Our History

Beech Street School     Class outside Beech Street School

Kindergarten - Historic     Historic Photo

History of the Ridgewood Public Schools
Excerpt from Celebrating a Centennial A History of Ridgewood, New Jersey

The earliest schools in this area were built and operated by churches.  Starting in 1780, First Paramus Reformed Church built a school on what is now 650 East Glen Avenue in Ridgewood; the building has been replaced four times.  The last one, built in 1871 next to the church, is home of the Schoolhouse Museum.

A series of statutes passed by the New Jersey Legislature in the mid-1800’s, first permitted public funds to be used to operate schools for “paupers,” then allowed public districts throughout the state.  Each district had its own, usually one-room, schoolhouse and its separate three-man Board of Trustees.  Although most meetings were held in the homes of board members, annual meetings were more formal.  The trustees presented an annual report, the voters voted on the next year’s budget, and elected (usually reelected) the trustees.

During this period, there were two school districts within Ridgewood Township: District 45 which acquired the Glen Avenue schoolhouse, and District 44 which built a school known as the Ridgewood Grove School, on Ackerman Avenue and Rock Road in what is now Glen Rock.  It is now a private residence with additions.  A number of schools were built in District 46 in what is now Midland Park.  The last was located where the Midland Park Library now stands.

In 1872, District 61 was formed and a two-story, two-room schoolhouse was built.  It is now used as an apartment house on Union Street.  In 1888, a third teacher was added and this permitted the establishment of a graded school.  The building was enlarged in 1889, two years later, a manual training course was added.

In 1894, districts came under a mandate of the State Legislature to consolidate all school districts in a township to encourage the abolition of one-room schools in favor of larger graded schools.  At the same time, because of increasing enrollments, the trustees of School District 61 proposed that a new school be built at a more central site.  At a special meeting of the voters, a resolution was adopted to buy a cornfield at Franklin Avenue and Beech Street (now Cottage Place) and build a wooden school for $35,000.  The same building would have cost $47,000 if it were made of stone and brick.  The women of the District (who still did not vote), reportedly castigated the men on the school board for jeopardizing the safety of their children by choosing the cheaper, wooden version.  Accordingly, the trustees called a special meeting the following month and authorized the construction of a brick and stone based structure.

One result of this controversy was that Rebecca Hawes, an active local leader, asked the board to support the cause of extending suffrage in school elections to women. Another was that some of the residents who lived closer to one of the small district schools, did not want their children to have to go farther to the larger central school.  Others did not want to assume the financial obligations for the new school.  Many took advantage of an earlier statute permitting areas within a township to withdraw.

The irregular southern boundary of Ridgewood illustrates the fact that some people wanted to withdraw and others wanted to stay in Ridgewood.  The boundary lines were drawn on property lines according to the property owners’ preferences.  As Glen Rock, Midland Park, Waldwick, and other areas became boroughs, the Township of Ridgewood, incorporated as the Village of Ridgewood to prevent further loss of territory.

The three-man District 61 Board was replaced by a nine-man Township Board.  In July 1894, members received no salaries and the term was three years, still true today.  In 1916, the number of members was reduced to six and then to five the following year.  The record office holder was E.B. Lilly who served for 22 years, seven of them as president.  Other long-serving members were Adele Grimley for 21 years, Dr. H.S. Willard for 20 years, John E. Coyle also for 20 years, and Henrietta Hawes for 18 years.

In 1921, Henrietta Hawes was the first woman elected to the school board.  No woman was elected board president again until Rose Marie Schutt.  She served from 1979-82.

The Paramus (Schoolhouse Museum) and Union Street schools were closed when the Beech Street School (now the Education Center on Cottage Place) opened in September 1895, with 387 pupils and nine teachers.  Few of the students, however, attended for the entire school year because of their work commitment to family farms.  The Paramus school was rented for a few years to Orvil Township (Ho-Ho-Kus) and some Ridgewood students who lived near the school were sent as tuition students to that school.  Its use as a school ended in June 1905.  The Union Street school was razed in 1903.

Enrollment grew steadily at the Beech Street School.  Some of the growth was due to the fact that some nearby districts paid tuition for their students to attend our three-year high school, the only one in the area.  As the population grew in these other districts, they built their own high schools and withdrew their students.  The last of these was Glen Rock, which withdrew in the mid 50’s.  This left only Ho-Ho-Kus, with too small a population to build its own high school.  In 1969, a proposal to form a regional district of the two districts was defeated by the voters in both towns.  Ridgewood then asked for the state’s permission to end the arrangement with Ho-Ho-Kus and those students were withdrawn, one grade a year starting in 1974.  By the 1977-78 school year, all students, except special education and a few whose tuition was paid by their parents remained.  Enrollment reached 1600 in 1960, and a high of over 7600 in the 1968-69 school year.

