery that we often rode over to on our bikes.

Miss George’s script is lost to history — but I remember appearing in her play in an old-time dress (sewn by my grandmother) that my Mom or her sister Aunt Rita had worn when they were in grade school.

Native history in the neighborhood

What I don’t remember was any mention of the Native Americans who inhabited the area before the settlers arrived.

Depiction of a Susquehannock on the Smith Map (1624). The handwritten caption reads “The Susquehannocks are a giant-like people and thus attired.”  The Susquehannock people, whose original tribal name has been lost, lived along the Susquehanna River until displaced by settlers. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, it was not unusual back then for Native history to be omitted from school curricula.

So we fourth graders had to expand our knowledge elsewhere — like in our neighborhoods.

My street was only one block from the Susquehanna River, where pretty much any digging with a backhoe unearthed carefully chiseled arrowheads.

These exquisite projectiles bore historic testimony to the sheer numbers of displaced Native people — like the Susquehannocks and others — who for generations had lived, planted, hunted and fished along those shores.

Broome County’s website today pays tribute to the Native guardians of the land, identifying some of their settlements:

Until the end of the American Revolution, the Broome County area was inhabited by Native Americans. Two main settlements were found at Onaquaga, near present-day Windsor, and Otseningo, located along the Chenango River, just north of the present-day City of Binghamton. Smaller Settlements could be found at Chugnuts, Castle Creek and the Vestal area.

What came before

Despite her play’s shortcomings, Miss George’s general enthusiasm for history was infectious as she directed us in our roles.

My time in her fourth grade class marked the beginning of my own interest in history, social science and delving deeply into the past to draw lessons for today — one reason why Molly’s Canopy carries a statement that honors Native land.

Miss George sparked my curiosity about what came before — and for that I will always be grateful.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Miss George in the classroom

Sepia Saturday 446: Fifth in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

My fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George entered my life in September 1959 — a landmark school year for me with so many new  things to learn.

My memories of first through third grades do not stand out in the same way, although I am sure my teachers were able and dedicated.

Ready for my closeup in my fourth grade class photo (circa 1959-60). While in Miss George’s fourth grade class I learned to write cursive, appeared in a play and began studying French as a second language. Scan by Molly Charboneau

But I recall many details of fourth grade, which began when I was 9 years old. Foremost among them is Miss George holding forth and coaching us on one topic or another.

The blessing of cursive

For one thing, fourth grade was when we learned to perfect our cursive handwriting — that lovely, flowing style that is finally making a comeback after not being taught for a generation. And Miss George made sure we honed this invaluable skill.

First, she taught us how to make running ovals on lined paper — long lines of slinky-like circles that had to be even and neat as we held our  pencils at the proper angle.

Next, she had us fill in various silhouettes  (busts of presidents, animals, trees, you name it) with the delicate rows of circles — awarding stars and wall postings for those whose work excelled.

One of my  fourth grade art projects (circa 1959-60). I suspect I was a Marx Brothers fan, from the looks of this paper bag puppet made in Miss George’s class. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Finally Miss George gave specific instruction in how to form each letter just so, and how to link them together into words — something I continued to refine up through junior high.

I was heartbroken when I learned that schools had stopped teaching cursive handwriting — a must for rapid note taking and for deciphering family and historical documents.

So I was pleased to discover it has recently returned to school curricula — and I’m sure Miss George would be pleased, too.

Art, awards and a visiting French teacher

My mother, who taught elementary school music, diligently saved my landmark childhood projects, report cards and awards — and those of my siblings — in a “baby box” that was later presented to each of us as adults. So I have a couple of souvenirs from my time with Miss George.

One is a cigar-smoking paper bag puppet (above) that has lasted through the years — a sample of the type of creative art project Miss George assigned to us. The other is my wrapper from a large Hersey’s candy bar (below) — a major reward presented by Miss George for a job well done.

