|It is not at all certain that Guiliaem Bertholf taught school in 1693 in what is now Paterson, but it is likely that he did. In one of his letters he refers to himself as “the pastor of the churches of Hackensack and Acquackanonk, the resident schoolmaster and consoler of the sick.” As Paterson, before it was called Paterson, was a part of Acquackanonk, the chances are that the school teachers of Paterson today are the successors of Rev. Mr. Bertholf. The Acquackanonk church records tell of a man named James Billington, who was a schoolmaster, and who was married in 1742, the name of his bride being Anna America. Perhaps Mr. Billington taught school somewhere in what is now Paterson. There was a school in 1768 at Pompton and in 1775 at Singac; in 1802 there was a log school house near what is now Athenia-schools all about Paterson but none in Paterson.
Just when the first school was built in Paterson is not known but records tell of school being taught before 1820 in a building which stood near where the Market street bridge now crosses Into Bergen county. There were several school teachers there, one after another, and some of the pupils were ferried across the river from Bergen county, for there was no bridge there at that time. The teacher and his family lived in the same building in which he taught school; there were several classes and each was taught for three hours in the forenoon and three hours in the afternoon; there was a half holiday every Saturday and later on a whole holiday on Saturday, but there were no vacations.
But before this time the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures had done something towards education. In 1794 the superintendent of the Society reported to the directors that a number of children would be taken out of the Society’s factory by their parents unless something was done in the way of teaching these children. So the directors told the superintendent to employ a schoolmaster to teach these children on Sundays. This was probably done, for two years later the Society gave John Wright, schoolmaster, the use of a house which to teach school. But before John Wright began to teach, Miss Sarah Colt had started a Sunday school and she carried it on for a number of years; she was the daughter of the Society’s superintendent and was only twelve years of age when she began to teach. It may seem curious in these days that reading, writing and arithmetic should be taught in Sunday schools, but the teaching of these branches of education was the main object of Sunday schools in the early days of Paterson. Even as late as 1822 the Paterson Union Sunday School Society declared that its object was teaching “the rudiments of the English language, religion and morality.”
In 1814 the Society gave a lot on the southeast corner of Market and Union streets for the purpose of education and the building there was occupied by the Paterson Academy, which had been started some three years previous. It was in this building that the first free school, that is, a school at the expense of the public, was begun in 1827, the lower floor of the building being rented for $2.50 per month, but it was understood that the school was only for the benefit of the children of the poor. The cost of education in Paterson in 1831 was only $300 and in 1835 the school trustees got along with $200, this sum including all expenses. These schools were called “free schools for the poor” and it was not until 1847 that the words “for the poor” were dropped from the title. Even then it required a permit from the school trustees before a child could enter school and no family could send more than one child without paying a tuition fee. Children were required to furnish their own books and stationery.
In 1837 the school trustees rented the basement of the Cross street Methodist church and in this same basement the first session of the Passaic county courts was held. While court was in session the children played. School was next held in the basement of a Baptist church in Broadway, afterwards the German Presbyterian church. The school was then moved to the corner of Union and Smith streets; this building was burned down in 1846 and the school went back to the basement of the Cross street church. In 1848 the trustees bought a lot on the south side of Ellison street, between Main and Prospect streets; there was already a building on the lot, but another was erected in the rear; the lower floor of this was used as a private school; the public school was held upstairs and among the pupils who attended was the late William J. Rogers, who was subsequently superintendent of the schools in Paterson for a number of years. The records do not tell what the school hours were but they do say that these hours began at six o’clock in the morning.
Progress in building schools – and also in attending them – now became rapid until there was established our present large and efficient system. Under the city charter of 1871 the members of the Board of Education were elected annually by voters, two from each ward.