The original Union Street school closed when Beech Street opened, was razed in 1903, and the new (1905) Union Street School closed when Orchard opened.  It served briefly as a youth center.  It was sold in 1975 at public auction to a former student, Bob Puritz, who converted it to apartments and offices.  Kenilworth closed when Somerville opened, but was reopened a year later and called the Somerville Annex.  It housed the 5th and 6th grades.  It closed again when Hawes School opened and was later used to house some of the administrative offices.  It was demolished in 1983, the property sold, and houses were built there.

Here is a chronology of major school construction:


Beech Street school, now Education Center.


Three four-room schools:  Kenilworth Road (near East Ridgewood Avenue, Monroe Street (and Washington Place), and Union Street (replacing the old building).


Four-room addition to Union Street.


Harrison Street (now Glen Avenue) (at Bogert Avenue) not the Travell School site.  Seven room and auditorium additions to Kenilworth and Monroe Schools.


One-room portable at California Street and Morningside Road.  (Now the Willard School site.)


Three portables at Beech Street.


Four-room school at California Street site.


High School at East Ridgewood Avenue and Hermance Place opens.


Eight rooms and auditorium added to California Street and school renamed Willard for Dr. Harry S. Willard, board president from 1913-1930.


Monroe and then Willard School destroyed by fire.


New Willard School opened.  New Monroe School opened and named George Washington Junior High school.


Beech Street School renamed Benjamin Franklin Junior High School.


High School addition and Benjamin Franklin students go there.  Beech Street becomes Administration Building.


High School addition adding second floor rooms to front of building.


Travell School (on Fairfield and East Glen Avenues) named for Ira W. Travell, Supervising Principal (Superintendent) 1912-31, replacing the Harrison Street School.  Somerville (on South Pleasant Avenue near East Ridgewood Avenue), named for Irwin B. Somerville, high school principal 1915-1931 and Supervising Principal 1931-44, replacing the Kenilworth School.


Administration Building renamed Education Center.


Harrison Street School reopens as Travell Annex for grades 3-6.  Kenilworth School reopens as Somerville Annex for grades 5-6.


Benjamin Franklin Junior High School added to Travell School.  Addition to Willard. Addition to Travell Annex.


Addition to Somerville.


Ridge School on West Ridgewood Avenue near North Murray Avenue and Glen School on East Glen Avenue at Eastbrook Road open.


Addition to Ridgewood High School.  Addition to George Washington Junior High School.


Hawes School, serving grades K-3, at south end of Stevens Avenue and named for Henrietta Hawes, first woman to serve on the Ridgewood Board of Education and Orchard School on Orchard Place and Doremus Avenue open.  Old Harrison Street building razed and new Travell school built on site.  Primary children relocated into new building.  Additions to Willard and Glen Schools.


Addition at Hawes School which becomes K-6.  Addition at Somerville School.


Major renovations at high school, Benjamin Franklin Junior High School, and George Washington Junior High School.


Major renovation of the Education Center.


Kenilworth razed and property sold.


Glen School closed and rented.  Glen School children go to Hawes School.

Village of Ridgewood History Committee. Celebrating a Centennial A History of Ridgewood, New Jersey. Village of Ridgewood, 1994.

Photo Courtesy of the Ridgewood Public Library

Ridgewood Education Center - National Register of Historic Places

Narrative Description

The Ridgewood Education Center, historically known as the Beech Street School, is located in the Village of Ridgewood’s central business district. When the school was built in 1894, it was on a cornfield on the outskirts of town. Ridgewood’s growth, and hence, the need for a larger school was accelerated by the nearby railroad station of the Erie Railroad. The Education Center is now surrounded by commercial, religious buildings, and a parking lot. The site is flat, and because of the building’s height and bulk, it dominates the immediate area. 

The building is within the downtown Ridgewood Historic District. The district was created by a Council ordinance on May 9, 1993. The Historic Preservation Commission administers the district. The building anchors the eastern edge of the district and is designated as a Historic Preservation Site.

