“We were young together
And never can forget
The school house at Rock Valley
In school days where we met.”
– Hancock Herald. February 14, 1957.
The Rock Valley School, also known as Hancock School District No. 22, is located in an area known as the Upper Basket in the small hamlet of Rock Valley in the town of Hancock, Delaware County. The school is situated just north of the intersection of Rock Valley Road (County Route 28) and John Milk Road; and near the confluence of the North Branch Basket Creek and Hoffman Brook. The school is located approximately 3.8 miles north of Route 97 and the Delaware River. The historic Rock Valley Cemetery is located adjacent to the school on a sloping hillside.
The school was established in 1885 in order to meet the needs of the growing population associated with local businesses such as logging, milling, bluestone quarrying, agriculture and the wood chemical industry.
As for the name Rock Valley, “the exact origin of the name is a matter of speculation, the most common guess being the obvious one, that it was so named because of the rocks in it. Back in the days before the permanent settlers came in, when only hunters and trappers and occasional Indians visited the Basket wilderness, the lower Fernwood basin was known as the Big Rock Valley, and the suggestion has been made that somehow, in the passage of time, the name slipped over the hill. To anyone knowing the country, however, the west brook has its own rock valley, where the stream at one place falls over a rocky ledge and after running past rocky walls, finally flows over a solid rock bottom near the lower end. This, no doubt, was the beginning of Rock Valley.” (LaValley, Leslie D. “Basket Letters. A History of the Basket Brook. Chapter LV, Rock Valley.” The Hancock Herald. February 14, 1957.)
The classic one-story wood frame school was built at a cost of $750 by John Inman, a local mason and carpenter. As per the Hancock Herald issue of March 5, 1885, “we hear the contract to build the new school at Rock Valley has been taken by John E. Inman, consideration $750.00. If built according to contract, it will be one of the best in the county, will be perfectly ventilated, and supplied with Triumph desks.”
As for the timing of the construction the Hancock Herald in their April 9, 1885 issue reported that “. . . Inman has part of the lumber for our school house delivered on the ground.” The firm of Swinton, Shimer, and Co., of Port Jervis, were contracted to put the tin on the roof of the new school house, which they did in June 1885. (Hancock Herald. June 11, 1885.) The land for the school was donated by George Oestrich.
“The school is a one-story wood-frame building on a cut stone foundation. The main section of the building is rectangular in form, two bays wide and three bays deep (approximately 24’ by 36’). The gable roof (clad with asphalt shingles in 1975) features simple overhangs and returns in the roof line and rectangular vents in the front and rear pediments. Sided in wooden clapboards, the school has narrow cornerboards and a water table. All of the large six over six double hung windows are original to the construction and matching in size and enframements. The main entrance, approached by three flagstone tiered steps, has a four paneled wood door within a simple molded enframement. The rear entrance of the building is on the left hand side and is windowless, with a central brick chimney running up the center and a handicapped accessible ramp added to the building in 1985.
The interior of the school is divided into a vestibule, which was used as a cloakroom and retains its original iron coat hooks, and a single large schoolroom. The vestibule is lit by the two façade windows. Two opposing four-paneled doors on the interior wall provide access to the classroom. The interior of the classroom is large and brightly lit by the three windows on the east and west sides. The original blackboard hangs between the two entry doors and a cast-iron woodstove is in the center of the room. The school retains its original pine floors throughout. Electric lighting is supplied by hanging pendant lights, added to the building after 1910. The school has bad minimal alterations from its original construction date.”
The school building complied with all the latest educational mandates, and was considered one of the finest schools in the county. As was common for rural areas of the era, the one room schoolhouse served students of all grade levels. On March 25, 1886 the Hancock Herald reported that “Miss Minnie Biedeknapp will teach the Rock Valley school the coming term,” making her one of the earliest teachers as the Rock Valley School.
The historic school remained in continuous operation until 1940s, when it closed due to school district consolidation. In 1953 the school building was deeded to the Rock Valley Cemetery Association, which has maintained the school ever since. The Rock Valley Cemetery, located along John Milk Road, behind and to the west of the school, was established in 1902. A commemorative marker was mounted on the front of the building by the Basket Historical Society in 1985 to mark the 100th anniversary of the school.
The Rock Valley School was one of 29 school buildings that served the town of Hancock in the late 1800s. Of the 29 buildings 14 have been demolished, 10 were converted to dwellings, 3 are of unknown disposition and 2, Rock Valley and Harvard, retain their school forms.
Today, the school interior features many of its original fixtures such as the pine floor, blackboard, iron coat hooks and desks. Since its closing in the 1940s, the building has been used as a polling station, a community meeting house and, more recently, as a venue for artistic events such as book signings and poetry readings.
The 24-inch cast iron church bell located in front of the school adds to the charm of the location but has no historic association with the schoolhouse. It was acquired in the summer of 2006 by the Rock Valley Cemetery Association, the school’s owner. The bell was originally located at the old Grange and Rock Valley Methodist Church, located a 1/4 mile up the road from the schoolhouse.
The Rock Valley School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places “as an intact representative example of a small, vernacular nineteenth-century schoolhouse and for its association with the history and development of the town of Hancock in Delaware County.”