When It Was Still Alive

My initial impression of the large brick structure on Draper Avenue was one of curiosity and sadness. The vacant building was a school no longer. Now it was just empty and neglected. The first floor was boarded up, and we could see that many of the windows of the second story were broken. A general appearance of ruin was everywhere. It was obvious that many years had passed since smiling children had crossed the threshold of the old Draper school.

We had made the one and a half hour drive to Rotterdam, NY to follow up on a Craig’s List post advertising the contents of a school—tables, chairs, cubby units, shelving, wooden play kitchens, easels, chalkboards, whiteboards, and much more. My friend, Robin, had called me earlier that morning with the proposition of a spur-of-the-moment homeschooling excursion.

“You up for a field trip?” she asked. Naturally, I was!

I followed her in my own car and our caravan of two vehicles, two moms, and five children hit the road ready to claim what we were hoping would be homeschooling treasures. She had her eye on some real slate chalkboards and cubbies for storage. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but was interested in a wooden kitchen set for my two-year-old daughter, and was optimistic I might find something useful for my six-year-old son’s learning experiences at home.

Our exact destination was unknown to me. Robin had arranged to meet the Craig’s List poster at noon at a specific address. She followed her GPS, and I followed her. During the drive I wondered where we would find our treasures. Would it be a recently closed school? Perhaps it was a warehouse or some sort of storage unit, or possibly even someone’s garage. We headed up route 88, and eventually arrived in Rotterdam. Not long after that, we finally turned onto Draper Avenue on that rainy, cold day, and for the first time we beheld the sight of the desolate and lifeless building.

“So sad,” I thought though I wasn’t surprised. Many schools across the state have lost their purpose for different reasons. My own alma mater closed its door after merging with a neighboring district. The buildings of both districts were repurposed after a new and larger school was built for the newly consolidated district. Mergers, budget insolvency, declines in enrollment, and competition from Charter schools are some reasons why many neighborhood schools are now empty. They have closed their doors to learning, and the families of the communities in which these buildings stand must go elsewhere for their children’s education, while these grand structures of brick and mortar cease to serve their intended purpose. In some cases, like my school, these buildings are sold, renovated, and reused. But in many cases the structures stand vacant for years, slowly deteriorating from lack of use and lack of love. They become large crumbling reminders to those around it of tender years of learning and laughing, of Miss Smith’s caring demeanor or Mr. Wagner’s sense of humor. They contain memories of growing up and growing wise, while making a few of life’s mistakes along the way. They contain memories of chalk dust and scraped knees; of the big game and of passing notes in class; of first crushes and of broken hearts; of colors, teachers, locker combinations, and good friends. The memories are infinite.

After several moments of surveying the unwelcome facade of the school, we drove around the block to the rear of the building and the Vischer Avenue entrance to the school’s now vacant and cracked parking lot, where we were to meet the man from the ad and his teenage daughter. Viewing the unused structure from the rear galvanized the feelings of emptiness and despair. From the vantage point of the long-unused lot, the revelation of years of disuse and the immensity of disrepair was finalized. The severity of long-forgotten days of glory and purpose was complete.

The building and its grounds occupy an entire block in its community. This block is surrounded by streets lined with houses. People live here. This is a neighborhood with its heart far removed. My thoughts immediately produced visions of this school as the thriving and welcoming center of a community, bustling with the activity of teachers and children and parents. I pictured its residents, possibly many generations of families, who entrusted their children to this institution. I wondered if those who purchased houses in this neighborhood did so with the intention of living nearby their neighborhood school. I wondered if they moved in with the excitement and warm knowing that their children were nearby, safe and cared-for. I also wondered how many children were displaced by the Draper school’s closing. Where were they now? Where were they at this very moment, at noon on a Friday? Where were they having lunch today? And how does this community feel about the empty days that now occupy an entire block of space between Draper and Vischer Avenues?

Despite the grim picture painted by the outside of the school, I was not prepared for what we were about to see on the inside. We were led into the dark and cold interior through an auditorium door, broken glass, dust, and debris littering our path. Following the flashlight ahead of us, I urged my children into the gloom, up the incline of the auditorium floor with row upon row of empty chairs to our left, while the shadows of children who used to occupy this space for programs and events flickered in my imagination. We left the auditorium through the rear and found ourselves turning right into what was once the main hallway of the first floor of the school, and what had since become nothing more than a tunnel of destruction and broken dreams.

