Franklin Falls farm boy looks back

It hadn’t occurred to me until I received an email from Walt Ryan that it’s been 70 years since we graduated from the Saranac Lake Central School. He forwarded the plans being developed by Bud Drutz for a reunion Sept. 20 to 22. Much has happened since 1949 that began with formal schooling in 1936, midway during the Great Depression.

The one-room schoolhouse in the town of St. Armand, several miles east of Franklin Falls, that I was slated to attend was closed when they heard I was coming. Those left at home from my family of 12 rode the bus over the bumpy roads to the Bloomingdale Union School. Youngsters from other districts along the “Hill Road” did the same.

I expected to graduate high school from Bloomingdale, but when I finished the eighth grade they closed the high school and sent us all to the Saranac Lake Central School, making my bus ride about 20 miles, involving an hour-and-a-half of my life each way. Looking at the positive side as an educator, I have experienced firsthand the recurring efforts to consolidate school districts, each promising improved education.

I didn’t spend much time in Saranac Lake until my senior year in high school. As a teenager I was fed up with farm work and was convinced the real action was happening outside Bernie’s Restaurant. So I fled the farm to work at the A&P on Broadway so I could take part in the good life. Little did I know at the time that I should have spent more time learning what was being taught by life on a nearly self-sufficient farm. Only much later did that experience become essential in my professional career as a teacher.

As a youngster on Decoration Day I would place a flag on the graves of veterans, many of whom were from my family, buried in cemeteries near our farm located on the Franklin Falls to Wilmington Road. Those grave sites included my grandfather, Norman Isaac Arnold, who was a Civil War veteran wounded at Drury’s Bluff in Virginia as a result of an accidental discharge of a comrade’s rifle while at reveille. I’m the remaining grandson of that Civil War veteran. That bullet killed his brother William, who was standing beside him.

Along with honoring other veteran relatives of many wars since the Revolution, I paid particular attention to the grave of Nathaniel Goodspeed, who was a veteran of the American Revolution. I didn’t find out much about his background but assumed he must have been important.

Thanks to modern means for ancestral research I now know what he was doing during the Revolution. He was in charge of the munitions depot in Springfield, Massachusetts. He is my fourth great-grandfather on my grandmother’s side.

Who would ever have thought a farm kid from Franklin Falls would have famous ancestors? We have since found that three of my relatives signed the Declaration of Independence and two were delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

One was the author of the Great Compromise that established the plan for a House of Representatives responsive to the national population and a Senate that represents each state. One of those relatives was involved in the planning for an Electoral College, developed out of a mistrust of an uneducated voting public. I’d like to talk with him about that plan.

Although many claim to have ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower, I can say with certainty that my ninth great aunt lived at Gov. Bradford’s home, arriving on the Annie in 1621. Many relatives were either founders or first residents of many communities in eastern Massachusetts, Connecticut and Long Island. At last count, 21 relatives were Revolutionary War veterans; one was an officer in George Washington’s army.

Many relatives were educators and members of clergy. In more recent times, my grandmother Ann Goodspeed’s brother Roswell Goodspeed taught school during the 1800s in Essex, Clinton and Franklin counties. I have his diaries from 1845 to 1910. As many of you know, like Great-Uncle Roswell, I have continued the tradition of being interested in improved education.

My Guest Commentaries in this newspaper have appeared nearly every month for the past several years. My thoughts about education all began in the schools of this region that led to a 65-year career in professional education within public and private schools, community colleges and during lengthy stints in university settings in several states. Education is in my blood.

It will be great fun to compare notes come Sept. 20 at our 70th reunion. Little did we know in 1949 what was in store for each of us. My wife of 66 years and a classmate, Mary Sue LaVallee, plan to attend. Come join us in sharing your unique stories.

Robert L. Arnold lives in Willsboro and is a professor emeritus of education at SUNY Plattsburgh.