The Little Red Schoolhouse: A Doorway into Florham Park’s Past

Photo credits:

Lara ringing the bell: Bushra Omar

All other photos: Steve Sears

By Steve Sears

Once rural, now a very busy suburb, one need just visit a gem of a structure in Florham Park to see (better yet, feel) the contrast in years.

The Little Red Schoolhouse Museum, also known as Columbia School District No. 5 Schoolhouse, was built in the fall of 1866 and opened in 1867. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and then was re-instated on June 6, 1986. 

It serves as the home of the Florham Park Historic Preservation Commission and is located on the corner of Ridgefield Avenue and Columbia Turnpike, a very busy intersection. However, standing in front of the red, one-story schoolhouse and doing your best to tune out the street traffic noise, you can imagine farms dominating the area, the clang of the bell in the tower above the tiny school sounding, and local

Bushra Omar and her daughter, Lara Alesselan

children entering the front door to be educated. 

Suzanne Herold is Chair of the Florham Park Historical Commission and has been a member for seven years. “The Little Red Schoolhouse is at the heart of Florham Park,” she says. “For our community, it symbolizes our history and our future. The LRSH has been standing at Ridgedale and Columbia for longer than Florham Park has been incorporated as a town. We’re fortunate to have town leaders who are committed to the ongoing preservation of the Little Red Schoolhouse and a dedicated team of volunteers who apply for grants and work to keep the LRSH open to the public. The Schoolhouse reminds us of the importance of education – not only in the past, but also today. The LRSH shows the evolution and development of Florham Park from a rural area to a suburban community.”

Lara Alesselan

Bushra Omar and her daughter, Lara Alesselan, have lived in Florham Park for 4 ½ years. “So many times,” says Omar with emphasis when asked how often she and Lara had driven by the Little Red Schoolhouse and, due to a busy schedule, were unable to visit. “We always wanted to come and visit, and we just never did. It’s always open at times when we have other commitments. Even now – we’re actually supposed to be at a Girl Scout event,” she says with a laugh.

Lara turned back the clock 153 years, sitting at one of the period school desks in the building. “I wanted to sit on it,” she says of the desk’s adjoining seat, a huge smile on her face. Her Mom soon joined her, sitting at a neighboring desk, and when both exited, Lara pulled the taut rope inside the building’s entrance, causing the old bell to ring loudly to the neighborhood. “We thought we should stop here first,” Omar says.

Much local history is on display, the hardwood floor sturdily supporting aged photos and documents, an upright piano, 19th century women’s dresses, tools from a local, former cider mill, signage from old properties in town, and much more. A super friendly staff is on hand to answer questions when the location is open.

“The Florham Park Historic Preservation Commission welcomes visitors to the LRSH and hopes that people from all over New Jersey will visit to learn more about the one room schoolhouse model,” says Herold. “Local residents are invited to come share their memories of the LRSH as our town landmark – some people might remember seeing the LRSH moved a little further away from the center of Columbia Turnpike in the late 1970s. The community can support the LRSH by visiting, sharing old photographs, memorabilia, and stories, and by helping to preserve historic sites throughout their communities. Little Red Schoolhouse themed merchandise is also available.”

The Little Red School House Museum is scheduled to be open on April 4, May 2, June 6 and August 1 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information on the Commission, the Little Red Schoolhouse, and other historic properties, visit www.florhamparkhistoricpreservationcommission.org

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