In commemoration of Newtown High School's upcoming centennial, The Juniper Berry would like to take this opportunity to indulge its readers in an historical perspective of Newtown proper and its high school. In recognition of the first graduating class of 1898 to the present graduating class of 1998, we congratulate you.
Upon Newtown's discovery by Henry Hudson in 1609, this territory was originally named Mespat by the Indians and belonged to the New Netherlands. Among the first settlers to Mespat in 1642, was one Rev. Francis Doughty of the Mayflower expeditioners.
Due to controversies in Massachusetts, the Rev. Doughty was forced to flee his home, and immediately sought the authorities of New Amsterdam for a tract of land. This patent, bestowed upon the Rev. Doughty, encompassed 13,332 acres at Mespat as well as a tract which included what is now the town of Newtown and Long Island City, some 16,800 acres.
The predominant portion of this tract, which was marshy land, was first considered unsuitable for cultivation. But with the advances in farming implements and subsoil drainage, these once unproductive wetlands developed into an agricultural Mecca. Additionally, Mespat's close proximity to New York City contributed to its economic growth, for farmers were encouraged to raise fruits and vegetables for the city market.
By 1643, within a year of its conception, Mespat was under the siege of the Indians. Few settlers fell victim to slaughter, while most retreated, only to witness their labors of the past year reduced to ashes. Although peace was restored, Mespat never recovered from the onslaught, and remained an untamed wilderness.
All was not lost for the ensuing future of Newtown, for in 1652 a company of Englishman from New England settled in a region well inland and less susceptible to Indian raids. This new local resided midway between the kill of Mespat and Vlissingen (Queens Boulevard and Broadway), and claimed the name Middleburg.
Fatigued of the tyranny of its Dutch forefathers, the settlers of Middleburg were enthusiastic for its annexation to the other side of the sound, that being Connecticut. So, in 1665, now in allegiance to King Charles II, Middleburg was eager to adopt the name of Hastings, after a town in Sussex, England. This was not the last time this township was to undergo a name change, for in 1683, when the English system of towns and counties was established, "the New Towne" was christened to distinguish it from the original settlement.
Although agriculture continued as the focal industry for the inhabitants of Newtown, the period between 1720-1755 witnessed the emergence of social enterprise, with the subject of education gaining rapid support. By 1740, there were five schools in evidence, but none of which were free.
On October 3, 1865, in a "Public Address on the Necessity and Importance of Establishing a Free School in the Town of Newtown, L.I.," Mr. E. Varey of Locust Grove, Newtown, argued that parents who could ill afford the school rates should have the opportunity to admit their children to a "large commodious free school two stories with a primary department." To date, the majority of children attended public school in New York City.
Records indicate that a meeting was convened to consider the possibility of a free school. Although for two hundred years schools have preserved there residence on Broadway (Elmhurst), this new site occupied a section of town referred to as the "Commons," and home of the present Newtown High School on Chicago Street near Corona Avenue. Before Newtown High School's consolidation, this school was formerly known as Union Free School and later Public School 13, which was destroyed by fire in 1883 and succeeded by another.
When Dr. James Darius Dilllingham arrived at Corona's grammar school in 1894, he promptly arrived at the obvious need for a high school. He sought the powers that be to garner approval for his foresight, and initiated the task of developing a secondary school which he designated as Corona High School.
Soon there was a suggestion of the consolidation of high schools. The Board of Estimate and Apportionate argued in favor of consolidation, for there was considerable opposition to a new high school in Newtown, since Queens Borough already boasted six high schools, while Brooklyn maintained four and Manhattan only three. So in 1898, The Board of Education of the Borough of Queens deemed approval for the merger of Corona High School with the academic department of the Newtown Union School, thus forming Newtown High School.
Completion of Newtown High School was not until 1900. It was to this establishment that Dr. Dillingham arrived along with 131 students from Public School 13 (Union Free School) as well as a staff of five teachers who taught mathematics, science, Greek and Latin, French and German and English. He assumed responsibility of principal from September 1900 to June 1935 and was indefatigable in his efforts to provide a formidable educational institution throughout his years at Newtown.
During the depression of 1907, when Newtown's enrollment was alarmingly low, Dr. Dillingham orchestrated personal visits to the parents in Elmhurst, and imparted the urgency of a high school education. His most notable contributions to Newtown High School included specialty programs such as the pre-engineering department, a cooperative department which in essence was a work-study program designed for juniors and seniors and a music and fine arts department.
Considerable attention must be focused on Dr. Dillingham's inception of an agricultural course, for it ultimately provided an invaluable service to the community, city, state and country. Newtown's Agricultural Department, a $600,000.00 annex located at 66-01 Main Street, Flushing, operated a 22 acre self-sustaining farm with an attendance of 200 students. Originally designed to furnish provisions in an attempt to alleviate the post World War I food crisis, this "farm within a city" was later heralded for its contributions during World War II. Its labors boasted the placement of more boys on farms than any other institution, as well the production of 24 tons of food for the war effort.
Dr. Dillingham graduated 555 students in 1935, his last year as principal of Newtown High School.
For all those interested, the Newtown Alumni Association will be sponsoring the following series of events in honor of its centennial.
September 26 – Kick-off Event
October 18 – Centennial Carnival
October 25 – Alumni Association Homecoming
November 9 – Atlantic City Bus Trip
December 5 – Centennial Play
December 6 – Past, Present, Future
December 19 – Centennial Seasonal Concert
May 1 – Centennial Spring Concert
May 2 – Art Show
May 14 – Centennial Dinner/Dance
May 16 – Alumni Association Fifth Anniversary Party
June – Our Hundreth Graduation
Doggett, Marguerite V. Early History of Newtown Hiqh School. Ridgewood: Greater Ridgewood Historical Society, 1963-1964.
Doggett, Marguerite V. Newtown Schools, Its Hiqh School and Dr. Dillingham.
The Encvclopedia of New York City. 1995.
The Town of Newtown. Oueens County. NY. Part 2. Long Island Division, 1993.