Education was a priority among settlers of the area before the founding of the township in 1790. However, for practical reasons, education occurred in the home. As the population increased following the War for Independence, the thriving mining industry of the 1700s continued to prosper into the late 1800s as further industrialization took place. The most significant of these was the creation of the Morris Canal in 1825, and the establishment of railroads before the Civil War.
During the early 1800s, the area was still sparsely populated, with farms and orchards dotting the landscape and houses distant from each other in small hamlets. Private schools were created as early as 1830, among them Miss Woods Private School at 51 Main Street, Succasunna in 1868. Transportation was by foot or horse-drawn cart, and residents functioned in limited spheres so that when interest in formal schooling awakened, it expressed itself in the establishment of district schools between 1806 and 1871, not township-wide schools. Each consisted of a one-room schoolhouse with a three-person board of trustees, its own calendar, its own rules, and hiring standards.
An exception to the one-room concept was the 1857 Chestnut Hill School on Main Street, Succasunna, the site now noted with a descriptive marker. It was a two-story building with grades 1 to 8 on the first floor, and on the second floor, high school subjects were taught, including Latin, German, and algebra.
The Roxbury Academy (1809) was erected on Main Street in Succasunna, the building is still standing at 81-83 Main Street. The school attracted not only local students but those who arrived by stagecoach from Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Morristown, and New York because of" its remarkably healthy situation and its freedom from the bustle of large towns." Its handsome dormitory became a hotel when the school was disbanded in 1849.
Board of Education Established
By 1894, the impracticality of the district school concept was recognized, and centralization of the district schools was implemented with the formation of a nine-member Board of Education mandating the use of the same calendar, textbooks, supplies, and uniform hiring practices throughout the township. Within a few years, additional classroom space was needed in the Kenvil and Succasunna district schools, prompting the construction of the "Grey Building" by the Board of Education on North Hillside Avenue in Succasunna.
The cornerstone for the Grey Building was laid in 1903, with the first classes held in September of 1904. Grades 1 to 8 occupied the first floor with their own Principal, and high school classes 9 to 12 were conducted on the upper story with their own Principal, whose responsibilities included supervision of the district schools that remained in operation. With the establishment of the Grey Building, the Chestnut Hill School was closed, with those who had completed ninth-grade transferred to the Grey Building, becoming its first graduating class in 1907. Of the six to graduate, two females and three males went on to college, with two becoming educators, two osteopathic doctors, and one a railroad telegrapher. The year 1903 marks the official founding of "Roxbury High School." It would be 58 years before a grade 9 to 12 only high school building would be constructed. Nonetheless, the high school flourished.
FIRST GRADUATING CLASS (1907)
The high school curriculum included Latin, German, history, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, botany, art, and music, followed in 1910 by the addition of the study of agriculture and commercial courses, including shorthand, typing, and accounting. The Roxbury Echo's first edition in 1912 recorded the school's extracurricular activities, including details of athletic competitions between RHS and competitors including Dover, Newton, and Bernardsville. Both boys and girls participated in basketball competitions, and baseball and football teams were well-supported.
Roxbury High School, at the forefront of secondary education, accepted tuition-paid students from Randolph, Chester, Hopatcong, Jefferson Township, Mt. Olive, and Mt. Arlington, which did not offer high school classes. Students came up from Chester on the railroad and walked home if they missed their trail, and horse-drawn cart service driven by Miss Dory Crater accommodated those who lived too far away in the township to walk to school.
Within ten years, the Grey Building was filled beyond capacity with classes in 1914 held in dark rooms, stairwells, and even in the Principal's office. Class sizes ranged from 40 to 70 pupils during that time. Some taxpayers favored building a separate high school with an expanded curriculum to include home economics and carpentry. Male and female athletics by that time had been introduced, suggesting the need for playing fields separate from the grammar school playground. An auditorium, gymnasium, and library were among the wish list of students, teachers, and forward-looking residents as told in The History of Roxbury Township, Volume I. In 1915, however, a $38,000 bond issue for the construction of a new building was defeated by the public.
A year later, however, the State Department of Public Education declared that aging district schools were to be closed, which would require transferring displaced students to the Grey Building resulting in the elimination of the high school grades. After lengthy discussions and several referenda, a new bond issue for a school for grades 7 to 12 was approved by voters who believed the school would be "a positive social and cultural force in the community," resulting in the construction of the Lincoln School in 1918 next to the Grey Building,
which would become a school for grades 1 to 6. Students completing 9 to 12 studies in Lincoln School were awarded Roxbury High School Diplomas.