We paused momentarily while our hosts left us to turn on enough electricity to illuminate the chaos hidden behind the artificial night created by boarded-up windows and layers of dust. It was clear that vandals had on numerous occasions entered the building and left their mark. Nothing proved sacred. The lockers that lined the hallways in groups were damaged, dented in and covered with graffiti and splashed paint. That was just the beginning of the damage and decay we would find in the old school building. Due to vandalism or other reasons, the walls were riddled with holes of various shapes and sizes, some large enough to lose a child! The ceiling was missing in numerous spots revealing the internal structure of the building, with wiring and tubing that once supported the day to day activities of this school now tangled and hanging. The floor was in no better shape. Buckled and warped, any wooden floors were destroyed, while tiles throughout the hallway were broken and missing.

We were all filled with a sense of bewilderment, and with a sense of adventure. Continuing down the hall, we quickly turned right again into the gymnasium, now gray and filthy. Here, most of the school’s salvageable contents were assembled. Tables of all shapes, with adjustable legs, were stacked on one side—circles, semi-circles, rectangles, and trapezoids. Chairs of various sizes occupied another section of the gym, and I could already picture classrooms furnished for children of all ages. Many of the padded panels that used to line the walls of the gym were removed and stacked in several piles. There were shelves, cubbies, and storage units of all varieties. Desks, file cabinets, and other random items one would normally find in a school were arranged in long aisles down the length of the room. The entire gymnasium had become a warehouse of items for sale.

Upon entering the gymnasium, we came directly on a large charred depression in the floor. Vandals had set a fire there and it had burned several inches into the wooden gym floor. Although the fire did not penetrate the subfloor, in the dim light the charred black circle appeared to us as a deep hole. My son’s eyes widened as he asked our host if there were any deep pits in this school. Misinterpreting my son’s fear as excitement, the man answered, “Yes! The basement is a giant pit!” I quickly reassured my son that we would not be going there, then I stepped into the charred space on the gym floor as proof that he would not fall through.

It didn’t take our children long to discover the floor scooters, covered in dust and filth, which had once entertained countless children during gym and recess periods. They immediately began racing down the aisles created by the layout of tables, desks, and chairs while Robin and I examined the contents of the gym. The far end of the gym was the dumping ground for everything that was broken or burned. A large 50 gallon plastic garbage can caught my eye, filled with irregular chunks of thick glass. Above it, the shattered remnants of the basketball hoop and backboard hung solemnly.

We were told that pretty much everything we see or find was for sale. Most everything was contained in the gym, but we were verbally given a layout of the school, both downstairs and up, and were instructed to “watch the kids and have a look around.” The light switches in the classroom should work, we were told. And he added, “Be careful of the ice on the floor down the hallway.”

With our sense of adventure far outweighing any fear and reservations we might have had, we began our room to room investigation. Knowing that the school layout was essentially a horseshoe, our plan was to walk the entire downstairs to the end of the horseshoe, inspecting the classrooms one by one. We would then go upstairs and walk the horseshoe back in the opposite direction, where we would return to the first floor right where we started.

We approached the first classroom downstairs across from the gym. Groping the wall just inside of the classroom door, we flicked a switch to reveal the sad remains of a space once occupied by a teacher and many children. The classroom was largely empty of anything useful. It was dirty, with debris everywhere. Boarded-up windows lined the wall opposite the door, and a large empty depression on the floor beneath the windows was filled with rubble. Something used to be there and had been removed. I can only guess that this was where the radiator or some other heat source was installed. Chalkboards from days past still lined the perimeter of two adjacent walls. On top of one chalkboard, a white board had been permanently installed, perhaps a welcome upgrade to the teacher of this classroom. There were numerous desks that still remained and they were pushed together in one end of the room. There was a broken shelf against one wall, and a freestanding presentation board with its felt torn away. Like the main hallway, peeling paint and a buckled floor were the predominating features of this room.

