A year from now, Long Islanders will be able to step back in time to the 1800s just by walking into a one-room schoolhouse.
The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation has awarded a $50,500 matching grant to the Southampton Historical Museum to restore the Red Creek Schoolhouse, which was built in the 1830s. The museum raised its share of the project funds by selling the Captain George White House in 2015.
Restoration work begins in January, and museum leaders hope to unveil the finished project next fall.
Tom Edmonds, the museum’s executive director, said he will hire carpenter Nathan Tuttle to restore the schoolhouse to its original look.
“We’re taking the whole building back to how it would look like from the 1830s,” Edmonds said. “It’s going to be very plain. We’re going to re-create the benches and long desks where four or five kids could sit at one desk.”
The Gardiner grant comes at an ideal time, Edmonds said, because the schoolhouse is in desperate need of repair.
“The outside is distressed,” he said. “The paint outside is peeling, it needs a new roof. It has a wood-shingle roof that’s in poor condition.”
In its heyday, the schoolhouse was a thriving and important building in what was once the Village of Red Creek. The schoolhouse held 40 children within a community that was known for making small boats for the whaling industry. As that industry faltered, so did the tiny village. Residents moved away and eventually the village disbanded. As a result, most of Red Creek’s history has vanished.
“This is the only building left from this storied community,” Edmonds said.
Nowadays, the museum uses Red Creek Schoolhouse — which will remain open during the restoration work — as a teaching tool. Educators bring students and show them how children were educated hundreds of years ago.
The Gardiner Foundation’s executive director, Kathryn Curran, said her organization likes how the schoolhouse gives students — and the public — a glimpse into Long Island’s past.
“There’s just one room, but [schoolhouses] were such an important part of our growth,” she said. “It’s important for children to see the changes over the years because history is ever evolving.”
The foundation has a history of donating to restoration projects. Likewise, this isn’t the first time the historical museum has restored an aging building.
In 2012, the museum raised about $400,000 to restore the 1825 Sayre Barn. There also are plans next year to begin raising money for restoring the 1648 Thomas Halsey Homestead, Edmonds said.
Those properties and the schoolhouse each have their unique history, but Edmonds said a common thread throughout the museum’s restoration work is offering Long Islanders a counterpoint to development and progress.
“As the East End continues to develop, and as Long Island itself develops, we’re trying to teach people about the way we used to live,” he said.
1738 Red Creek is laid out by town proprietors as part of Canoe Place Division
1795 Jesse and John Terry move to Red Creek and begin buying property
1825 Red Creek develops a city grid layout around existing homes
1830s The Terry family develops a thriving shipbuilding business, and Red Creek Schoolhouse is built
1869 Railroad service begins in Hampton Bays, ushering the decline of Red Creek
1926 William Hubbard buys the schoolhouse for $100 to store boats
1953 Hubbard sells the schoolhouse for $400 to the Southampton Historical Museum, and the building is moved to its current location in the Village of Southampton
Source: Southampton Historical Museum