by Kat Kurylko, Research Assistant
April 27, 2021
In 1830, the residents of Columbia, now Florham Park, sought to improve their thriving farming and broom-making community by establishing a public school for the local children. Therefore, a small schoolhouse, Columbia School #5, was built on the corner of Columbia Turnpike and Ridgedale Avenue and dedicated on Feb. 17, 1831. Schooling at the “little red frame building” prospered, and so, by the 1850s, the building was “in condition of dilapidation rendering it unfit to be occupied” due to overcrowding.
On March 1, 1867, nearly 50 children attended their first class in a new one-room brick schoolhouse (top photo). The use of brick added prestige, but great expense to the project, accounting for nearly half of the budget. The new building was designed based on principles found in Henry Barnard’s book, School House Architecture. Much like Thomas Kirkbride’s progressive hospital designs (illustrated locally at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital), Barnard’s method promoted the importance of comfort through the inclusion of adequate light, comfortable furniture, and separation of the sexes. Adherence to this philosophy is noted in the school’s eight tall windows along with its high ceilings and the inclusion of separate gendered entrances located in the vestibule. A pot-bellied stove and bell tower were also included to fit these new guidelines.
School attendance continued to grow and, by 1914, a four-room annex building, which could accommodate 78 students, was built on the school’s property, and the earlier brick building served as an auditorium. Eventually, the community outgrew both buildings, and in 1934, Ridgedale School, the borough’s current middle school, was constructed.
Founded in the 1930s to preserve the “Little Red Schoolhouse,” the Historical Society of Florham Park now operates the building as a museum. A source of great pride for the local community, the building stands in nearly the same location on the corner of Columbia Turnpike and Ridgedale Avenue, although moved back to accommodate the expansion of Columbia Turnpike. Listed on the NJ and National Registers of Historic Places since the early 1970s, today the building serves as a reminder of the community’s rural roots.
Top photo courtesy of Morris Tourism Bureau.
The League of Women Voters of Florham Park. This is Florham Park. New Jersey: The League of Women Voters of Florham Park, N.J.
David Mitros & Eleanor Weis, “Little Red School House,” Historic Highlights of Florham Park, 1999.
Eleanor Weis. Saga of a Crossroads: Florham Park. New Jersey: Horowitz/Rae Book Manufacturers, 1988.
John T. Cunningham. Images of America: Florham Park. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 1999.
Terry Karschner, and Richard J. Sullivan. National Register of Historic Places Nomination: Little Red Schoolhouse, Morris County, New Jersey. Florham Park, NJ: Historical Society of Florham Park, 1973.