Voorleezer’s House, Richmond, NY
The oldest known schoolhouse still standing in the United States is the historic clapboard frame Voorlezer’s House built prior to 1696 and located at 45 Arthur Kill Road in Historic Richmond Town in Staten Island, NY. Constructed ca. 1695, it is an example of Dutch-influenced vernacular architecture, but is atypical and an unusually large structure for its early period. The building was built by the Dutch Church as a school, and as a home for the Voorlezer, who was an educator. The building remains near its original site, but in 1939 it was moved back about 15 feet from its original foundation as a safety precaution to be further from the roadway. The date of the patent on which it is located is 1680. Though it became a private residence for more than a century and was well-maintained for many years, by 1936 it had fallen into disrepair and was threatened with demolition. It was restored and first opened to the public on April 14, 1942, became a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and was added to National Register of Historic Places when that registry was created in 1966. Reopened after its second restoration on June 27, 1985, it is now owned and operated by the Staten Island Historical Society.
“Voorlezer” is a Dutch word that can be translated as “fore-reader” or as “one who reads (to others)”. A Voorlezer or Voorleser was the title given to a highly responsible citizen in New Netherland and later Dutch settlements in North America, who had semi-official duties in local law, education, and religion. The title was predominantly used from the mid-17th century to the late 18th century in the small colonial villages. A Voorlezer could engage in many tasks such being be an assistant to a minister, or in the absence of a minister holding religious services and reading scriptures, or running a school. While never officially consecrated as a place of worship, the Voorlezer’s House was used as a meeting place for members of the Dutch Reformed Congregation until the French Church was built in 1698 and later in 1718 when a permanent Dutch Reformed Church was established. The Voorlezer’s House is located on the west side of Arthur Kill Road. Archaeological findings, reported in 1985, produced artifacts dating as early as 1740. Children attending the Voorlezer’s house while it functioned as a school were most likely between the ages of 7 and 12, and were both male and female. Schooling would have been paid for by parents by subject and was probably taught in Dutch language.