Posts Tagged ‘Public School 34 Brooklyn’

New York City’s oldest public school is in this 1867 building in Greenpoint

August 30, 2021

With its red brick facade, ornate entryway, and cathedral-like windows, Public School 34 in Greenpoint is a Romanesque Revival-style beauty.

But this elementary school that truly looks like a school also makes history.

Built in 1867 on Norman Avenue two years after the Civil War ended and President Lincoln was assassinated, it’s one of the oldest, and by some claims the oldest, public school building in New York City that’s still in use today.

Also called the Oliver H. Perry School—after the naval officer who helped defeat the British during the War of 1812—the building (below, in 1931) is rumored to have done a stint as a Civil War hospital.

“Walking inside the buildings long hallways, they certainly have the feel of hospital wards,” stated Geoff Cobb, a writer at Greenpointers.com, in 2016. “There are no four-walled classrooms, instead the long ward like halls have been divided up, but it is not hard to imagine that the building was once filled with wounded union soldiers.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission report that designates PS 34 a historical landmark doesn’t mention a hospital, though. Instead, it calls out the architectural loveliness of the school, as well as that it was built to serve a recently urbanized Greenpoint thanks to the booming shipbuilding industry along the East River.

It’s not a surprise that Brooklyn maintains such an early school building; the borough—which of course was a separate city at the time—was an educational leader back in the 19th century.

“Public education began in Brooklyn in 1816 and by the late 19th century had grown to the point that Brooklyn had one of the most extensive public education systems in the country,” wrote Andrew Dolkart in Guide to New York City Landmarks.

Today, PS 34 is a neighborhood school with a Polish-English dual language program, a reflection of the Polish immigrant community in Greenpoint. The site Brooklyn Relics has more gorgeous photos.

[Top photo: Wikipedia; second photo: NYPL; third and fourth photos: Brooklynrelics]