All About the Eight Square

Living History Program
Our day-long Living History program gives fourth graders from public, private , and home school groups an opportunity to experience a day at school in 1892. The Eight Square Schoolhouse is the site of program, led by trained schoolteachers using an authentic 1890s curriculum. Students engage in such activities as pen-and-ink penmanship lessons, reading aloud from primers of the day, and outdoor recess with period games. Students are encouraged to dress the part and bring lunches that replicate what their great-great grandparents might have taken to school. More than 600 children participate in the program annually.

For further information and to learn how your group can participate, contact Program Coordinator Carole West at 273-8284 x 3 or

Eight Square schoolhouse, built in 1827 by local carpenter Henry Balcom, is one of Tompkins County's finest local landmarks. It is the earliest school still existing in Tompkins County, and the only brick octagonal schoolhouse left standing in New York State. Used as the Town of Dryden District Number 5 school until 1941, when pupils began attending other schools in Dryden, the building was used for a brief period as a community activity center and as an occasional site for field trips. By the early 1950's the building had been declared surplus property, and it was in 1953 that ownership of the building and its lot were deeded to the DHS for the sum of $10. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2000 it became an Official Project of Save America's Treasures.

Why Eight Sides?
The philosophy of octagonal-shaped school buildings can be traced to a Quaker tradition brought over from the old country. The concept is based on the idea that an octagon shape was conducive to a better learning environment because the instructor could be placed in a prominent position within the space and be the focus of the students. It was also beneficial because the octagonal shape provided more square feet of inside space than either a rectangle or a square. Ventilation and lighting were also pertinent issues of the times, and an architectural structure with eight sides allowed for an opening in all sides of the building. The building's thick walls helped it to retain heat during the cold months, which also helped provide insulation against the heat in the warm weather.

Eight Square schoolhouse is located on Upper Hanshaw Road in Dryden, New York. Upper Hanshaw Road is approximately 1/4 mile East of the Tompkins County Regional Airport.

Class picture taken circa 1880
The school in 1900
Living History students in 1976
Class picture taken circa 1890
The girl's privy - behind the school
A Living History class circa 1970



Teachers' Resources

Rural School Lessons: Curriculum Guide (6.8 MB)

Eight Square Slide Show (16.5 MB)


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