Groton Central’s history in an envelope

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The post office here in Groton processes its fair share of mail, and a generous percentage of it gets delivered to 400 Peru Rd. on a daily basis. That is the address of the Groton Central School’s district office and the Jr.-Sr. High School.

On an ordinary day in September, amidst all the usual collection of invoices, correspondence from a plethora of education-related entities and, just like everyone else, junk mail, Superintendent Margo Martin opened a plain white #10 envelope addressed simply to “Superintendent of Schools” with a postmark from Stockton, California.

As she extracted the single sheet of paper with a typed letter from 91-year-old Lowell Joerg, she also found a postcard encased in a plastic sleeve in the envelope.

That postcard was postmarked with an upside-down 1 cent stamp at the Groton Post Office at 6 p.m. Feb. 21, 1911. It appears to have been written by “Maggie” to her aunt “Mate Tompkins” in Cortland, New York, published by Rhodes & Morton in Groton, New York, and printed in Germany.

The front of the postcard depicts Groton High School, clearly circa 1911 and not at its current location on Peru Road.

Many are aware that the current Schoolhouse Gardens Apartments on Main Street was originally built in 1919 and was then Groton High School before it became Tompkins Cortland Community College in 1968. That building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Prior to that – according to some excerpts I found in “History of Groton, NY” from Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York, edited by John H. Selkreg and published by D. Mason & Company in 1894 – the Groton Academy was founded and established in 1837 by a stock company whose members were residents of the village and interested in the welfare of the youth of the vicinity.

The building was of frame construction and was used for academic purposes until its final destruction by fire in 1882. The academy continued as a private or company enterprise until the latter part of 1872, when the property was purchased by the village and changed into a union free school of District No. 8.

Professor M. M. Baldwin was the owner of the academy property, having purchased the interest of the stockholders during his principalship from 1861-72. On Nov. 12, 1872, School District No. 8 held a meeting to vote on the question and determine whether a union free school should be established.

At that meeting, it was resolved that “School District No. 8 of the town of Groton resolve itself into a union graded school district” and that the Board of Education be instructed to secure the advantages of an academic department to the school.

This Board of Education purchased the old Groton Academy from Baldwin, which thenceforth became the Union Free School of District No. 8. In 1882, the old building was destroyed by fire and replaced with a larger and more substantial brick structure, erected at a total cost of about $15,000. In 1892, material additions and improvements were made at an expense of nearly $10,000 more.

The members of the Board of Education in 1893 were: W. E. Mount, president; G. M. Stoddard, vice president; H. G. Dimon, secretary; H. B. Stevens, Benn Conger, F. A. Beget, L. J. Townley and H. S. Hopkins, treasurer.

It was that building on the postcard that Joerg found in a California antique store. He paid $6 for it and sent it “home where it can be appreciated,” as his letter states.

“Our heritage is important to us all and should be preserved. Enlarged and posted up, it will cause some nice conversation,” Joerg wrote.

More of the letter read as follows:

“Well, I gave 6.00 for it, so if you want it for 7.00 or 8.00 or so, why that’s sure o.k. Throw in a little postage if you want, too. My wife used to laugh at me and say, ‘If you hear from them you’ll have to take me out to lunch.’ I just turned ninety-one on June 26 and I’m still going strong as far as I know. I like to call my little hobby a re-distribution of happiness. Our world sure needs it!”

The postscript at the bottom of Joerg’s letter said, “Oh yes, my daughter says you can find me on GOOGLE but I never look. I picked your address random off the net. I figure I could trust you folks.”

Well, Google him I did, and it turns out his “little hobby” has been going on for at least the past 27 years! It appears that Joerg has made quite a mission of finding and sending old postcards of historical buildings and sending them “home,” including a very similar letter accompanying each one.

While the letters do seem almost boilerplate, including the friendly “solicitation” included in each one, Joerg’s sincerity and obvious joy in what he does to, as he writes, “brighten up your day,” rings through loud and clear. It very definitely brightened Martin’s day, as well as the rest of the district office staff’s, when she opened that envelope.

Martin said her plan is to frame it just as it is, including Joerg’s wonderful letter, and hang it on the wall in the district office. She also wrote back to Joerg to thank him for his kindness, enclosing a bit more than his “asking price,” a GCS ball cap and some literature to show him what our school district is like today.

Joerg also said in the letter, “How the card got all the way out here to California, we’ll never know!”

That is indeed a mystery, but I’m hopeful that someone reading this column might know something about Maggie and her aunt Mate Tompkins. If you do, please let me know!

Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, lmc10@cornell.edu or 607-227-4922.

In brief:

End-of-life planning

End-of-life planning can be challenging to talk about or even think about. Research tells us that when we embrace these difficult conversations before a health crisis, we inspire a state of feeling strong, active and present.

All are welcome to join Foodnet Meals on Wheels as it welcomes three local funeral homes to talk about the importance of end of life planning at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at Center Village Court, 200 W. South St. This presentation is open to the public and offered at no cost.

Funeral directors from Zirbel, Ness-Sibley and Lansing Funeral Home will be on hand to help answer any questions you have regarding end of life preparation including: why pre-planning is important, talking to your loved ones about your final wishes, what arrangement options are available, living wills and funeral costs.

Join Foodnet for a nutritious lunch following this workshop. Reservations are required at least one day in advance by calling (607) 266-9553. Lunch is available to all individuals who are 60 and older for a voluntary financial contribution. Those under 60 may attend for a cost of $8 per meal.

Groton Rotary events

The Groton Rotary Club welcomes the public to join them on a chartered bus trip for a “Day on Your Own in New York City.” The bus will leave Groton High School on Saturday, Dec. 7 at 6:30 a.m. and returns to GHS on Sunday, Dec. 8 at 1 a.m. The cost of the trip is $70 per person. Contact Tim Heller at Groton Central School, (607) 898-4588 to reserve a seat. Seats are first-come, first-served.

Groton Rotary Club is sponsoring a free event called “An Evening at the Planetarium” at Bowers Hall on the SUNY Cortland campus at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12. Hors d’oeuvres will be served at 5 p.m. To reserve a spot for this event, please contact Mona Forney at moneyforney@aol.com.

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