Earlier this year, there was a brief question related to Ewing history posed on a Ewing social media group page which immediately intrigued me, and prompted me to do some research.

now and then helen kull

The question was, “Where was the Columbia School located?”

The person posing the question had a poetry book which had belonged to a relative, in which there was a hand-written inscription dated 1883, and referencing the book as a prize given to the student at the “Columbia School, Ewing, NJ.”

I was unfamiliar with Ewing’s Columbia Schoolhouse, as were most of the people commenting on the post. I had no idea where it had been located.

It turns out to be one of the earliest schools established in the township; in fact, if the references I found to its being built in 1825 are in fact accurate, it predates being established in Ewing Township, and was instead established in Trenton Township, which is what Ewing was known as in 1825. It was not until 1834 that Trenton Township became known as Ewing Township.

It remains to be confirmed as to whether the schoolhouse was known as “Columbia” that early, or exactly when it was given that name. “Columbia” of course is the informal name of the female personification of the United States, and was commonly used in the 18th and 19th centuries. It became the title of a patriotic song (“Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean”) more than a decade after 1825, which enjoyed much popularity in the middle of the 19th century, so perhaps the school was dubbed “Columbia” at a later date.

On a 1849 Mercer County map, the school is merely marked as “SH” for “schoolhouse” on the map. [The map shows three other SH’s in Ewing - marking the Scudder Falls Schoolhouse, the Birmingham Schoolhouse, and the Ewingville Schoolhouse.] An 1882 map of Ewing, and a 1918 map of Ewing, also show a school located at the same spot.

In any case, the Columbia Schoolhouse was built on the “Trenton, Pennington and Hopewell Road”, otherwise known to us as Pennington Road or Route 31, in 1824. Maps locate it at a point north of what is now Weber Avenue, but on the southbound side of Pennington Road. This would locate it today as being at the corner of Pennington Road and Parkside Avenue. However, into the early 1900s or so, Parkside Avenue, coming up from the river, ended at Parkway Avenue (then known as Scotch Road!). There would have been no “corner” with Pennington Road, as Parkside did not extend that far. The schoolhouse would have been located along the road.

A comment on the Columbia School post mentioned that a farm pond had been located near where Parkside Avenue currently bends to meet Pennington Road, and that it was a popular ice skating location in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was likely a favored spot to stop on the walk home in the winter.

By 1871, the Columbia School was one of six school Ewing districts listed in the State of New Jersey Annual Schools Report, the six being Scudder’s Falls, Birmingham, Ewingville, Columbia, Brookville and Jacob’s Creek.

I was able to access additional information in the State’s 1878 annual schools report:

In 1878, there were only five school districts in Ewing, with the Jacob’s Creek school district no longer listed. The Columbia School district had 111 children between the ages of 5 and 18. Eighty were enrolled in the public school, and 43 of them attended school for less than four months per year. Twenty-five of them attended school for anywhere from 6 - 10 months per year; the average attendance was 35 pupils. In that year, one male teacher, and no female teachers, were employed. The average monthly salary was $52. The school was judged to be in “very good” condition, and valued at $1200.

But by the early 1900’s, the population was growing rapidly, and the old one- and two-room schoolhouses were becoming outmoded. Next month we will continue to look at early schools in Ewing through the lens of the Columbia School.

Have a Ewing history question you would like researched? Contact Helen at ewingthenandnow@gmail.com.

Helen Kull is an adviser to the Ewing Township Historic Preservation Society.

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