The song "The Dark Blue and The Gold" was written by Russell Gardner 12' and Heston Cole 13' and was recorded in the new Roxbury Echo Yearbook in 1912.
It seems fitting to include in this section the story behind Roxbury's peculiar mascot, the Gael. Sports became a part of Roxbury High School in 1911-12, baseball and coed basketball was played. In 1913 the first football team was organized and Coached by Frank DeMott. During these years, the Gael was not the school mascot. In fact, for a while, the high school tried several possible mascots, including the lions. However, none of these mascots lasted. This all changed, however, in the early 1930s when the Roxbury Football team went on a multi-year run. These teams were led by the three Reilly brothers; Vincent, John, and Fran, along with another player by the name Ed "Hurricane" Higgins. Under head coach Pat Clemens's mentorship, the football teams won multiple championships. The team was so intimidating that one year Roxbury's traditional rival, Morristown, removed the team from its schedule to avoid having to play them. The Daily Record took note of the team and its fiery and fast Irish players. Bill Horner, the sportswriter of the paper, started to refer to the team as the "Galloping Gaels" because the players reminded him of the warlike Gaelic Irish clans. The full name stuck, and for a while, high school teams would be referred to as the Galloping Gaels in the school paper, which eventually was shortened to just the Gaels.
The Roosevelt School
By 1938 the completion of Route 10 and increasing automobile ownership contributed to further development of the township, creating the need for more classroom facilities. The Roosevelt School was built for grades 7 to 12, described in The Roxbury Echo as symbolic of the finest trend in architecture and education," and the Lincoln School became a grades 1 to 6 school. Roosevelt School, referred to as the first actual high school because of its amenities and despite its inclusion of grades 7 and 8 continued to receive high school tuition-paid students from Chester, Hopatcong, Jefferson, Mount Olive, and Mt. Arlington and awarded diplomas in the name of Roxbury High School.
With the end of World War II, and the growth of the suburbs, the population of Roxbury Township increased rapidly; this circumstance would soon drive a change for the district. From its inception in 1903, Roxbury High School had accepted tuition students from Mt. Olive, Chester, Randolph, and Mt. Arlington. By 1955, the high school had become so overcrowded that the Board of Education decided to stop accepting students from all of the sending towns except for Mt. Arlington, which is an arrangement that still exists today. Nevertheless, overcrowded classrooms and expanding academic programs indicated that the Roosevelt School would soon be unable to serve the town's growing high school student population. By the late 1950s, it was apparent that something had to be done to ensure the educational viability of the school system.
A number of ideas were debated, including forming a regional high school with Randolph. However, in 1959 it was decided to hold a referendum on the construction of a new high school to be located on a plot of land bordering Eyland Avenue.
The approved referendum resulted in the construction of a new Roxbury High School (today the Eisenhower Middle School.) As approved, the new building would cost 1,732,340 dollars and contain 23 classrooms, four special rooms, a library, a 694 seat auditorium, a cafeteria, and a gymnasium for 600 spectators. The hope was to have a modern building that could meet the evolving educational needs of the baby boom generation of the 1960s.
When Eisenhower Was RHS
Construction was completed in 1961, with the building being dedicated on November 25th, 1961. The building was the first to be named Roxbury High School, with a bronze medallion affixed to its facade, commemorating the official establishment of a four-year high school program in 1903.
The October 1961 edition of the school newspaper (The Roxbury Flashes), wanted the student body to know that though overcrowding and split sessions led to the need for a new building it was "because our parents thought enough of us to supply the opportunity for the best kind of education" that the students were able to learn in a modern a forward-looking educational facility.
Expansion And A New Roxbury High School
As the district continued to grow, it added a new neighborhood elementary school in 1963 called the Jefferson School for students in Succasunna. That school joined the Lafayette Elementary School in Berkshire Valley, the Washington Elementary School in Port Morris, and the Lincoln and Franklin Elementary Schools in Succasunna serving younger students. However, the increase in suburban housing developments and the planned shuttering of Lafayette increased the need to expand further.
The district had planned two new elementary schools scheduled for construction beginning around 1969. These new facilities would serve as neighborhood schools for different sections of the district. One building was called the New Pleasant Hill School, later named Kennedy Elementary School, and the second was known as the New Shore Hills School, which would be later named Nixon Elementary School.
The new high school building on Eyeland Avenue was modern and supported students with a more modern curriculum; however, the town began to outgrow the new high school almost as soon as it opened. In less than a decade, the town realized that it had to reinvest in the district to house the growing student population across the township.
