Old Ardena School House
The Old Ardena School House located in Howell, NJ started educating children of the community in 1835. With architecture resembling a church within its 15x16 feet frame, the single room school house taught students of a wide range of ages and abilities under one roof. Located in what was primarily a rural area, education opportunities were limited, and students had to pay the teacher in order to attend. Today, students from the modern school district visit the Old Ardena School House Museum to see how children were educated over a century ago.
Backstory and Context
Built in 1835, the Ardena School House operated as a one-room educational facility for the children in the area. The original building was then changed to become a church, so a new school house was built in 1855, as “the state ordered that municipalities had to provide educational facilities for children.” During its time of operation, it was the parents’ responsibility to hire and pay the teacher to work in the school house, so not everyone had the opportunity to obtain an education. Since Ardena only had a single room for instruction, all levels of learners were taught together. This encompassed a great range of ages and the older students would often times work independently or help the younger ones during the school day.
Although from today’s perspective the school house appears limited in space and amenities, during the time of its operation it was standard with what students had at home. There was an out-house for restroom use, glass windows, and a single stove used as a source of heat for cold days. However, for the sixty students in the classroom, attending school was a privilege and one must remember that these conditions (lack of modern plumbing, heating, etc) were typical for the time.
Unlike modern day school systems that require 180 days of school for students, during the time of the Ardena School House, there was only a 130-day school year. This was due to the fact that the individuals in Farmingdale and Howell relied on agriculture to survive. Since many of the students worked on their family farms, they would often have to miss class or leave early in order to help at home. Even with these circumstances, children were still given the opportunity for an education and improving their lives.
By 1939, the school house was closed along with many other one-room schools, and children attended the new Ardena school on Adelphia Road instead. The Old Ardena school was removed from its location and brought to Freehold. With its new location, the function of the building changed as well, as it transitioned into an upholstery shop.
In 1973, there was a push by the Howell Historical Society to preserve the building. The Historical Society was able to purchase the Old School house and brought it to where it still stands today on Old Tavern and Preventorium Road. Now in operation as a museum, Old Ardena provides visitors and people passing by a look into the past. One Sunday a month visitors can engage with a tour guide and learn about the School House’s history and, especially, what life was like for those who learned and worked there. People are fascinated to look at the small space that housed so many students, the limited supplies they worked with, and how it compares to the schools they attend today.
O'Brien, Kerry. A Gem of Local History in Howell NJ. Fun New Jersey Magazine. October 7th, 2015. https://magazine.funnewjersey.com/old-ardena-schoolhouse-historical-sites-in-nj/.