EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - The second and third era of the East Brunswick Public Schools brought numerous changes and additional commodities that helped transform the East Brunswick School System into what it has become today. Gone were the days of the wooden one and two-room schoolhouses that could barely keep a building warm. Of course, these changes did not happen overnight. It took years for all the township’s schools to become the multi-floor solid brick concrete structures that helped modernize the school district. For this article, we will not only be focusing on the schools that came about during this period, but also some of the amenities that were provided that we still have in our district today.
As the township started to grow, so did the need for newer and modern structures for the township’s schools. The structures already in place started to become overcrowded and had aged to a point of deterioration. One and two-room wooden schools houses could no longer accommodate the growing number of students, so the need for newer and solid concrete brick structures were needed. During this period, five new schools were constructed to replace their aging one and two-room wooden counterparts. These schools included Crandall, Weston’s Mill, Wade, Weber, and McGinnis.
Beginning the second era of the East Brunswick Public Schools, in the Village of Old Bridge, stood the three-story Crandall School. The roughly $10,000 school was constructed in 1908 as a replacement for the two-room schoolhouse that stood in its place. The school was dedicated on December 24, 1908 as Old Bridge Public School No. 3. It was later renamed Crandall School in 1938 to honor local resident and war veteran, Sgt. Joseph B. Crandall, who was killed in France during combat in World War I. The school consisted of three classrooms and a multi-purpose room. Over time, as the township population grew, the grades started to shuffle around. By the 1970s, the school started to only house Kindergartners. In 1977, the school shut down after the board voted against spending $10,000 for a sprinkler system that would have kept it going. The building was then left vacant for a while, but the playground area was left under the recreation department’s jurisdiction. For a brief period, the Memorial Medical Center in South Amboy used it as a school for troubled minors. Today, it has now been converted into apartments, and is the oldest standing school building of its kind in the township.
Off of Route 18, stood the one-story Weston’s Mill School. The school, which cost $19,400 to build, was constructed in 1914 as a replacement for the original one-room schoolhouse of the same name after it was condemned by the state school inspector. In 1958, after Lawrence Brook Elementary School opened, the school started to only house students with special needs. By 1963, after almost 50 years, the school shut down for good. Afterwards, the building was used as township municipal offices. By 1967, the building was once again utilized to specifically help students with special needs. In 1974, as part of a deal with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the state to improve the Route 18 and Eggers Road intersection, the township had to purchase the twelve acres of land on which Weston’s Mill School rests. The township recommended selling the land. However, no one was interested in buying the property. By 1980, the board decided, once again, to sell the building, but continued to be unsuccessful. The following year, however, it finally was sold, and became a charm and modeling school. Unfortunately, its usage would only last for five years when, in 1986, it was destroyed by a fire. Today, the Turnpike Metroplex office building sits in its place.
Starting the third era, on Milltown Road, the two-story Wade School served students of the Tanner’s Corner area. The $45,000 four-room school was built as a replacement for Summerhill School, and was dedicated on December 16, 1922. The building was the first in a series of new school buildings throughout the 1920s to be designed by county architect, Alexander Merchant. The school was named for the late John H. Wade, who served on the Board of Education for 21 years, while also serving as district clerk. This was the first school in the township to be named after a person, rather than its location. Also, it was the first school in the township to have installed heating ventilation. Two pine trees were planted on each side of the school (one of which still stands today). The trees were donated by Fred Reed of Cranbury, and would be used as the school Christmas tree during the holidays. The school served as the primary meeting place for the Board of Education. For a brief period, the back of the building served as the site for the Township Midget League baseball team. In 1963, the Board of Education shut down the school and turned it into administration offices. In addition, the midget league field in the back of the school was taken out by the Route 18 expansion project. The building would continue its administrative use until 1992, when the Board of Education moved offices down Route 18. The building was sold to the township, which then sold it to a developer. In 1996, the building was demolished and the site became a housing development. Today, pieces of the school are now scattered at the East Brunswick Museum. In addition, the hydrangea bushes that were planted alongside the school were also saved and taken into a private residence.
For the residents of Patrick’s Corner stood the two-story Weber School. The school was built as a replacement for Lawrence Brook School. The school was named for the late Emil E. Weber, an area resident who lived off Riva Avenue, having immigrated to America from Germany in 1865, and served on the Board of Education for 24 years. The school opened its doors to the public on December 23, 1924, with a Christmas program. The school was formally dedicated on April 27, 1925, with the Charles L. Water J. Council, Order of United American Mechanics (O.U.A.M.) presenting the school with its flag. Manning Patrick gifted the new school with an electric piano (in spite of his opposition to have a new school built in that area). The school contained four classrooms and an auditorium. The school would continue to function until its closing in 1982. Unlike Crandall and McGinnis schools, Weber was the only pre-war school by the end of its run to still hold regular grade-school classes. Not long after the school shut down, the building was deeded to the Brain-Injured Children Association, who had already been leasing the building for $1 a year. In 1987, the township leased the former school to the East Brunswick Foundation to be used as a summer day camp for adults with special needs. Eventually, the building was left vacant. The township decreed that the former school must be used as an educational institution. Just down the road, the St. Mary’s Orthodox Coptic Church was eyeing the old building for use as an educational institution. By 2010, they took full ownership of the building and is now the St. Mary’s Christian Academy. It is the only early Merchant-designed schools in East Brunswick still standing to this day.
