Last weekend David and I—somewhat spontaneously—decided to rent a Zipcar and drive to New Jersey to explore an abandoned school. We didn't have a lot of information about the school except for an address and with abandoned buildings you never know what—if anything—you're going to find. That's part of the appeal, but also part of what makes this hobby nerve-wracking for an anxious person like me, and I was super nervous about this one, in part because I knew it had the potential to be great.
This school was definitely the most difficult place we've explored, only because the building was relatively secure. But after a bit of physical maneuvering we were inside and immediately struck at how much stuff was piled in the lower floors. Built in the 1850s, this school was added to repeatedly through the years and it's a grand building—five floors of classrooms, including a basement and roof access.
The crown jewel of this school is its auditorium. added in 1909. Casement windows open off of a corridor circling the upper portion of the auditorium, adding additional viewpoints—reminiscent of the balconies at a grand opera house. Most of the nearly 800 seats are still intact, and I wish I could say the same for the incredible stained glass ceiling, which is unfortunately mostly shattered, seemingly beyond repair.
In an newspaper announcement that I found online about the opening of this auditorium, it says that "The city will be compensated many times over for the outlay that this auditorium will entail through the refining and elevating influences that will proceed from it, disseminated among a people who are hungry for the educational advantages which for centuries have been denied their race in the old world."
This school broke my heart in a lot of ways, in the normal ways that all abandoned places do, and in some new ones as well. This building was so grand and beautiful and—at the risk of sounding a thousand years old—they just don't build things like this anymore, especially schools. Buildings like this say something important about the activities contained within—that they matter. As my friend Jim, an architect, said: it's the difference between wearing sweatpants or a suit.
I'm not exactly sure what forced this school to close, but judging by the declining student population I would speculate that the upkeep was just too expensive for the struggling school district. The remaining students were moved to another school, and the school closed in 2007. There's no way of knowing if the city was ever "compensated many times over" for its investment in this beautiful building, but it breaks my heart to see it slowly crumbling.