This is a three-story masonry building with a high basement with windows. Its foundation, which is exposed, is rough-faced sandstone ashlar. Exterior walls are buff brick with a red brick trim. There are arched or straight brick lintels over the windows. The windows are recessed about six inches from the brick facade which produces strong shadows and darkens the windows creating a strong design element in the facade.

There are nine bays in the fenestration with 2/2/2 sash windows. The top section of the window opening is now unglazed and were double-hung windows in the original design. There is a hipped roof and hipped dormers. A cornice composed of a frieze and dentil molding provides an architectural transition between roof dormers and facade. The roof is slate and copper trim at the valleys and tin on the peaks. It appears that most of the roof is original material.

The basic form of the building is rectangular giving it the mastiff effect no doubt sought by the architect for a Romanesque building. It is set back 35 feet from Cottage Place. The projecting bays of the facades, for turrets (rectangular on the west side, half cylindrical on the north and south) which intersect with the main mass and rise with hipped roofs to the level of the central roof. These turrets give the facade a sculptural quality which contributes to its architectural style of building.

The west facade is the most prominent and is also the main entrance. It is a tower which projects about seven feet from the main facade. This tower has a Romanesque ornament carved into the soft stone (rinceaux and foliage) on impost blocks, the keystone above the main doorway and an entablature band over the entrance. Carved into the ornament in the entablature are the words “Public School,” and 1894 is carved into an arch-shaped piece over the second floor windows. There are three sets of windows on each of the three floors of the tower establishing a rhythm that does not appear elsewhere in the building.


The Beech Street School, when completed in 1895, was an impressive building, centrally located in the newly incorporated Village of Ridgewood.  The architect, J. Warner Allen was not well known but the builder, Joseph H. Christopher, was a prominent local contractor for many beautiful homes in Ridgewood.  There was no other school building equal to it in Bergen County and few in the state rivaled it.  The facilities, then described as elegant, spacious, and commodious, accommodated an enrollment of 397 but had a capacity of 500.  To this day it remains an impressive structure in the downtown district where it accommodates the administrative offices for the Ridgewood Public Schools.  This school, built in the Romanesque Revival style, is very well preserved and meets Criterion A for the important role it had in the evolution of public education and Criterion C for its architectural significance.

During the years 1890-1892, the Board of Trustees was faced with several problems related to educating the youth of the village.  The district was growing geographically, the town’s population was increasing rapidly, and there was a trend for students to stay in school longer.  The centrally located Union Street School was so overcrowded that a small 13 by 15 foot janitor’s room was used as a classroom for 34 pupils.  At the annual meeting in March 1893, the Trustee appointed a three-man advisory committee to study the problem and report their findings to the voters.  At the next annual meeting in March 1894, they recommended that a new building be erected on a more centrally located site.  The Trustees were then asked to call a special meeting of the voters to request an appropriation for a new school.  A month later, the special meeting was held and the Trustees were authorized by a vote of 74 to 28 to purchase a cornfield on the corner of Franklin Avenue and Beech Street as a site for the new school.  A three-story brick schoolhouse containing four classrooms and a recitation room on each of the first two floors, an assembly hall plus storage space on the third floor, and the playrooms, bathrooms, and coat rooms in the basement would cost about $47,000, including the plot.  A wooden structure of the same size would be about $35,000.  Because of the difference in price, the proposal presented to the voters was for the frame building.  Dr. E. F. Hanks, who was attending the meeting proposed an amendment to increase the amount to$47,000 but it was voted down.  The frame building has passed 66 to 32.  Although the matter appeared to be settled, a week later it was decided to spend the additional $12,000.  Apparently, the women of the village were outraged that their husbands were willing to risk the safety of their children in order to save money.  A petition with 140 signatures was circulated asking that the new schoolhouse be brick instead of frame.  Since women did not have the vote the signers were, of course, all men.

By the end of June 1894, the Trustees hired J. Warner Allen as architect, sold bonds at 3.8%, bought the lot for $3,450, and awarded contracts for a heating system, for excavation and grading, and for digging a well.  According to Picturesque Ridgewood published in 1898, “one of the ablest school architects in the country designed the building.”  The Bergen County Historic Sites Survey from 1984, however, states that little is known about Allen.  The builder, Joseph H. Christopher, is described as the preeminent building contractor of the 1890’s, having constructed grand houses on both sides of town.  Christopher’s final cost for the school was $49, 313.10.  It had been 17 months from the time the voters gave their approval to the opening of the Beech Street School.

