Washingtonville Central School Through the Decades 1950’s


As the country begins to heal from the wounds of World War II, a new sense of well being begins to take hold.  The political world focuses on Communism and socially conservative values is the norm.  A boom in consumerism brings about the establishment of suburbia, a direct result of the G. I. Bill which offered low interest loans for new homes.  The words ‘under God’ were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.  It wouldn’t be long before America became involved in another war.  June 25, 1950 saw the U.S. entering into the civil war conflict in Korea.  That war ended, without any resolution, on July 27, 1953, but not without the sacrifice of 33, 742 servicemen.

Life in rural Washingtonville was rolling on.  Children continued to be registered in the Central School and to graduate from same.  Businesses would come and go in the community but the one constant would be the Central School still under the watchful eye of principal, R. Lynn Taft.  The archives revealed a box with folders for June of almost every year from 1945 to 1961.  In each folder are Mr. Taft’s handwritten notes for the exam schedule, faculty sign up to proctor exams, layout for baccalaureate and graduation programs, letters to speakers for the ceremonies, teacher’s meeting notes, and a copy of the high school and junior school graduation programs.

The Class of 1950 graduated 31 students at a ceremony celebrated on Tuesday, June 27 at 8 PM.  The commencement address was delivered by Dr. Willard N. Hogan, Director, Information Center for United Nations, State Teachers’ College, New Paltz.  His topic, Young Citizens and World Affairs.  The tradition of motto, colors and flowers continued with In Living, Learn – And in Learning, Live, royal blue and white, red rose.  The Diner’s Club card was the first credit card issued and the first Peanuts cartoon strip was published.

There are no archives available for the Class of 1951.

The Scribe Commencement Edition for 1952 begins with the Class History along with a group photograph of the class.  A Class Prophecy, Favorites of Seniors, Senior Will,

Senior Statistics, and Senior Biographies including photographs.  Group photos of Juniors, Sophomores, Freshmen and eighth grade students was also included.  An article titled “March of Time at Our Central School 1932-52” outlined how the centralization of the school enhanced the subjects offered to each student from the basic subjects of English, History, Math, Science, Latin and French to add Commercial, Bookkeeping, Physical Education, Health, Vocational Agriculture and Homemaking, Instrumental Music and Vocal Music, Library, Art, Driver Training, Guidance, Adult Education.  1952 saw the laying of a second cornerstone with the addition of the new primary wing.  A quote from the article bears repeating here. ‘Come with us, your editors, and look into the minds of some of those attending the ceremony of 1952.  Here is a Senior who feels that the brief ceremony in the blustery wind of a bleak March day is all too inadequate for such a momentous occasion; here is a teacher who is thinking to herself of the full life available to the students of today compared to the limited scope of experience offered to them in the old days.  She is thinking of the greater variety of subjects, the enlarged social and activity program made possible by a larger faculty.  She is paying mental tribute to the community which can boast of twenty years of steady progress in education.’

Sports in 1952 saw our soccer team winning the championship, but Basketball did not fare as well ending up last.  The Volley Ball team won the county meet, as well as sectionals as did the Bowling team.  The Ping Pong team led county and sectionals.  Baseball, alas, was not a sport the Washies excelled in.  The Anne Frank story “Diary of a Young Girl” was published.

Class of 1953 dedicated their yearbook to Mr. Carlton Beck.  Mr. Beck was a greatly respected and very talented art teacher for many years.  This is the first in revamped style of yearbooks.  It is no longer referred to as a ‘commencement edition’ although it is still a soft covered book.  Quoted in the foreword, “In a few years our school will probably be producing a standard yearbook”.  The class of ’53 chose ‘Dum Vivimus Viamus” (While we live, let us live) as their class motto and royal blue and white as their colors.  Office Highlights in the Scribe talk about the opening of the new 1952 wing which describes the new classrooms as being independent “containing a toilet room; its own running water with a bubbler for drinking water….the furniture is of blond wood which reduces eye strain.  The colors are chartreuse and light green and rose and gray.  Conditions are ideal for teaching.”  The new kitchen and cafeteria was opened in the fifth week of school.  January, 1953 was the official opening of the new double gymnasium.  It is quoted as “This room has been described by news sports writers of the most beautiful gymnasium on the west bank of the Hudson River.”  A folding partition separates the gym in to two teaching centers, one for boys and the other for girls.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President of the United States and served until 1961.  There was a wide spread polio epidemic.

In 1954 R. Lynn Taft included a statement in The Scribe entitled New Horizons…..

It described the potential growth of Stewart Air Force Base and its impact on the school district.  The Base was building 284 housing units which represented approximately 200 new students from military families.  With the passing of the Wherry-Spence Act, the Federal government would provide $361,000 to construct and equip a new school if the District would purchase property near the Wherry Housing to serve as a site for the building.  Two propositions were presented to the voters of the Washingtonville School District and emphatic approval was given to both.  Thus the birth of the Little Britain School took place.

Thirty one young men and women graduated from Washingtonville Central School on Tuesday, June 29.  Their class motto said it all – We’re on Our Way.  The Scribe included Favorites of Seniors, Class History, Hall of Fame, Class Prophecy, individual photographs and biographies of each senior as well and pictures of various clubs and sport teams.  The Soccer team was undefeated again this year and the Basketball team had the best season Washingtonville ever had winning the Section II title.  No information was included on any other teams.  In May a successful prom was held with the theme “An Evening in Paris”.

