By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta
Anyone who has been on Ridgedale Avenue in Florham Park has seen the Little Red Schoolhouse. One can’t miss the one-story red brick masonry building with the steep roof and bell on top. Built circa 1866, the building has become an iconic landmark to the borough of Morris County.
In March 1867, the first group of students came onboard to learn at the one-room schoolhouse. And just one teacher educated students in grades one through eight. This was the area’s only school until 1914 and is listed on the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places.
The building is now a museum, operated by the Historic Society. It’s open to the public between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month. It’s also open to groups by appointment.
Inside the museum, visitors can get a feel for what the school was like during earlier times when the area was mainly a farming village. The exhibit has many artifacts on display that were collected by the historical society such as agricultural tools and early kitchen utensils. Visitors can also see the broom-making machines that farmers used. And there’s a section of the museum set up as a classroom, featuring an old blackboard, old desks and aged maps.
Currently exhibited are “items from a lady’s boudoir,” such as lingerie and a corset and swimwear – both male and female- from the early 20th century.
In addition to the opening as a museum, The Morris County Freeholders have honored the Borough of Florham Park with a Historic Preservation plaque, which was accepted by Mayor Mark Taylor at the freeholder’s June 8 meeting held at the Mennen Sports Arena in Morris Township.
The restoration project was partly financed through the Morris County Historic Preservation Grant Program, providing $202,000 to Florham Park for the project. The borough successfully completed ADA compliance, cupola and bell restoration, site work and a structural lintel.
According to Taylor, the schoolhouse is recommended for an additional award for $120,000 to be put towards more work. If the grant is approved, the money would go for exterior restoration, including a new west entrance door.
Taylor said, “We’re very conscious of its historic nature and take good care of it for future generations to enjoy.”
The biggest plan for the schoolhouse, according to Taylor, is to rip off the roof and put a new one on. A historic engineer and contractor will be doing the work. The completion of the restoration of the wood shingle roof will be financed with help from a 2015 grant.
Morris County Freeholder Deputy Director Hank Lyon added that “fixing up the bell” was part of the restoration. “It’s a beautiful building,” he said. “It’s going to continue to act as a museum and continuing to restore and preserve. This is the main historic building. There are others, but this is the key one. You can’t drive around Florham Park without noticing.”
Next year will mark the school’s 150th anniversary.
For more information on the Little Red Schoolhouse, and the borough’s history, visit: https://www.newjerseymemories.com/2015/07/the-little-red-schoolhouse-in-florham.html or https://www.florhamparkboro.net/.
For information on the county’s Historic Preservation Grant Program, visit: https://morriscountynj.gov/planning/divisions/prestrust/historic/.