On Dunham’s Corner Road, stood the four-room McGinnis School. The school was named for the late Peter McGinnis, who served on the Board of Education and lived on the land where the school was built. Serving as a replacement for the then three-room Dunham’s Corner School, the school was dedicated on June 9, 1926, and coincided with the township’s 8th Grade Graduation ceremony (the school is discussed in greater detail in a previous article). In 1968, when Warnsdorfer Elementary School opened, the old school started housing only Kindergartners. In 1978, the school closed after 52 years of operation. Shortly thereafter, the former school was converted to the Special Services and Special Education offices. By 1989, the old building was left vacant and was used for storage space. In 1992, the building was sold to the township as part of a deal with the Board of Education. Over the course of more than 20 years, multiple businesses and institutions unsuccessfully tried to buy the former school, all while the building was decaying and crumbling. In 2014, the Torah Links of Middlesex County successfully purchased the former school. However, the old building was in a state where it was beyond repair, and saving it was not economically feasible. In 2015, the former school was finally demolished. Two years later, the Torah Links building was completed, and resembles the building that was once in its place.
Many changes in the school system during the second and third eras helped make daily school life much easier. During the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, the school population started to increase. This resulted in schools being unable to accommodate kindergarten through 8th grade, which was the standard at that time. Because students in certain grades were assigned to a specific school, those who did not live nearby were provided bus transportation for the first time. However, this created a problem for the students who were unable to walk home for lunch (as was typical during this time period), nor had the means to bring their lunches from home. As a result of this inconvenience, the schools stepped in to remedy this problem. In 1937, the Parent-Teacher Association of Weber School, in partnership with the Working Progress Administration (WPA), provided hot lunches for students at school, the first in the district to do so. A typical meal at that time cost about six cents, while underprivileged children would receive meals for free. The other schools would eventually follow suit, resulting in more students started having their lunches at school than at home.
Perhaps one of the most significant changes that happened during this time was the creation of the supervising principal position, now known today as the superintendent of schools. Previously, the schools were under supervision of the county superintendent. In 1929, that position was handed over to Murray A. Chittick, who began his career in the East Brunswick schools five years earlier as a teacher at Old Bridge Public School No. 3. Chittick was born and raised in the Village of Old Bridge, having gone through East Brunswick schools himself. Chittick also served in the army under the British government during World War I. Throughout his 28-year tenure under this position, he oversaw the schools during some of the most turbulent periods of the country’s history, leading through the Great Depression and World War II. During the war, he conducted school air raid drills, encouraged rationing, and had students finger-printed in case of a possible attack by a foreign adversary. He was also responsible for hiring the first music teacher in the school system, which also allowed them to purchase their first piano. The schools grew tremendously under his jurisdiction, and would continue to do so in the years to come.
Another big significant addition to the school system was the addition of the Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) for each of the schools. Despite the National Parent-Teacher Association having being founded in 1897, it did not become a part of East Brunswick schools until much later. The PTA made school life much more pleasant, helped put together events, purchased equipment and supplies, and ensured that schools kept up with the times. The first PTA formed in the district was under Wade School in 1924. Their organization lasted until the school’s closure in 1963. In 1926, McGinnis School’s PTA formed just after the school opened. In 1929, the PTA of Old Bridge Public School No. 3 formed (which later became the Crandall PTA). By 1954, the PTA of Crandall School combined with the PTA of Bowne School, and became the Crandall-Bowne PTA. Weston’s Mill School’s PTA formed in 1936, and, for a brief period, combined with the PTA of Wade School, making it the Wade-Weston’s Mill PTA. The following year, in 1937, Weber School’s PTA formed. Their previous attempt at a PTA lasted only a few years during the 1920s. In 1964, the PTA’s of both Weber and McGinnis School combined, becoming the Weber-McGinnis PTA.
Much had changed in the school system during these periods. These changes are still part of the school system today. Although, none of the aforementioned schools are in anymore, their legacy in the East Brunswick schools live on to this day. However, the biggest changes were yet to come. In the next article, we will be looking back at the fourth era of the school system, which gave us five new elementary schools in the township.
*Here's the link to the first article in this series: https://www.tapinto.net/admin/articles/east-brunswick-the-history-of-the-public-schools-the-first-era
Ethan Reiss is a life-long East Brunswick resident with a passion for its history and presenting to interested audiences. He worked for over a year under Middesex County’s East Jersey Olde Town Village, and is currently a member and volunteer at the East Brunswick Museum. He is actively seeking full-time employment. You can connect with Ethan through LinkedIn, where you can find his previous articles.