Second graders learn about ‘now and then’

COURTESY PHOTO Second graders who have been learning about community changes hear from former teacher Frank Emmett about how their own town developed.

Once a teacher, always a teacher.

Frank Emmett was back in the classroom last week — not as an elementary school teacher as he had been until his retirement in 2015, but as an historian.

Mr. Emmett was invited by the Shelter Island Historical Society to meet with 2nd graders to share some of the town’s history in a program called “Then & Now.”

Armed with historical pictures and plenty of knowledge about the Island, Mr. Emmett entertained the students with tales of changes that had occurred through the years since the 1800s.

The students had been studying how communities grow and change over time and the presentation enabled them to localize what they’d learned.

Mr. Emmett told the students how the town’s original 1794 schoolhouse had only two rooms. During the winter of 1827-28, the building burned to the ground and a new school had to be built on the same site. But by this time, the student population had grown to 85 and the replacement building had to be larger.

SHELTER ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY PHOTO Shelter Island’s original two-room school house.

In front of the school stood a general store that housed a telegraph office, Post Office and the town’s first library, run out of a closet space that once held shoes.

It would be 1868 before the present school, on what was then known as Mill Lot, became the site for another two-room school house. That was enlarged twice through the years to provide space for classes and activities that take place now, Mr. Emmett said.

In 1925, a large brick building was constructed that still stands today and in the 1950s, a wooden building had to be knocked down to make room for what is today’s elementary school wing.

As for the library, when the general store burned down in 1881, a new library was built on the south side of Mill Lot next to the school. A windmill also stood on the property.

The library had to be enlarged in 1897 and that was achieved by cutting the building in half and extending it 12 feet.

It would take until 1962 for the library structure to outgrow community needs and that’s when construction of a new library was built on the site where it stands today, Mr. Emmett said.

As for that windmill near the school, today it’s on Sylvester Manor’s farm property where it’s been undergoing major renovation. Built in Southold in 1810, the windmill was purchased by Shelter Island in 1840 and moved to Mill Lot in 1842 and used to grind corn and wheat.

It would be 1926 before the windmill was moved to the Sylvester Manor site.

Students peppered Mr. Emmett with questions about the various changes that have occurred in their town, and shared with him some of what they’ve learned about why and how communities change.