Our survey continued, room by room down the first floor hallway. The rooms were similar in their state of chaos and disrepair, and they were similarly dismal. For the most part they were empty, the remaining contents varying slightly, with sometimes a desk and a shelf, or a table and a chair still present. Our children set to work immediately scavenging their own treasures. Where adults tend to perceive emptiness and lack of value, children often find importance. Small mementos of students past were revealed and gathered. Our kids collected pencils and sheets of stickers, among other things. My son found several hall passes, laminated cards that were attached to a rope that could be worn around the neck of the student going to the library, the bathroom, or the nurse. In one room, he found two photographs of the children who we could only assume were once students of that classroom. Pennies, long-lost handwritten notes, empty file folders, erasers, metal washers and other random hardware were among the collected treasures.

As we passed through the ice-covered section of hallway, I noticed that every fire hose had been removed from their wall boxes where they must have hung neatly coiled and unneeded for many years. Whether these hoses were used to put out the fires of vandals, or whether the vandals themselves pulled them out in sport, we did not know. The ice on the floor of the unheated school could have come from these hoses. It could have come from a burst pipe before the water was turned off, or it could have come from the weather leaching in through holes and broken windows. We passed carefully and turned left on the first corner of the angular horseshoe.

Here, we were obviously in the lower elementary grades. The tables and chairs that still remained were smaller. The cubbies were little and the bits of evidence hanging on the walls told a story of teachers in charge of the school’s youngest learners. Some rooms still had the names of the teacher written in large print tacked to the wall by the door. This is where most of the stickers were discovered. Despite the youthfulness of children who used to occupy these spaces, the story ended the same as in the other classrooms. These spaces too had lost their purpose and were deserted, leaving only trace evidence to the many wonderful encounters between teacher and student to which these classrooms had been privy.

After finishing our survey of every room on the first floor, we were ready to climb the stairs to the second. Fearing the potential of being locked in a stairwell, I went through first to test the door from the inside. It opened, and so we all piled through and walked step by step to the top floor of the school. Much of the glass in the windows of the stairwell doors was shattered. This was to be the case throughout much of the upstairs. There was more light upstairs as the exterior windows were not covered by plywood. Many were broken, and in back corners of classrooms and in holes in the walls, the carcasses of dead pigeons and piles of feathers and excrement were everywhere. Whether the damage was actually worse upstairs or whether we perceived it that way due to the increased visibility provided by the windows, the feeling on the second floor was one of eery desolation. Our children still searched for treasures, but my son became fearful, and his fear soon passed to my daughter who I ended up carrying through much of the upstairs tour.

At this point, my memory becomes blurry. Room after room of broken furnishings, filth, and destruction, had both anesthetized me to the experience and homogenized my response to the individual classrooms. Robin found a few large tack boards in good shape that weren’t permanently screwed to the walls and we took those with us. I found a bifold freestanding easel with a chalkboard on one side and a felt presentation board on the other, so we took that with us as well.

At one point, I remember passing by an elevator on the wall to our left. A large gap was clearly present between the doors that no longer closed completely, and a large hole had been broken through the wall to the right of the elevator doors. We could easily see into the deep shaft and I remember holding my daughter tighter and grabbing my son’s hand. We came to the end of the second floor, and I was relieved to walk back downstairs and find the entrance to the gym right there.

I had one more request however. I wanted to see the art room. I asked our host where it was and if I could go there. He said yes, and explained that it was located on the ground floor, below the first floor. He warned me that we would have to go by flashlight, and that I would find the room in shambles. Apparently vandals had centered one of their parties down there, turning tables and breaking everything in sight. I was looking for a flat file, but it quickly became obvious that there was nothing of value left in that art room. I came across many empty gallons of tempera paint that had been scattered and crushed. Their contents, which were spewed across floors, doors, cabinets, and broken tables, became visible in the ever-shifting beam of the flashlight. The only color I was to see that day in the entire school was in these splashes of paint. A space that used to breathe creativity and exaltation now exuded only malevolence and indignity.

Hearing the panicked voices of my son and daughter, who were in Robin’s care down the hall and who thought I would be lost in the dark forever, I quickly left and together we all returned to the gymnasium to pay for the few items we wanted.

While we were waiting for our host, we spoke with his teenage daughter. She was a confident and articulate young woman. She asked us if we homeschooled our children. When we said yes, she excitedly informed us that she had been homeschooled her entire life, excepting a one year trial of public school. I was blown away at how confidently she was able to converse with us, the way she carried herself, how capable she seemed in helping her father in this old building, and at the level of mutual trust that obviously existed between them. I thought to myself, “These are qualities I want to imbue in my own children. These are things that are just as important as formal academic achievement.” This young woman was fourteen and she explained how much she loved homeschooling. For some reason, I was relieved to hear this from a young woman who was obviously thriving at life on this educational path. I sometimes have moments of doubt about my choice to remove my son from the well-worn path of public school.