Wrapper of a coveted award from Miss George (circa 1959-60). Miss George gave out large candy bars as rewards for a job well done. Alas, my younger brothers ate mine! Photo by Molly Charboneau

My younger brother Mark told me that I hung onto the intact candy bar for a while to savor the pleasure of the prize — until he and my youngest brother Jeff snuck into my room, tore open the wrapper and started eating it!

Yet another landmark fourth grade event was the introduction of French language immersion by a visiting instructor.

I remember gazing quizzically out Miss George’s classroom window at falling snow as the teacher repeated over and over, “La neige est blanche.” (The snow is white.) — to try to teach the concept of black and white. I am grateful for those early French lessons whenever I research my Québécois ancestors!

I take to the stage

Perhaps my most vivid memory from my year with Miss George is taking to the stage in my first acting role.

As discussed in the last post, Miss George regularly used stagecraft to impart lessons to her students. And in 1959-60 she created two plays about town and state history that were put on by my fourth grade class. More on this in the next post.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs  of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Miss George in the news

Sepia Saturday 445: Fourth in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

1939: Helen George at age 22. In this senior photo from the Cortland Normal School Didascaleion yearbook, a young Miss George seems to radiate a sense of purpose that was well-honed by the time I had her for fourth grade 20 years later. Scan: Molly Charboneau

After graduating in 1939 from Cortland Normal School (now SUNY Cortland), my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George, 22, launched her career as an educator at Hooper School in Endwell, N.Y. — just west of her Binghamton hometown.

Those were the days when small-town papers regularly reported on local personalities and happenings — including updates on local schools and teachers.

So Miss George was in the news for two decades before I had her for fourth grade.

A 1945 holiday program

The earliest news article I have found — titled “Hooper School Pupils to Give Yule Program” — appeared in the Dec. 17, 1945, Endicott Daily Bulletin and gave evidence of Miss George’s many talents.

http://endicott.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?i=f&d=01011855-12311960&e=helen%20george&m=between&ord=e1&fn=endicott_daily_bulletin_usa_new_york_endicott_19451217_english_6&df=11&dt=20
Dec. 1945: Miss George directs a play. [Click to enlarge.] This Endicott Daily Bulletin article describes a play by 4th and 5th graders directed by my fourth grade teacher Helen George. Stagecraft was just one of her many educational tools. Source/full article: Digital Archives of the George F. Johnson Memorial Library
The third paragraph says, “Members of the fourth and fifth grades will be in charge of the first program to be directed by Miss Helen George.”

The program was a holiday-themed play featuring eight grade-school actors — plus a ninth who did the introduction.

This news story particularly interested me because Miss George later directed two plays put on by my fourth grade class — a very big deal for us youngsters.

It never occurred to me then that this stagecraft was something she did on a regular basis!

Career, social life and faculty activity

On June 28, 1949, as the early Baby Boomers reached grade school age, Hooper School’s record enrollment of 800 elementary students made the Endicott Daily Bulletin — with Miss George on the roster of fourth grade teachers.

Another article is the same issue describes “Miss Helen George of Binghamton” attending a bridal shower for Miss Dorothy Carey. So just  like in college, she also found time for fun social activities.

http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn90066578/1951-10-03/ed-1/seq-5/#date1=01%2F01%2F1725&city=&date2=12%2F31%2F2016&searchType=advanced&SearchType=prox5&sequence=0&lccn=sn90066578&index=11&words=George+Helen&proxdistance=5&county=&to_year=2016&rows=20&ortext=&from_year=1725&proxtext=Helen+George&phrasetext=&andtext=&dateF
October 1951: Helen George appointed Legislative Committee chair by Hooper School faculty association. Source/full article: NYS Historic Newspapers

She was involved in the Hooper School faculty association, too.

An Oct. 3, 1951, article in the Endicott Daily Bulletin reported Miss George’s appointment as Legislative Committee chair at a faculty meeting at the Octagon Inn in Glen Aubrey, N.Y. — a position she held until at least 1955.

Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. Miss George was always pushing me and my fourth grade classmates to take an interest in social studies — and she was active in local civic projects, too.