According to an article in the Ridgewood News on Friday, September 27, 1895, many villagers attended the inauguration ceremonies for the opening of “Ridgewood’s new school,” held in the auditorium on the upper floor.  In describing the building the reporter stated only that “it was perfect in every detail.”  The article ends with an apology that the school would not be open on Saturday evening as hoped, because the painters were still doing the woodwork.  It was a proud moment in Village history.  Prior to the opening of the Beech Street School, overcrowding had been a recurring problem.  With eight good-sized classrooms, seven small rooms, as well as rooms in the basement and attic, it was indeed a welcome relief for a town with a rapidly growing population.  When it opened on October 1, 1985, it had a professional staff of nine, with a tenth teacher being added in December.  Benjamin C. Wooster, the principal, earned an annual salary of $1,400.  The other eight teachers were all unmarried women with salaries ranging from $400-650.  A tenth staff member assisted the kindergarten teacher but did not receive a salary, a practice that continued for two more years.  Initial enrollment from kindergarten through high school was 387 pupils increasing to 420 within a month.

The progressiveness of the school was shown not only by its outstanding faculty, but by the fact that it had a kindergarten class taught by Miss Ivy. W. Green - one of the first public kindergartens in the State of New Jersey.  During this opening year, the nine years’ elementary program was changed to an eight-year elementary course followed by three years of high school course.  This school was permitting graduates to skip the first year of Normal School and enter their second year without an examination.  Classes such as Sewing, Manual Training, Advanced Art, and Mechanical Drawing were part of the school curriculum.  This introduction of handwork in the public schools, under the leadership of Principal Wooster, made the school a pioneer in industrial education.  Because most towns in the area did not have their own high school, it was only a few years before Ridgewood had a growing population of non-resident students.  In June of 1896, the high school had its first two graduates, Laura Jessalene Taft and Robert Leroy Hutton.  There were two graduates the following year, and by 1899, the number was up to seven.

Increasing enrollment in the early part of the century was again a problem, and by 1905, it became necessary to build three primary schools to relieve overcrowding at Beech Street.  As new schools and additions were completed, the number of grades at Beech Street was reduced until by September 1912, only high school pupils and those 7th and 9th grade students who lived between Maple Avenue and the railroad attend.  The high school population was increasing dramatically, there were 15 teachers on the staff, and the program had expanded to give students greater options.  The 365 high school students enrolled in 1915, had five different programs from which to choose:  

  • The Academic Course - preparation for Normal School
  •  The Household Art Course - emphasized art and the home-making sciences
  • The Business Course - preparation for a commercial career or clerical position
  • The Classical or Science Course - both were for students who planned to continue their education

In 1913, the high school students occupied all of the Beech Street building except one room.  For the sum of $6,600 three portable schoolhouses were purchased and placed on the Beech street property, initially to house the grammar school population, and two years later as a high school cooking room, a chemical laboratory and a recitation room, and a grammar school classroom.  Various solutions to the overcrowded and now inadequate high school facility, were to go on split sessions, divide up the assembly hall into classrooms, or send the rest of the grammar school students to other overcrowded schools in the Village.  The solution chosen by the citizens of Ridgewood in 1913 was to purchase a nine acre site on East Ridgewood Avenue and build a new high school.  When the new high school opened on March 7, 1919, Beech Street became a grammar school.  In 1920, the name of Beech Street was changed to Cottage Place and the school became Central Grammar School.  Nine years later, the name was changed again when it became Benjamin Franklin Junior High School.  When an addition to the new high school was open in 1931 to accommodate the junior high students, the Beech Street building was closed.  It had served as a public school in the village for 37 years.  When it reopened it was called the Ridgewood Education Center and housed the offices of the Board of Education, the Superintendent of Schools and his administrative staff, as well as other special services.

In 1977, when the building was 85 years old, the interior underwent a complete renovation.  The restoration was planned by Pipines, Tromeur, and Associates, architects and carried out by Joseph DeVita, Inc., general contractors.  It was at a cost of $900,000 but was done with meticulous attention to detail.  To this day, the building is considered to be in excellent condition.  Today, as in the past, this building is an integral part of education in the community that places great value on providing an excellent education for all its students.  It is in this 1895 public School that regular Board of Education meetings are held, that the Community School has its offices, and where the computer services for the district are located to name just a few important functions.  For just over 100 years, this building has been an important landmark in the Village of Ridgewood.