Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Little Red Schoolhouse

Little Red Schoolhouse
Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Palm Beach County
           On trips home from my grandparents’ house in Delray Beach, my dad often drove north on A1A. I remember the first part of the trip as winding through woods. Not far north of the Lake Worth Bridge, there was a little house sitting beside the road. It was always shuttered and sat deserted. I never remember seeing anyone around it. My dad told me it was the first schoolhouse in Palm Beach County.

            Well. Dad was partly right. It was the first school house, but not just in Palm Beach County, but in all of what is now Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach Counties. 

            In the 1800s, Palm Beach County didn’t exist and was part of Dade County. What is now known as the “Little Red Schoolhouse” was built in 1886 on land on North Lake Trail on the island of Palm Beach, just north of the Poinciana Bridge.  The lumber alone cost  two hundred dollars. Dade County kicked in that cost, local men volunteered to build and local women worked to raise money for chairs and school supplies.

            What a difference a hundred years or so makes.

            At first, there were only twelve students and the teacher was a sixteen-year-old named Hattie Gale.  All students were taught in one room. There was no electricity or running water and on cold days, Miss Hattie lit up the wood burning stove.

            The School District of Palm Beach County is now one of the largest school districts in the nation. According to its website, there are 187 schools serving 174,004 students. There are 12,480 teachers. Miss Hattie would be lost.

Undergoing Recent Renovation at Phipps Ocean Park
            In 1960, the building was moved from its original location where it had become a tool shed for the Phipps family to Phipps Ocean Park along South Ocean Boulevard (A1A). Since the days we drove by the beat up old building, it has been restored and turned into an incredible learning experience for school children of today.

            The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach now runs a “living history” program to show children what it was like to go to school in the 1890s in one room.  Complete with a Teacher’s Manual to help teachers prepare fourth grade students so that they get the most out of their experience, the Little Red Schoolhouse is once again fulfilling its original purpose - education.

            Located at 2185 South Ocean Boulevard, Palm Beach, Florida, you can get more information at


  1. Ruth, our society most certainly needs to return to the earlier, purer, manner of education, as in the days of the little red schoolhouse, don’t we?

    In eastern NC, we have an historical site with a one room schoolhouse, the first of its kind. In this one-room schoolhouse with its pot-bellied stove, rows of wooden desks, and blackboard, girls sit on one side of the room, boys on the opposite: a typical turn-of-the-century school day. Misbehave and you earn the sturdy wooden paddle waiting in the corner. Fall behind in your lessons and the dunce hat goes on the head while you sat up front by the blackboard, the scorn of the entire class.

    In the absence of inspiration, do you still sit down to write anyway?

    Or do you procrastinate and wait for motivation?

    1. Debra: Thank you for your comment! I find the changes both good and bad. The fact that we don't learn Latin like my grandmother did? Bad. The fact that we have all kinds of technology programs? Good. Not much we can do to change it.

      As for me, I have so many thoughts in my head and in my "random thoughts" folder that I'm never much at a loss on inspiration. Sometimes, however, I sit and look out the window for a while before the opening sentence smacks me upside the head!