Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill City School District Graduates 100th Class

Celebrate our district’s centennial with a history lesson
Peekskill School Administration Building, Formerly Ford Theater. (From Peekskill MIlitary Academy, no date.)

Today (June 26) marks the 100th graduation ceremony of the Peekskill City School District. But many may not realize that schools have existed here for at least 200 years, the creation of organized districts coinciding with the Common School Laws of the early 1800s. These laws provided a basis for our modern public school system, allowing local officials to establish districts, elect a board of trustees, and receive government funding. 

Building was one of the oldest schools in Peekskill (Oakside District). Linden Street was where Bohlmann Towers is currently located. The road is now part of the parking lot and access road.

For almost a century, the Peekskill school system was broken into two districts: Oakside (No. 8) and Drum Hill (No. 7). This fractured educational plan was emblematic of a rift in the community. Working class citizens were largely settled south of MacGregory’s Brook, close to the docks and industrial buildings where they were employed. Many of their school age children would attend Drum Hill and other District 7 schools.

Wealthier Peeskillians could afford to live uptown in grander Victorian houses, like the ones that dot Nelson Avenue, and sent their children to Oakside schools. In a Highland Democrat article from December 1858, one disgruntled member of District 8 who opposed consolidation claimed their schools were “… a great deal more respectable than No. 7” and “their district [No. 7] is poor compared to ours.” The fact that both schools would benefit from the efficiency of consolidation did not matter, as some from Oakside believed it would disproportionately benefit No. 7 and, “they don’t deserve our aid.”

Laying Drum Hill Cornerstone 1859 (The Field Library Z Photo Collection)
Drum Hill School circa 1859.

This external rivalry was coupled with internal turmoil. As industry rapidly increased Peekskill’s population, the districts struggled to make space for students. In the span of about 50 years, both Oakside and Drum Hill Districts built and outgrew three schools. The constant congestion and readjustment was not a productive learning environment for Peekskill students.

Community members did not let their concerns go unheard. Two votes, one in 1840 and one in 1893 were held to formally consolidate the two districts. While the 1840 vote passed, it proved to be an unsatisfactory agreement between the two districts. Beginning steps to organizing a consolidated district, like choosing a site for the school house, could not be agreed upon. Consolidation was rescinded four months later. The second vote was supported by members of the Drum Hill District but failed to win favor with those in Oakside. 

Finally, in 1923, William H H MacKellar reintroduced the concept of consolidation. A businessman, Evening Star columnist, and important member of the Peekskill community, MacKellar’s insistence led to a public discussion about the future of the Drum Hill and Oakside School Districts. In a landslide victory on both sides, the two became one. Thus, 2024 marks the one hundredth anniversary of this unified Peekskill School District (PUFSD). It is what we celebrate this historic year: unity, inclusion, and progress all in the name of success for our future generations.

Education in Peekskill has changed drastically since 1924. New schools have been built and torn down, one was turned into a senior living facility. Many features of today’s classroom: a STEAM Innovation Center, robotics lab, Promethean Panels and 3-D printers, might sound like science fiction to PUFSD’s first graduating class.

Construction on Woodside and Hillcrest School, 1954 (From Peekskill Evening Star Collection at The Field Library.)

As important as it is to note all the ways we have progressed, we would be remiss not to recognize the similarities as well. The core topics, “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”, are still being taught to students, even if the format has changed. A focus on utility and the option to take career preparation classes (as opposed to a typical school schedule) was all the rage in 1931. And now, these options for students are limitless: mechanics, construction, forestry, fashion design, you name it, it’s in the Peekskill School District Catalog.

Here’s to another one hundred years of Peekskill Pride. To the students of the Peekskill City School District: congratulations and we are wishing you all the best!

About the Contributor
Sarah Scott
Sarah Scott is a local history librarian and archivist at The Field Library. After receiving her BA and MA in History and MS in Information Science, Sarah was lucky enough to find a position at the Field Library that utilized both her degrees. When she isn’t at the reference desk or in the archives, Sarah enjoys reading romcoms, hanging out with her pets, and trying out new food spots in town.