The History of Greenport Public Schools

In 1729 the first school was established in Greenport, then known as “Sterling”. It was attended by boys only. The curriculum consisted of the “three R’s”, the most important of which was considered to be ‘rithmetic. By 1805 the census had risen to thirty-one pupils, six of whom were girls. The first school building built in Greenport after the adoption of its first name was located on the east side of First Street.

The village changed its name so it would get a federal post office. In 1831 the following resolution was passed:

“Resolved, that the village hereafter be called Green Port. This village was commenced in the Spring of 1828, and is now a place of considerate and increasing business. There are now fifteen dwelling houses completed and several others in progress, five stores, a warehouse, and numerous mechanic shops. They are now fitting for Green Port two whaling ships….and a number of smaller vessels employed in the fishing and coasting trade. They have a wharf at which ships lay, or are hauled out, and two sets of ways for hauling up vessels. The land upon which the village is situated and in the neighborhood is of an excellent quality, the prospect very fine, and commanding; and in short, Green Port is a very eligible, flourishing and beautiful place.”

When his passage was written, Greenport was at the beginning of the whaling era. The first ship, the “Jane A. Bishop”, was built in 1836. Greenport was booming. Steam boats began running that year. Soon there was a fleet of twenty ships sailing from Greenport.

In July, 1844, the railroad made its first run for New York. Greenport was accessible to the wealthy “city people”. For quite some time Greenport was the “in” place to be. Then quite suddenly in 1860 the whaling industry ended, but Greenport prevailed.

In 1842, Walt Whitman taught one successful term at Greenport. While here, he published “The Watchman”. Afterwards, he moved to Southold and taught there.

On August 5, 1861, a special meeting was held to discuss the formation of a union free school. Only men were allowed to vote. On August 13, a final formation of a new district and school was formed, with only forty-nine against votes.

In 1879, the Lillis property, owned by William Wickham, was bought and on March 4, 1879, plans for a new building were under way. The census numbered three hundred thirty-five. In August the new building was completed. That year an Academic Department was formed and Greenport had an entirely new curriculum.

By 1889 the school had progresses to the point where a committee was developed by the board to raise the question of placing the school under the Regents system. In 1890 this was accomplished and one student earned a Regents diploma.

By the turn of the century the school was doing fine. In 1895 bathrooms were put inside. By 1901 there were six hundred and eleven students; the school building was in good condition, but the school was just too small.

In 1902 the Board of Education used a report at its annual district meeting. It read:
“The present building in both the high school department and the grades is so overcrowded as to menace the health of pupils and to cause the State Department of Public Instruction to investigate the matter of school accommodation in this district. Accordingly the board consulted Mr. Skidnos, architect, of Riverhead as the best method of providing the required additional school facilities; and after carefully considering the matter in its various phases unanimously agree with him that as it would destroy the complete design of the present building, and would not meet the approval of the people after such attentions had been made.”

In 1910 the district received the following form from the State Department of Education: “The recent report. . .on your union school show that the school has been growing very rapidly of late, particularly in the elementary department. The instruction throughout made a very favorable impression. The work of the school is evidently carefully and intelligently supervised and directed. I note with interest that in all grades special attention is given to rapid mental work in arithmetic. All school records are reported as kept in a businesslike manner and were found readily available when called for…It is pleasing to note that the equipment of the school, both in grade and high school, is so complete.”

Unlike the expansions of the previous school, the present school building was not built because of overcrowding, or lack of room, but was built to alleviate the problem of recreation. In the old school house there was no gymnasium. What little Physical Education there was was done outdoors or at the Opera House. Renting the Opera House proved to be quite expensive.

By March 1928 a petition was presented to the Board. It read:
“We, the taxpayers…petition the Board of Education to take the proper steps to provide a modern building to be used as a gymnasium and manual training department and to house a central heating plant for the entire group of school buildings.”

The result of this petition was that the Board invited the State Department of Education down and an inspection was made. It was suggested that a new school building be erected. The next question was where to build it.

On May 18, 1931 a special meeting of the Board of Education was held to discuss the purchase of the Price estate. It was approved and shortly after, construction began. In September, 1933 the building was opened.


This article was taken from the 1981 Greenport High School Yearbook