Since all the school proms took place in the gymnasium the gym would be out of commission for at least a week.  As long as the weather cooperated all gym classes were held out doors.  Underclassmen would very often try to get a peek through the crack in the gym doors to see the progress of the decorating committee.

Each year the school participated in a magazine campaign to raise money for the Senior trip and the Class of ’54 netted a total sale of $5, 069.81 and as in the past at Easter break the annual trip to Washington D.C. took place.  This is also the year that Burger King made its debut and children everywhere marveled at what one could do with Play Doh.

The Scribe, in 1955, states that in three and one half years the enrollment of the Central School has increased 100%.  Total enrollment in September 1951 showed 600 students.  By mid 1955 the figure reached 1200 students.  The report goes on to say that there are four major reasons for this increase.  The first is a nationwide increase in the birthrate.  The other three issues are more local in that the district under Federal Law is responsible for the education of the children of military personnel stationed at Stewart Air Force Base.  The district annexed the Salisbury Mills District gaining the use of the three room Salisbury Mills School.  The final reason is the building of new homes by individual builders and development planners.

The Class of 1955 expressed their class history as looking ‘down the ladder’ where they marked members of the class and when they arrived.  Talk of trips to Washington’s and Knox’s Headquarters and Temple Hill, a ride on the Freedom Train and the annual Senior Trip to Washington D.C. in the spring.  The junior prom during which time Mr. Taft distributed the class rings.  Included were the traditional Senior will, prophecy, and Senior pictures with biographies.  Class motto:  We Finish to Begin, Class colors: white and black, Class flower: pink carnation.  There were 22 graduates.  The nation witnessed the pluck of Rosa Parks as she refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.  The MacDonald’s corporation was founded.  Jonas Salk develops a vaccine for polio.  It was not long after that students would line up, a look of sheer terror on their faces, in the auditorium/gym for their polio inoculations.

In 1956 the total enrollment figures for the Central School stood at 1200 with the school census recording 1900 children.  It noted that the school budget in 1931 was $165,000 and in 1955-56 was at $448,000.  Extra curricular activities included Student Council, National Honor Society, Monitors, Scribe, Band, Glee Club, Library Council, FFA, Junior Red Cross, Girls’ Arts and Crafts, Art Club, and Astronomy Club.

The world in the 1950’s was certainly not lost on the students at Washingtonville School.  Saddle shoes with bobby socks, rolled up jeans, Brylcreamed duck butt hair on some of the guys, crew cuts for others, poodle skirts for the girls – girls were not allowed to wear pants to school by order of Mr. Taft.  Wonder what Mr. Taft thought of Elvis’ performance on the Ed Sullivan show?!

The Class of 1957 graduated 32 students.  The Junior Prom theme for the Class of ’57 was ‘Over the Rainbow’.   The commencement address was delivered by Brig. Gen. Arthur C. Agan, Jr.  Chief of Staff of CONAD Forces (Continental Air Defense Command) at Stewart Air Force Base.  Awards were presented in the following categories:  Stag Club Sportsmanship Award; The Joseph DiBenedetto Memorial Award,  P.T.A. Award, Board of Trade Civic Welfare Award, Blooming Grove Home Demonstration Unit Homemaking Award, Character Award, Bausch and Lomb Science Award, American Agriculturist Award, Latin Award, Board of Trade John Philip Sousa Award and the Athenia Club Art Award.

The Scribe yearbook for the class of 1958 displays an interesting photograph of the front of the school building.  Looking at the windows in the photograph reminds one of the fact that one of the many rules under Mr. Taft was that the window shades were to be drawn at the same level before the end of each school day.  The dedication page in this yearbook is in honor of Mrs. Amy Bull Crist.  Mrs. Crist was a notable figure in the 1950’s through the ‘60’s.  She was a teacher in the district and rose to the level of Superintendent of Schools for the district.  She is remembered as a gracious and kind woman who commanded respect where ever she went.

The Class of 1958 will be marking their 50th reunion during the building’s 75th anniversary celebration.  Topics of discussion could be remembering their Junior Prom ‘Stairway to the Stars” or the rite of passage trip to Washington.  They share this 50 year milestone with NASA which was formed the same year.  Architect drawing of the proposed new school to be known as Taft Elementary was also included in the yearbook.

The Class of 1959 saw 34 students graduate on Tuesday, June 23 at 8:00 pm.  This class witnessed the addition of two new states in Alaska and Hawaii.  February 3, 1959 marked the Day the Music died when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Vallens and J.P. ‘The Big Bopper’ Richardson were killed in a plane crash.  Television with thirteen channels held our attention with wholesome shows such as I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Disney, The Ed Sullivan Show, Leave it to Beaver, Howdy Doody, Mickey Mouse Club.

The 1950’s saw the Russian space vehicle Sputnik circle the earth to be followed by our Explorer.  One could not wait until the afternoon when American Bandstand would keep us glued to the TV as we watched our favorite couple dance to DooWop music and doing the Stroll.  Rock and roll was here to stay… or so we thought.  The best birthday present in 1958 might have been the hoola hoop or Legos.  It was probably the best of decades to grow up in.  After the Korean War there was little conflict and most of America became comfortable with peace and prosperity.