BORDENTOWN CITY, NJ — The Bordentown Historical Society gathered at the Clara Barton Schoolhouse on Friday for a special anniversary with a unique history.
June 11, 2021 marked 100 years to the day that the Clara Barton Schoolhouse was originally dedicated at an event that took place on June 11, 1921. Friday’s event served as a re-dedication ceremony, as well as a way to highlight the current preservation efforts being undertaken by the Bordentown Historical Society (BHS) to continue to restore the building for years to come.
Led by BHS Co-President Bonnie Goldman, the event also drew Congressman Andy Kim (NJ-03), Bordentown City Mayor Jennifer Sciortino and Deputy Mayor Joe Myers and members and officers of the BHS, along with representatives from the offices of State Senator Troy Singleton and Assemblywoman Carol Murphy.
Goldman, who can frequently be seen in costume portraying Clara Barton at BHS events and school visits, told the audience about the unique story of how the original dedication came about.
Clara Barton established New Jersey’s first public school at the schoolhouse in 1853, which eventually grew to educate 600 students. However, thereafter, the school went unused for many years and wound up in a deteriorated and dilapidated state. In September 1920, the inventor George Swift and his wife saved the building from destruction when he purchased it at a sheriff’s sale for $300 and deeded it to the New Jersey’s Board of Education for $1 — with one condition. The building had to remain “in trust for, and behalf of, the schoolchildren of the state of New Jersey and to be forever preserved as a memorial of Clara Barton.”
In 1920, the Commissioner of Education wrote a letter to students and teachers throughout New Jersey, saying that he needed “not more than a penny from each student and not more than a nickel from each teacher” in order to restore the Clara Barton Schoolhouse. The letter-writing effort resulted in $3,401.78 being raised, which is about $46,885 in today’s dollars. This fundraiser culminated in a dedication ceremony on June 11, 1921 with invited guests including New Jersey Governor Edwards, Senators, education official and two relatives of Clara Barton.
Calling the current preservation efforts of the building “momentous,” Goldman said that Friday’s re-dedication ceremony was important to not only educate the public about the history of the building, but also about its future needs.
In April, the BHS applied for a New Jersey State Historic Trust Grant for $113,000, which is a matching grant, meaning that the BHS’ share is about $70,000. Despite the challenges presented by COVID, the BHS has been able to raise $53,000 so far, which Goldman called “astounding.”
Restoration of the building will come in three phases. Firstly, the front door will be made handicap-accessible, rotted exterior wood will be repaired, an HVAC system will be installed and electrical work will be done, as their currently is no lighting in the Schoolhouse. Phases Two and Three will focus on installing a handicap-accessible bathroom, improving technical capabilities for when school children visit and fixing badly-damaged brick on the exterior.
“Our current restoration and preservation efforts are the most significant undertaken in 100 years since 1920,” said Goldman. “We are committed to honoring the original mandate from Mr. and Mrs. Swift that was in that deed – to have this historic gem be in trust for, and on behalf of, the schoolchildren of this state and that it be forever preserved for a memorial for Clara Barton.”
Congressman Kim, a former Bordentown resident, reflected fondly on his memories of living “so close to history,” saying that his youngest son “grew up basically learning to walk up and down Farnsworth Avenue.”
“I’m a public school kid from New Jersey, raising two public school kids from New Jersey,” said Kim. “We pay tribute here, where right here in this building is where we got our launch to now have the best and finest public school system in the country. It’s a value that was set right here, that this is important to us. So we can’t take any of that for granted.”
“Clara Barton is a giant amongst us and someone that we should be proud to honor and proud to know that we walk on the same streets and we walk in the same areas that she once did,” he said.
Mayor Sciortino, who presented a resolution on behalf of Senator Troy Singleton and Assemblymembers Herb Conaway and Carol Murphy in honor of the re-dedication ceremony, linked Barton's legacy to New Jersey's recent ranking as the number one public education system in the country according to U.S. News and World Report.
“The legacy behind it is still alive and well today. A commitment to free, quality public education and the community that rallied around her, is still alive and well," said Sciortino. “I’d like to think Clara planted that seed a long time ago.”
“She was such an amazing woman, a true American icon, and a person whose legacy to our nation was service to humanity,” said Goldman.
For more information about the all-volunteer Bordentown Historical Society, including upcoming events like the annual Garden Tour and fundraising efforts for the Clara Barton Schoolhouse, visit their website HERE.