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One Tank Trip: Historic Cross Keys School

MEDFORD TWP., N.J. - A picture of the president, James Buchanan, is on the wall. It's a time before the Civil War, when a ringing bell called children to order inside just one room.

"This is the very last one room schoolhouse that we had here in Medford [Township, New Jersey]," said Patricia Alvino, a retired teacher.

The Cross Keys School, a one-room schoolhouse, is where something old is new again. It's not in the place where it was built. It was moved to its present location and restored in 1976. It's now on Mill Street, and it stands much like it did back in 1857.

At that time, pre-Civil War, families were the ones responsible for educating their children. They would get together with other families and build a school, usually on the worst plot of land. Since most of the families were in farming, they put the schools on pieces of land that couldn't be used for anything else.

Cross Keys was commissioned by Sam Thackara; his brother-in-law, Lester Gager, built it.

In an early photograph, the schoolchildren can be seen lined up by last names.

"You'll notice that at least half the kids are Gagers, because they are cousins, sisters, brothers from right on down, from usually 5 years old on up to 14, 15 16," Alvino explained.

That had its advantages and disadvantages. You couldn't really get away with much when everyone knew each other's mothers. Tuition would have been a couple dollars a month and a quart of wood to keep the room warm in the winter. The curriculum focused on reading, writing and arithmetic.

The last teacher in the building, before it closed in 1927, was a woman named Sara Davis, and she left behind a rare piece of education history -- her teacher's certificate.

It says third grade. It doesn't mean she taught third grade. It was just the level she reached on her teacher's test and determined her salary. Teachers would take the test again at the end of every year, and if they moved up a grade, their salary would increase.

"They would always destroy the old ones, because you always wanted the most recent ones, so you don't see a lot of these," Alvino recalled.

The school bell is original, so is the bench and a pencil sharpener in the back corner. On the other side of the room, the place you would likely try to avoid.


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