We left the old Draper school cold, disappointed, and maybe even a little bit depressed, and needed a hot cup of coffee to warm our bodies and our spirits. While we drove to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, my son bombarded me with many questions about the old school. We talked a little about it in the car and I left knowing that a homeschooling field trip, which at first seemed to me of questionable educational value, ultimately created a multitude of lessons in history and society.

I can’t help but continue to think about the old school, it’s history (which we are currently researching), and its ultimate fate. I replay the images of that Friday in my head and am still confounded by how one of society’s most recognizable structures (everyone know a school when they see one!) can simply be abandoned and left to rot. Is it in the name of progress that small schools are unable to serve a purpose in their communities no longer? Is bigger necessarily better? I’m sure there are correct answer from both sides of this debate.

As for me, I am a product of a small K-12 public school. I graduated with a class of 22. I never felt like we were lacking anything, though perhaps there is some truth to the idea that shared resources and consolidation can provide more opportunities for their students. While touring the old Draper school building, I was reminded of the experiences I had in a small community-based school, which as I mentioned does not exist anymore. I can’t help but wonder if what it has become is indeed an improvement. I sometimes drive by the large oppressive institution that was built to take its place and I shudder. I know that this new district has become one of the poster children of education reform, the Common Core, assembly line learning, teacher oppression, and scripted module curriculum. Although we do not live in this district, for me this is the ultimate horror and what I fear most for my own children’s education. To me, this is the reason I have chosen to homeschool my son and daughter.

The physical description of the Draper school building is difficult to put into words. But the societal implications are even harder. I think my son described it perfectly while we were beginning our tour of the first floor. He asked me a question. And although the exact question he asked escapes my memory, the way that he framed his question remains vivid in my mind. His words were, “…when this school was still alive?”. I can’t describe it better. The Draper school was once alive, vibrant and active, the heart of a community. And now… it’s dead.


40 thoughts on “When It Was Still Alive

  1. Eloquent as always, Danielle. You describe the scene perfectly, so vividly. The old school is now just an ache in the heart of that community…so sad. Glad we made the trip together!

  2. This brought tears to my eyes. Having been a student at Draper School and still living just a few blocks away it breaks my heart driving by. I have many fond memories of my time going to school here. I do sometimes reminisce and tell my children how much I enjoyed going to school here. I used to love walking up and down that giant stair case. Tell your son it was very much alive, filled with lots of laughter, smiles and it was a lovely place to learn.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Carly. I was hoping this post would reach someone who knew the school. I can imagine how grand it once used to be. I’ve been reading a little about the history of the school in archived newspaper articles. It had quite a story! It’s so sad it ended this way.

  3. I attended Draper from 1975 until it closed its doors in 1986, as did my 3 siblings and my Dad. Unless you were a student here there is no way possible for me to impart what a special place it was. The friendships, the camaraderie, the bonds formed there survive, are strong, and to this day the Draper school spirit lives on. I am so unbelievably HORRIFIED by what you found when you entered our beloved school and the people I have shared your blog with are dumbstruck that the property was allowed to fall into such a state. I wish that you could see how beautiful its memory is to us, and we are so, so saddened. Thank you for writing this piece with your extraordinary insight into how it must have been rather than just how awful it’s become. Cheers, Nicole LaMarca-Specht

    • My children still talk about “the abandoned school.” It is so very sad how it was allowed to fall into the horrible state of disrepair it is now. But I truly can imagine how glorious it must have been. I am sorry for everyone who attended the Draper school to have to see it standing broken as it is now.

      • Your blog has been shared with the entire Draper online community and is causing quite the outrage. People are in disbelief at your findings and are wanting to share experiences. I would expect to hear from more of us 🙂

  4. Thank you for sharing my blog. Hopefully something good will come out of the community outrage. To the best of my knowledge the people who posted the Craig’s List ad and who showed us around the school were not the reason for the school’s decline. As far as I know, they are recent owners. They seemed to be very nice people.

    I would love to highlight a collection of memories from the school community both past and present on this blog. If your community would be interested in sharing, please let me know!

