A Brief History of Wayne's Early Schools
By: Anika Sekar, volunteer at the Wayne Museum
According to William Berce, author of Under the Sign of the Eagle, Wayne's first Superintendent of Schools, John A. Ryerson, delivered his first report to the Township Committee on April 10th, 1848, one year after the township of Wayne was created.
Today, Wayne Township Public Schools boasts nine elementary schools, three middle schools, and two high schools, excluding the several private schools located in the town. In under 200 years, Wayne schools have drastically evolved. Many schools were built and closed until the township reached its modern school district configuration, completely unrecognizable from its school system in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Early Elementary Schools
One-room schoolhouses were common throughout the country in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Likewise, one of the oldest recorded school buildings in Wayne was a one-room schoolhouse, built by the Franklin School Association in 1812 on Newark-Pompton Turnpike. Franklin School No. 13 was eventually turned into a two-room schoolhouse in 1890, renamed the Mountainview School—an elementary school that would continue to educate Wayne students into the twentieth century.
In 1894, the New Jersey government passed a law ordering all the schools within a town to be managed by a single school board. At this time, there were five elementary schools in Wayne: Mountainview School, the Upper Preakness School, the Lower Preakness School, the Pequannock School, and school No. 17. Under the new Wayne School Board, the schools were renumbered to No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5, respectively.
The Upper Preakness School had similar roots to the Mountainview School—it began as a one-room schoolhouse constructed in the mid-1800s by the Jefferson School District and was expanded to the two-story school No. 14 in the 1870s. The first-floor room was used as the main classroom, while the school used the second floor for other student activities, like plays. However, the second-floor room was eventually turned into a classroom to accommodate the increasing enrollment in the school. This school was located on Hamburg Turnpike, and the building still exists today as the Wayne Counseling and Family Services building. The sign “Upper Preakness School No. 2” remains above the entrance.
The Lower Preakness School, another one-room school, was built in Preakness as school No. 15. In 1898, the original building was sold, and a two-room school built next door replaced it. This school, located on Valley Road, taught students who lived in the Valley farm area. Until 2019, the former school building was used as the Preakness branch of the Wayne Public Library.
Little is known about the Pequannock School, located at the intersection of Black Oak Ridge Road and Newark-Pompton Turnpike and originally under the jurisdiction of the Washington district. A class photo from the school dating to around 1900 reveals something noteworthy—a young Black girl standing alongside her white classmates. During this period, most of Wayne’s Black population was reported in the Census as unable to read and write, so this photo may signify the rise of Black education in Wayne.
School No. 17, renamed to No. 5, was short-lived. The building was originally built in 1836, but the school closed in 1896 when the Passaic County School Superintendent declared the building “unfit” to house a school. After the 1894 law was passed, the East Upper Preakness School, School No. 6, was built on the north side of Ratzer Road. The school closed in 1923, and the building continued to be used as the East Upper Preakness Sunday School through the 20s.
Statewide and Local Reports
Ryerson’s 1848 report and the 1848 statewide report provide valuable insight into what the lives of students and teachers were like 200 years ago. According to Ryerson’s report, only 201 of the 359 children ages five through sixteen living in Wayne were enrolled in one of the original five schools. Of these students, only five were Black children, a small fraction of the Black adolescent population in Wayne at the time. The school year spanned about ten months, which is roughly the length of modern school years. Frequently used textbooks included American Common School Readers, Smith’s Grammar, Daball’s Arithmetic, Hale’s History, and Morse’s Geography. In 1848, John A. Staats became Wayne’s second Superintendent of Schools. He was likely submitted the account of Wayne’s schools included in the 1848 statewide report, which notes that “the schools in our town are gradually looking up.” Staats describes township teachers as predominantly young men. However, he also criticizes teachers for their lack of passion for their profession, only teaching to earn money.
Except for Wayne School No. 5, all the township’s original elementary schools remained open into the 1900s. However, in the early decades of the new century, these schools faced several issues. Mountainview struggled with overcrowding in the lower grades. In 1919, Wayne citizens voted to build a new “modern and picturesque” schoolhouse to replace Mountainview. The new Mountainview School, designed by William Fanning, had eight rooms and was built on Boonton Road. It even started a baseball team for students to join. The old school was converted to the Town Hall for several years.
Currently, one Wayne elementary school is named after Randall Carter, a man with a more interesting history than most of the town’s residents are aware of. Carter was born in 1924, and, starting in 1928, he and family friend Jannett Brown were the first African Americans to attend the new Mountainview School. During his time at Mountainview, and later at Pompton Lakes High School, Carter experienced several instances of racism at the hands of school officials. However, this did not discourage him from pursuing a career in education, and he eventually became a well-respected teacher and principal in Wayne. After his death, the Alps School, of which he was the principal, was renamed Randall Carter School.
In 1920, the Wayne Board of Education decided to consolidate the Upper Preakness, Lower Preakness, Pequannock, and Ratzer Road schools into one new, larger Preakness School. The New Preakness School was designed by Fred Wesley Wentworth, and it opened in 1923. Following the new school’s opening, the four original elementary schools all closed down.
Both the New Preakness School and New Mountainview School were brick buildings with several classrooms, and from 1926, all of Wayne’s first through eighth graders attended one of the two schools. In 1937, the school board created another new school, this time a junior high school to teach sixth through ninth graders. The original Anthony Wayne Junior High School building was located on Valley Road, across the street from where the Wayne Public Library and Wayne Valley High School stand today. The building was sold after two other middle schools were built (George Washington and Schuyler Colfax), and it is currently the Sienna Village senior center. Anthony Wayne Middle School was rebuilt on Garside Avenue and opened in 2005.
Tobin, Cathy. Images of America: Wayne Township. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2001.
Berce, William. Under the Sign of the Eagle. Wayne: Louis J. Vorgetts, 1965.
Smith, Albert. Preakness and the Preakness Reformed Church, A History. Volume 2. Wayne: Linda Applegate Smith, 1990.
Robert M. Brubaker, Anne Brubaker Burns, and Gratia Mahony, “‘A Wondrously Beautiful Valley’: A Commemorative History of Wayne, New Jersey”
“Mountainview News,” The News (Paterson, NJ), September 23rd, 1924, 20.
“School Will Be Renamed for Late Principal,” The Herald News (Passaic, NJ), May 26th, 1970.
Brubaker, Robert. “History of Wayne.” Presentation given to the Wayne Historic Commission, Wayne, NJ, July 27th, 2004.
Annual Report of the State Superintendent of Public Schools of New Jersey, for the Year 1848. Trenton: Sherman and Harron, 1849. New Jersey State Library. Accessed April 7th, 2023. http://hdl.handle.net/10929/15340.