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Sea Isle City Spotlight on History: School days

Over a 125-year span, Sea Isle City has had three public school buildings. The first was built in 1893, the third and last in 1971.

On Aug. 15, 1882, Sea Isle Town Marshall Henry Ludlam, was directed to take a census of all children between the ages of 5 and 18 and to organize a school district. When he wasn’t busy keeping horses and mules out of the surf, Ludlam seems to have accomplished his task. New Jersey School District No. 30 was born.

The first classes were held not in a school building, but in the dining room of the Aldine House at 38th Street and Pleasure Avenue. Later they were moved to the Dolphin House on 49th Street. A school register for 1884-85 lists 67 “scholars” enrolled, with an average recorded attendance of less than half that — and no requirement for homework. In 1890, the school was reported to have one principal, Professor H.A. Shute, and one teacher, Miss Martie Townsend.

Then, a year later, to keep pace with Sea Isle City’s growing need, the first dedicated grammar school building was constructed on 44th Street between Central and Landis avenues, and served for 21 years until it was replaced by a more modern structure. The original building became the Moose Hall and then the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, until it was demolished in 2009. The site is used today as the St. Joseph parish administration office and rectory.

The two-foot-high bell from the first school was restored in 1976 for the bicentennial and is currently on display at the Sea Isle City Historical Museum.

In 1914, a three-story red brick building was constructed and became the new Sea Isle City Public School. It was located a few blocks from the original school, between 45th and 46th Streets on Central Avenue. Professor John Carroll was the first principal. The building provided an array of modern amenities: there were six classrooms, a large auditorium on the third floor, a library, a woodworking shop, a place for cooking classes and an all-purpose space used as a lunch, meeting and band practice room. It had separate rooms for boys and for girls, and separate entrances for each.

Even education couldn’t escape the Great Depression. In April 1933, it was announced that the teachers of Sea Isle would accept a pay cut of $200 to $300 to keep the school going and retain all the staff. The Historical Museum has a teacher’s contract signed by Alma Shellem that same year for $700, so the cut was really significant.

The building persevered for nearly six decades, but was determined to be “structurally deficient” in 1970 — and it was time for a new school.

Before the old school could be demolished, ground was broken for a new $644,000 building on the same lot facing Park Road. The new Sea Isle school was typical of public architecture in the middle of the 20th century, with a single story and lots of windows. The dedication ceremony was held Feb. 5, 1972.

Over the years, enrollment increased and activities expanded, ranging from the arts to a full complement of boys and girls sports. Notably, the school’s Sun Devils brought seven volleyball championships to Sea Isle between 1992 and 2002. Many Sea Isle students were enrolled in the National Junior Honor Society.

But then, as the population aged and Sea Isle became less affordable for young couples with children, the number of grammar school students began to decline. Between 2002 and 2009, enrollment dropped from 185 to just 67, and it was decided to send fifth-to-eighth grade students to Ocean City. At 6 p.m. Thursday, June 18, 2009, the last eight graduates received their diplomas.

Just three years later, the younger grades were also sent to Ocean City. The building still stands — but school is out.

To see the original school tower bell, and to browse through photos and literature about the Sea Isle schools, visit the Sea Isle City Historical Museum at 48th Street and Central Avenue. The museum's website is at Call 609-263-2992 with any questions. Current hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

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