    • I believe the building was just sold at auction again last year for the princely sum of $25 grand…I’m pretty sure the place went to ruin when the city was fighting over who owed taxes on it, them or previous occupants (a charter school)…and instead of things getting taken care of they were ignored…I remember hearing rumblings about water pipe breaks that were left unfixed and other things like this happening (and I lived way down in South Florida) but never dreamed that it would result in total abandonment. I will pass your idea for collection of memories along. Thank you again

  5. Hi There. I attended Draper from 1958 until I graduated in 1971. I stayed tied to Draper til it closed in June of 1987. My wife graduated from Draper in 1974. I started Teaching there in 1975 until I lost my job there in 1982. I coached Girls Basketball there from 1977 until it closed as Draper HS in 1986. I was PTO president it’s last year open & put together Draper Day in June of 1987. Lots of Fond memories. We were a Family. You knew everyone. My wife grew up across the street. We all hoped that Draper would live forever. Unfortunately it couldn’t . My two youngest daughters were attending Draper & I knew, as all parents knew, Draper couldn’t keep up. So we fought for a merger in town & settled for being annexed by Mohonasen. They kept Draper open for a year as a K-5 building. Then renamed their middle school Draper MS. It was a smooth transition but… We all hoped that something good would come out of the building but knew it would take lots of money. Here we are 27 years later & your blog lets us know what we all feared. It’s been vandalized so badly that it will take even more money to make it useable. So very Sad. But we pray that someone will find a way. But we will all have memories of Walking to ^ from school…How you started on Stanton st. & moved around to Vischer as you got older…..The gyn rocking on Friday nights…the playground…….The little gym & climbing the ropes with Mr Fink………Football & baseball games at Memorial Park& all the teachers like Mr Goodwin…….Just Many Many Good memories…My blog would be longer then yours if I kept remembering…….Til then..Lets Shout for Dear Old Draper High to Prove that we are STILL True!!!!!

    • Beautiful! thank you for sharing. Would you mind if I copied your memories into a follow-up post on the Draper school (when I find time!)?

      • If it says anything about the bonds of Draper, it wasn’t just between students but friendships and respect together with faculty as well.
        Fran Pugliese was my basketball coach at Draper until we closed, he attended my wedding in 2011, he spoke at my Fathers funeral, and I consider him a lifelong friend.

  6. I attended Draper school from kindergarten until third grade. When I was in second grade we began to hear whispers that our school was closing and we would have to go to another. I was so young but I felt the loss. I wouldn’t be able to walk to school anymore, the new school would not have a candy cart that went from classroom to classroom selling those lollipops I loved so much. I would no longer be in my school, the same school my mother graduated from.

    But your son asked about when the school was still alive…and I want to tell him that when the school was still alive, I learned to ride my bike in the parking lot you stood in. It was a pink Huffy bike and I fell so many times. But with my Father’s help, I was eventually riding circles around that parking lot.

    The gym with the hole, where you rode the floor scooters, I once played in that gym and rode those scooters, they were my favorite gym activity. The man who taught us in that gym was known simply as “Coach” to me. He was the man who put me on his shoulders when I broke my ankle on the play ground. He was an older man by then and I always wondered if he was really Santa Claus who was undercover as my gym teacher.

    I bought my first Christmas gift with my own money in that gym. The gift was for my parents. I don’t remember what it was but I remember how proud I felt.

    Halloween was a very big deal when I was young and at Draper. The parent’s would come to the school dressed up and we would have a parade around the neighborhood block, the people who lived in those homes would come out and watch us. I felt a little bit like a super star in those parades. I have a picture of one of these parades if you would like to see it.

    Oddly, the biggest lesson I learned was when Draper was on the verge of merging. It was around this time that my mother and her dearest friend made picket signs and walked around the block in protest. One night I went with them. I held a sign and walked by her side. It was one of the first times I remember admiring her. She was fighting for her cause and she didn’t care what others thought. It was and remained my biggest lesson in civic rights.

    I could share more of my memories but the point of my post was really to put a few stories to your sons clever words. He was right; there was life there.

    Oh, as side note, Fran Pugliese was the father of my first best friend and the husband to my mother’s dearest first.

    • Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I just read it to my son, and while I was reading there were tears in my eyes. Neighborhood schools truly are the heart of a community. I would love to see your picture of the parade. I feel like my blog post needs a follow-up to highlight some of the endearing memories that all of Draper’s students and teachers share. Although it isn’t my alma mater, I feel a special place in my heart for Draper and all the people it has touched over the years. Somehow, it was like the empty building was yearning to have its stories told.

  7. And I cried when I read yours! Although I was young some of my favorite days were spent there. It was never the same after they merged, at least not for me. I would love to get that picture to you. Can you tell me how? This is a great idea for a project. If you move forward and need my help let me know. I am a writer and love projects like this!

  8. Add me to the list of another person being at a complete loss. I attended Draper from K-12 (1971-1984). I read your article last night and could not stop thinking about it all day!

    Everyone that has commented is on point with what an awesome school it was. I can remember hearing the talks about a merger when I was a sophomore or junior and just prayed it wouldn’t happen until we graduated. I felt horrible for the underclassmen that were affected. My class graduated 104 and we calculated it during a reunion that out of the 104, 85 had been together since Kindergarten. Imagine that.

    It makes me laugh with some of the other districts now that you ask someone if they know a fellow classmate and they don’t. When I was in 7th grade my brother was a senior and I knew his class, as well as underclassmen by 5 years.

    Since it was one building, we had the opportunity to revisit our elementary teachers during study halls or when we were heading to the high school library because it was on the edge of the elementary section.

    Not only did the students remain close through the years, the students and teachers did as well. My Dad passed away in 1990 and my 6th Grade Teacher attended the services. And again in 2008 when my older sister passed. Imagine that. Unfortunately he passed in 2011 and when I lost my Mom in 2012, his wife attended. It’s just a Draper thing.

    Thank you so much for writing that article. It has most certainly stirred a lot of memories.
    Could you email me the number of the person that you purchased your items through, I would appreciate it!


    • Thank you for sharing your story about Draper. It does sound like an amazing “family.” I don’t remember who it was that we met at the school. It was so long ago. You might be able to look up the current owner in public records.

  9. I attended Draper, from kindergarten to when I graduated in 1976. I also lived around the corner from school. All my brother’s and sisters graduated from Draper there was 9 of us. Thank you for the story about our school, it’s very sad to hear what it looks like now, but my memories are of school plays and going to basketball games, dances and just a wonderful close knit group of kids. Thank you for bringing back my memories of my school

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you’re filled with memories. It sounds like it was a great school. I, too, attended a K-12 school in one building, and my memories are beautiful. My school doesn’t exist anymore as a district, but fortunately the building has been reused for something else.

  10. I am a former student of Draper School. I attended K through 10, at which time we merged with Mohonasen in 1987. I am the only one in my family to not graduate from Draper because of this. My father graduated in ’52, my brother in ’83 and my sister was in the last graduating class in ’86. It was a wonderful place to be educated, with small classes and very dedicated teachers. Being a neighborhood school, everyone knew everyone and it was one big family. Your post saddened me greatly. I currently teach in a school just down the street and I pass Draper daily. Memories flood my mind everytime.

    • Thank you for posting your story, Kristen. Your entire family must be filled with many wonderful memories of Draper. Small schools are like that– they not only affect individuals, but entire families, and even spanning many generations of families. It’s sad when they can no longer fulfill this function.

  11. I graduated from Draper in 1958. I was there only 4 yrs. But, it left me with a lot of good memories. I worked briefly in the building when it was a day care center. It upset me to see what bad shape it was in. I still connect with friends that went to Draper. Janine Whitmore

    • I didn’t know it was also a day care center. I requested some history from the Schenectady Co. historical society about the Draper school building, but there was no mention of that. I plan on doing a follow-up post on the school’s history in the next month or so (too much on my plate right now–and my blog suffers accordingly!)

  12. I am saddened to have learned all this. My husband of 51 years and I met and dated at DHS and we still maintain contact with several classmates. That building holds many fond
    and funny memories and some painful ones as well that go with our adolescent years.
    We were the class of 1958 and i remember you , Janine Whitmore.
    Ginger Pieniazek Ireton

    • That’s so beautiful! I, too, went to a small school and although I didn’t meet my husband there, I know of many couples who met in school. I have many memories from school of my classmates and the bonds we formed. It greatly saddens me that small schools across NYS are being shut down in favor of consolidations and regional schools.

