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gcrfd schoolhousePHOTO; The Little Red Schoolhouse is home to Garden Club R.F.D.

MIDDLETOWN, NJ - In every developing community, there has always been a need for a school to provide an education for the children. In Middletown Township, in the area then known as Nut Swamp, that need was felt in the mid-19th Century. And so, it came to be that on March 10, 1841, at a meeting called to discuss the future education of its children, a decision was made to establish a school in this area.

Union School, now known as The Little Red Schoolhouse, located on Middletown Lincroft Road, was built in 1842 on property purchased from Edward and John Micheau for the grand total of $7.00. In its first year of existence, 49 children were in attendance; a single instructor taught all grades from first through high school and received $30.00 to $40.00 per quarter for a total of $120.00 to $160.00 a year. A nearby farmhouse provided a room for the schoolmaster.

For warmth in the schoolhouse, a woodburning stove was provided and once again, it was the farmers who came to the rescue and supplied the firewood for the stove. However, the students and the teacher had the job of cutting the wood into the appropriate stove length.

Many prominent people from that era attended the Union Schoolhouse. For history and ancestry buffs, please note that John S. Applegate, a Red Bank lawyer and State Senator attended as well as James Crawford, Thomas Henry Grant, William MIcheau and Matilda Hendrickson, who later taught at the schoolhouse. Thomas and Walter Field were also students during those days. According to Randall Gabrielan, Middletown Historian, the area had been a prominent place since the 18th Century and the grounds where the Schoolhouse was built had been the former village center for the area called “Nut Swamp”.

The Union School was in use until 1909 when it was realized that a larger building was needed. The building and property were sold to Major Joseph Field for $100.00 and remained in his hands until 1937 when it was sold to Hattie Carnegie, a famous New York dress designer who created an estate in the area. Union Schoolhouse was on a corner of her estate and became a building used to store gardening equipment.

Time went past quickly and not much is known about those years. It was not until 1954 when, because of the friendship of Mary Brasch and Hattie Carnegie, the building became the home of Garden Club R.F.D. Mary Brasch was a dedicated member of this club and well-known in Middletown as a teacher and principal of River Plaza School that was just down Nut Swamp Road. Miss Carnegie agreed to lease the 112-year-old building and corner property to the club for $1.00 a year and granted them permission to renovate it for their use.

Thus began the Garden Club R.F.D.’s history of its connection with Union School, a building that had become a storehouse for gardening equipment, and then finally became The Little Red Schoolhouse-- home to a garden club that is currently celebrating its 78th year of existence-- the last 65 years as the caretaker of a former one-room schoolhouse and its surrounding grounds. The Garden Club has been aided by Middletown Township who are the present owners. They have generously helped the Club to continue its maintenance of what is a New Jersey Historic Site that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976. Ah—there is another story to tell!

gcrfd alicia vacchianoPHOTO: Alicia Vacchiano is the guest speaker April 16

Please join us at our April 16th meeting to be held at the Middletown Art Center at 36 Church Street in Middletown, where we will be exploring “Succulents” with guest speaker, Alicia Vacchiano. She is the owner of Plant Design Events, giving hands-on workshops specializing in succulent designs. Alicia is a Certified Horticulturalist and Master Gardener as well as being President of the Wall Township Garden Club.

Technically, a succulent is any plant with thick, fleshy (succulent) water storage organs. Succulents store water in their leaves, their stems or their roots and have adapted so well that they can survive arid conditions from Africa to the deserts of North America. An incredible variety of interesting leaf forms and plant shapes has resulted—from paddle leaves to teardrop leaves. Succulents include such well-known plants such as aloe and agave to Autumn Joy Sedum and Portulaca. There are over 10,000 succulent plants, which include cacti, as a unique subset. Succulents are plants that aim to please.

So, join Garden Club R.F.D. at approximately 11:15 a.m. to hear Alicia Vacchiano give a basic overview of this plant group and then discuss in depth, the Perennial Succulents, their needs and where to purchase them and more. Meet us in the auditorium for an enjoyable program.

If you’d like to learn more, call Nancy Canade at (973) 452-4846 and tell her you will be coming. It is a free program, open to the public. We welcome you. Free parking is available across the street from Middletown Arts Center in the parking lot for commuters.
Garden Club R.F.D. is a member of National Garden Club and Garden Club of New Jersey.