Honored for length of service

One last Endicott Daily Bulletin clip from June 4, 1959 — titled “Endwell: 3 Local Faculty Members Honored for Service” — spotlights Miss George right before I had her for fourth grade.

http://endicott.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=%22helen%20george%22&i=f&d=01011855-12311960&e=helen%20george&m=between&ord=k1_e1&fn=daily_bulletin_usa_new_york_endicott_19590604_english_7&df=1&dt=10
June 1959: Helen George honored for 20 years of service to Endwell school children. Source/full article: Digital Archives of the George F. Johnson Memorial Library

She was one of three teachers honored by the PTA for having “served Endwell school children for a total of 84 years.”

In appreciation, Miss George and the other teachers “were presented orchids during a program held following the PTA’s annual ice cream social.”

At that point Miss George had been teaching for 20 years — and come September 1959, I would become one of her fourth grade students.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs  of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Miss George goes to college

Sepia Saturday 444: Third in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

Born in 1917, my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., where she lived with her parents and younger brother Thomas.

Miss George’s childhood spanned the Roaring Twenties — a period when women jettisoned the confining clothing and ideas of the previous century, finally won the right to vote and envisioned new possibilities for their lives, including higher education and careers.

https://www2.cortland.edu/about/history/
Cortland Normal School, Old Main campus (1923). In circa 1936  my fourth grade teacher Helen George enrolled in a  teacher training program here. She graduated with teaching credentials in 1939. The school is now the State University of New York at Cortland. Photo: SUNY Cortland

So the tenor of the times may have influenced Miss George’s decision to become a teacher — a job that many young women, including my maternal grandmother, embraced as their calling during the same period.

Early education

Miss George’s early education was in the the Binghamton, N.Y., public school system.

Today the large, modern Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School sits across from her childhood home at 22 Ogden Street — and Miss George may have attended its predecessor at the same location.

Binghamton Central High School. My fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George attended high school here in the 1930s. Photo: pressconnects/Broome County Historical Society

Later, Miss George went to Binghamton Central High School — as confirmed by her listing on the student rosters of several BCHS yearbooks I found online.

Her high school –which was built in 1915 and relatively new when she attended — still holds classes in the original building shown above and in several adjoining structures that have been added over the years.

On to college

After graduation, Miss George went on to college at the Cortland Normal School in Cortland, N.Y. (now SUNY Cortland) — just a short trip north from her Binghamton hometown.

Her father Thomas George was a railroad conductor who probably made sure she knew the train route back and forth to school — since rail was the standard means of transportation for New York college students at the time.

Miss George’s parents were surely proud of her educational ambitions. According to the 1940 U.S. Census1 Helen’s father had only completed the 6th grade and her mother Anna the 8th grade. So raising a daughter who not only graduated from high school but was headed to college must have been gratifying to them both.

And I can only imagine Miss George’s excitement to arrive at Cortlandt Normal School to study among hundreds of like-minded young women who were also preparing for an educational career.

Graduation in 1939

Miss George graduated in 1939 after completing a degree in General studies, according to her listing in the Didascaleion yearbook published by her senior class.

Cortlandt Normal School, Didascaleion yearbook, Class of 1939. Bottom row, first from right: Senior yearbook photo of Miss George, 22, wearing her signature eyeglasses. Scan: Molly Charboneau

According to her yearbook, during her third year Miss George belonged to Alph Beta (presumably a sorority) and was on the Co-No staff in her first year.

The oddly named Co-No-So is described as the “club for non-club girls,” featuring “fun and good times,” “new challenges for underclass women,” seasonal parties, a winter snow sculpture contest, and a spring banquet freaturing “fluffy dresses, flowers, delicious food, music, and always the spirit of friendship.”

Although I can’t quite picture no-nonsense Miss George in a fluffy dress, it’s nice to learn that she enjoyed the social side of her college years apart from her studies.

And by 1945 — six years after graduation — she was back in the Southern Tier teaching Endwell, which is west of Binghamton, where she became my fourth grade teacher at Hooper School in 1959-60.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs  of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf (and road trip) at a time