  13. Thanks for a very descriptive story. I am the youngest child of a family of 8. My family attended Draper School from about 1946 until I graduated in 1977. I don’t know if anyone mentioned the level of education that was offered in this K-12 community school. My class graduated 100 students. The music and math departments were in the best of the state. This little block size school delivered a fine overall education. Although math and music stand out, we received a well-rounded education in English, math, art, music, physical education, social studies and science, among other subjects. Our mothers were involved in the PTA and the Music Mothers and whatever else was necessary to support the teachers and administrators. We were taught concert manners in that auditorium and good sportsmanship in those gyms. I and my brothers and sisters and parents have all considered ourselves very lucky to have Draper as our community school.

    I did go back to Rotterdam a couple of years ago and drove by the school and wondered why it has been left that way. I recently saw an article where the author described a Walmart had been transformed into a library. And what a library it was. Maybe this would be a good use for old DHS.

    Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    • That’s amazing! And I can relate. The small school from which I graduated also offered a great education. I graduated with a class of 22 (I have yet to meet anyone boasting a lower number!). I never felt like my education was lacking. Our marching band and concert band won awards at many competitions. I recall so many great experiences, even though our school was tiny.

      A library would be a great idea. It’s unfortunate the the building was allowed to fall into such disrepair. It’s hard enough to repurpose an old school, but not it would take even more money and resources. Hopefully, someone will discover this diamond in the rough!

      I believe my old school is now offices. The old school building of the district with which we merged is now a summer sports camp. It’s funny, I have absolutely no connection to the new district, which took on another name and identity.

  14. Hello! I attended Draper from kindergarten through graduation in 1980. If the school had remained open, my children would have attended as well. Thank you so much for this, although I must admit most of it broke my heart. As you described specific rooms and areas, I pictured myself sitting in that classroom, which class it was, the graduation ceremonies in the auditorium….etc. You mentioned you are interested in the history of this school. I have no formal information, only as a student. But if I can help, I will gladly do so!

  15. Your writing took me back to Study Hall 216. My mind and heart were flooded with memories of my time at Draper. I went K-12 in Draper, Class of 1958. I spent time in the Marine Corps, Indiana University and Purdue University. I coached Football many years before coming into the Admin level. I am a Vietnam veteran. There were a few others, very few “Nam” veterans. Draper had been known to fill the ranks in the Navy and Marines. In 2008, a few Vietnam veterans of Draper High School honored the ole school and for the men who went to the “Nam” from Draper. There only four of us. While the “Battle Flag” of Hill 881S rode the breeze many people stopped and asked about the school and the Flag. We raised one more time 2 or 3 year later to honor all Draper Veterans from all war. The “Battle Flag” is worn, faded, holes in her, and ripped but she flew for 77 days in the face of the NVA. The last Flag raising was attended by many former Draper Students. I believe we all were spending our last moments with the ole school and the memories we all had of DHS. In our memories, our old school still holds the finest traditions for us. Semper Fidelis to her.

  16. I went to Draper School, from K thru 12th grade and graduated in January of 1955. At that time there were 2 graduating class a year, one in January and one in June. I moved to Burlington VT in 1960 with my first husband and lived there for about 10 years. After my divorce I moved back to the Schenectady area for five years. I always loved the school very much. I had two younger sisters who graduated from Draper after me, Marge and Joan.
    I was very active in the music programs and was in the HS band from grade 6 to 12th grade
    under the direction of Mr. Bennington. I was very happy to be involved in the band and enjoyed it immensely. We went on trips and participated in competitions for the best score,
    went to Radio City in NYC for a show and a few years later, we went to NYC again (the whole band) to march and play in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I have so many happy memories of Draper. I still keep in touch with several of my classmates. I went back
    to the school with a couple of friends about 8 or 10 years ago when some groups were still using. We talked to several persons working there. It was fun. I’m so glad we went when we did because we heard from other people what a mess it was now.


