Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall has the distinction of being one of the oldest secondary schools in the United States. The school began in 1786 with funding from Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Aaron Burr, and Robert Livingston. In 1896, became the property of the city and was used as a public school. Gradually, a larger campus grew up around the original building, which sat empty for a time after Erasmus Hall High School closed in the 1990s. The original building is a New York City Landmark and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


  • The original Erasmus Hall Academy, built in 1786
    The original Erasmus Hall Academy, built in 1786
  • Part of the later, Gothic additions
    Part of the later, Gothic additions

There are few schools in the United States that can claim to predate the signing of the Constitution. But Erasmus Hall Academy in Brooklyn traces its history back to 1786. Not only does the school have a long history, it also has a distinguished one. Among the men who provided funding to found the school were a number of the Founding Fathers: Alexander Hamilton, Chief Justice John Jay, Aaron Burr, and Robert Livingston. 

The school, which began as a private school for young men, is the oldest secondary school in the state of New York. The first students at Erasmus Hall lived in the building in addition to attending classes there. The school began to admit girls in 1801. Until well into the twentieth century, Erasmus was one of the country’s most prestigious secondary schools. 

In 1896, the original building was donated to the city and it began to be used as a public school. In 1905, the city began building a modern school building complex around the original structure. The campus, which was designed by Charles B. J. Snyder, was built in the Collegiate Gothic Style, which gives the school the appearance of an Ivy League campus. At one point during the decades-long expansion of the campus, the original building was moved and wings that were added later were demolished. 

Though the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and was named a city landmark in 1966, it fell into neglect and was in danger of being condemned or demolished after the school’s closure in 1994. The public rallied to save the building, however, and enough funds were raised to repair the damage. Currently, the campus, now known as Erasmus Hall Educational Campus, has reopened and is home to five separate small schools. The fate of the original building is uncertain, although a number of people would like to see it restored and to see its history promoted. 

Erasmus Hall produced a number of acclaimed graduates over the years, including Clive Davis, Barbra Streisand, Eli Wallach and Mae West, among many others.

 

 

Gray, Christopher. Erasmus Hall and its Offspring. New York Times. March 25, 2010. Accessed July 23, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/realestate/28streets.html.

Angelos, James. At a Fabled School, a Fixer-Upper. New York Times. February 27, 2009. . https://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/nyregion/thecity/01eras.html.

Miller, Stuart. A Quest to Stop Erasmus Hall Academy's "Demolition by Neglect". New York Times. February 13, 2017. . https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/13/nyregion/a-quest-to-stop-erasmus-hall-academys-demolition-by-neglect.html.