Keeping school: One-room schoolhouse preservation projects in the greater Finger Lakes region of New York State

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


John Briggs


One-room schoolhouse, Finger Lakes region, New York, Schoolhouse presrvation

Subject Categories

Education | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education


The most pervasive, permeating, and permanent change in the educational landscape of New York State during the 20 th century may well have been its change of venue. Numbering more than 10,000 at the beginning of the century, the number of school districts in New York had plummeted to 704 at the close. The result in many cases was a shift away from the school as the center of its small community toward a more centralized and depersonalized authority, and a concomitant loss of community identity and focus in the small hamlets and villages of the rural countryside. Left in the wake of this sea change in the educational environment, the one-room schoolhouses that were home to a certain structure of education valued highly by the recipients of those services, were reused and eventually in many cases abandoned. Within the last thirty years, however, a renewed interest in the preservation of these school buildings has dovetailed with an explosion of grassroots museums, an appreciation of popular history and the preservation movement at large.

This study explores the one-room schoolhouse preservation projects of the greater Finger Lakes region of New York. It is a qualitative study based on interviews of sixty informants involved in more than three dozen such projects within a fourteen county area over a three year period. The interviews were conducted at the site of the preservation projects, recorded and transcribed, and then analyzed for common content and emergent themes.

The findings involve grouping the informants by relationship to the projects, through personal, family, professional or location-specific connections. A second set of findings groups each project according to a taxonomy of presentation as either artifact, museum or living history site. A third set of findings examines the motivations of individuals involved in these projects on a scale from personal to communal and from circumstantial to intentional. The study uses a cultural studies perspective to discuss the implications of these one-room schoolhouse preservation efforts. The appendices include information on the projects visited and list similar projects across the state as reported in a survey of county historians.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.