  17. So sad to hear what it looks like on the inside. Wow. Unbelievable. Class of 87 here – I was part of the first graduating class of the new merged school – I don’t even acknowledge that I ever attended the new merged school – lol – I just have zero connection to it whatsoever. Draper was, and always will be my alma mater! 🙂 I attended from 2nd grade till it closed in 86. Like the rest of the commenters remarked, Draper was the best. It was small, but one great big family. Dont get me wrong – families argue – families can hurt each other sometimes — but families always stick together – its unconditional. 🙂 And in the summer of 2013 we had an “Across The Years Draper Reunion”. And you don’t understand – that means – EVERYONE STILL ALIVE – from the year the school was built, until it closed its doors in 86 – EVERYONE was invited! How AMAZING was that! How’s THAT kind of example for FAMILY, huh!?? 🙂 It was actually my 25th reunion year in 2013, and I CHOSE to attend the Across The Years party instead of the regular one for the merged school that they “tell” me I graduated from – lol. I had more fun seeing our old Draper family that night!! And like they said earlier – I loved to see the classes 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 years older – or younger – because even the seniors still went back to connect with the 7th graders – or the elementary kids. Everybody knew everybody! THIS is the kind of beautiful family that lived at Draper. I hear your story about what you saw – and think – no way – she must be talking about some other abandoned school, because every memory is still so clear and real to me! The hallways – the fire alarms on the walls, The smell of freshly popped popcorn in the hall after school. Sitting up in the balcony of the gym.The doors at the top of the stairs that lead to the Band Room – which lead into the old choir room – wow – the old choir room…I’d almost forgotten till I thought about it just now. 🙂 “Naaaw, naaay, neee, nooo,, neeeewwww” hahahaha! (come on guys – ya GOTTA remember that LOL) Good ole Mrs Gray! 🙂 May she sweetly rest in peace. 🙂 The little conference/class rooms they had that were at the back of the auditorium. I remember one year as a teenage, they had a lady come in to teach us girls how to put on makeup! LOL And so funny – I can remember the smell of old spilled milk outside n the courtyard in the middle of the school by the cafeteria – lol – there was always that smell out there. LOL Oh, and on a side note – the gym you were in – that floor that was sadly destroyed – was last refinished by my family. My Dad had a 3rd & 4th generations wood floor refinishing & installing business in Rotterdam, around forever, and Draper hired our family to do those floors that last time. So it really did hit me hard that someone was sorry enough to do that to such beauty – but – ya know – it is what it is. Seriously…Draper is still alive – and nothing you described could ever come close to these pictures in my mind. I drive by – I see how sad and run down it looks – but ya know – its funny – it doesnt even faze me., because I will always just hold the sweet memories of Draper in my heart, just like every other student and graduate of that awesome, wonderful “Dear old Draper High”! 🙂

    • (Sorry bout all the smileys! hahahaha – didnt know they’d come out bright yellow like that! At least you can tell I’m a really happy person! lol)

  18. Pingback: It WAS Alive | The Plain Satisfactions

  19. I thought you might be interested to see this news link:


    Both of my parents recently passed and I was reminiscing about the old neighborhood and school and came upon your blog. I have mixed memories of the old school. Kind of like life. It provided a good education which I built on and was able to make a comfortable life for myself and my family. It was fun growing up in the neighborhood but the school was tough. It had some good teachers and a few really really bad teachers. I moved out of the state for career and life opportunities and look back fondly. I’m so glad I moved out of the Schenectady area year ago with its crime, corruption and high taxes…yet I miss a lot of the really good people I grew up with in that school and lost touch with.

    • Oh this is wonderful! Thank you!


      To see my art work visit:


      On Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 5:53 PM, The Plain Satisfactions wrote:

      > p1 commented: “I thought you might be interested to see this news link: > http://www.bizjournals.com/albany/news/2015/10/13/developers-to-turn-former-draper-high-school-into.html > Both of my parents recently passed and I was reminiscing about the old > neighborhood and”

      • I attended Draper School K-12 and graduated in 1975. That art room got a lot of use. We painted a mural in the cafeteria and one in the foyer on Vischer Ave. We used that gym for dances and wrestling matches and practiced wrestling in the smaller gym in the basement. I had a great wrestling coach Mr. Foster and a great art teacher Miss Pinenberg. Mrs. Genier taught me Algebra, Miss Coffenburg taught Biology and rode a Norton motorcycle! Mrs. Wasserman (my favorite teacher) taught Sociology and Miss Lingeman my second favorite teacher) taught Humanities. I remember she played a King Crimson record that I brought into the classroom. I was a surly student (still am) but they were patient and opened up worlds I never knew existed. I thought it was important that you knew some of their names. Thanks for your time.

      • Thank you for sharing the names and making Draper even more personal! I love that the opened up worlds for you. How beautiful!

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