The district once again went to the citizens of Roxbury with another referendum, this time to build a larger high school to house its expanding population. The new building would be located adjacent to the existing high school (EMS) on land bordering Hillside Avenue This new high school would be even more modern and would be designed to handle future fluctuations in the town's population. The referendum was held in October of 1969, and voting took place at different schools throughout the township, including the new Pleasant Hill School finished in time for voting.
The new Roxbury High School opened its doors on September 6th, 1972. It had a modern Media Center, no longer known as the library because of its archives, periodicals, and film strips. The school also had what was known at the time as the "experimental child care center," which started the district's student-run pre-school program.
Many of the curricular choices offered at the new high school would be recognizable to students who go to school there now, including Human Behavior, a popular junior, and senior elective. Students could sign up for an independent study, and even Italian was introduced when doors opened. Interestingly, the December 1972 edition of the school paper made a point of citing a topic of conversation for the student body that continues to this day, the fact that the building was almost completely devoid of windows,
As the new century dawned, the district was able to pass a referendum aimed at updating the district's elementary schools by adding a gymnasium to each building. The plan also called for connecting the Lincoln and Roosevelt Schools with a new Atrium to allow for more efficient use of resources and staff. The middle school and high school were also updated with additions built for the performing arts, and a new weight room for the high school.
The High School also celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2003-2004. This celebration allowed RHS to rediscover its long-lost alma mater. The song, "The Dark Blue and The Gold," was written by Russell Gardner 12' and Heston Cole 13' and was recorded in the new Roxbury Echo Yearbook in 1912. That Echo Yearbook was edited by a young Harriett Meeker, who, after furthering her education, worked for the district and dedicated her life to the preservation of the history of the town. The street that borders Franklin and Roosevelt schools bears her family's name today. The song was used for decades before languishing into obscurity. However, the centennial celebration allowed the administration and faculty to reinstitute the tradition. Jeffrey Swanson, the Principal of the High School at that time, remembers the Classic Sounds Honors Choir performing the song during the festivities and the alumni from the Roosevelt High School years rising to stand at attention when they recognized their alma mater. The Alma Mater is now sung at graduation and is played by the marching band at the conclusion of home football games, with fans and players celebrating its performance.
Building off the reinstitution of the school song, the district started to formalize its branding. Emblems were examined, and colors were formalized, a process that was finalized district-wide in 2019.
Fortunes shifted by the end of the first decade of the 2000s, due in part, to new state legislation. This allowed the district to reinvest in itself by performing much-needed maintenance, and by restoring and growing its programs. During this time, the high school modernized its schedule to a "block" format; later the middle school would also work to develop its own type of extended period schedule. The district moved to be mindful of its long-term goals by establishing large and thorough strategic plans, course offerings expanded at all levels, and the district was able to establish its 1 to 1 initiative. This initiative, plus the infrastructure built around it, allowed for the district to more quickly modernize its instructional practices and has allowed our students to better respond to both weather and health-related emergencies, which have severely disrupted other districts.
It was also during this time that junior Rachel Synalovski proposed the idea of bringing a dance marathon to Roxbury to raise money to help families struggling with Pediatric cancer. This event started under the guidance of Nicole Barbato, as part of Key Club, and later transitioned into its own club under the leadership of Mike Gottfried, an RHS and Penn State Alumn. The event became a service juggernaut with over 500 students participating each year and mirrored many of the characteristics found in the largest student-run philanthropy at Penn State. Pairing up with the highly successful Penn State Thon through Four Diamonds, Roxbury was able to build philanthropy that is the envy of schools far and near. In 2019, the event transitioned from mini-THON to Rox-THON in order to support the local community through Goryeb Children's Hospital in Morristown, and as of today, the students of Roxbury have been able to raise over 325,000 dollars for a noble cause.
The district continues to grow and reform based on the newest educational research, allowing the district to drive forward into the 2020s, 30s, and beyond. Over the last few years, the district has worked to establish the Columbia's TC Workshop Model across grades K-8, a concerted effort has been made to infuse comprehensive Social Emotional Learning, there has also been an expansion of career education, AP offerings, Dual Credit, and the inclusion of specific values and traits for success after Roxbury described in the district's portrait of a graduate. The future of the district looks bright. However, good fortunes are generally the result of support, thoughtful effort, and planning. As we look back on our district and take stock in its growth and development over the years, it is important to thank all of the parents, students, faculty, and staff that have helped guide our district through calm, as well as the rockiest of waters. It is through all of you that our district has been able to keep a promise that it made over 100 years ago to the youth of Roxbury, that the town will provide opportunities for our students to grow and strive to achieve the best versions of themselves.