As we look forward, albeit with trepidation in 2020, to the opening of another academic year, it is of great interest to note that the very first wooden schoolhouse in the United States which is still standing was operated by Greek immigrants.
Built in the very historic city of St. Augustine, Florida, which was originally settled by Spanish colonists in the 1500s, the wooden clapboard schoolhouse amazingly still stands today, despite the ravages of time and the annual onslaught of powerful hurricanes.
Immigrants to the United States have always ranked the teaching of the Greek language as one of their top priorities ever since leaving Greece to look for new life prospects abroad. And it was no different even back in the late 1700s, when Greeks first came to Florida with plans to settle permanently there.
The very first Greeks to arrive in the Americas with the intent to stay came in 1768, founding a town they named New Smyrna in the colony of Florida. They were led there by a Scottish doctor called Andrew Turnbull and his wife, Marica Gracia, the daughter of a Greek businessman who hailed from Ismir.
Years later, in the spring of 1776, just as the Declaration of Independence was being signed in Philadelphia, Greek and other migrants began settling 70 miles to the north of New Smyrna, in the old city of St. Augustine.
There, carpenter Ioannis Yiannopoulos’ house served as the local school, with Yiannopoulos taking up the task of teaching the Greek language himself.
The museum states that the oldest tax records for the property show that there was a structure already on that spot in 1716, so the building itself most likely even predates the Yiannopoulous’ setting there.
The sturdy, bare clapboard structure still has a giant chain wrapped all the way around it as a bulwark against the terrific hurricane-force winds that typically hit Florida every Autumn.
This historic house is still well-preserved and is a cultural attraction for everyone visiting the town, since it is the oldest recorded wooden schoolhouse ever to be built in the United States which is still standing. Other American schools, including Boston Latin School, founded in 1635, and Harvard University, originally called Harvard Divinity School, founded in 1636, predated the Florida school.
The first Greek School in New York opened much later, in 1912, at the beginning of another, much larger, wave of immigration to the Americas.
You can take a visual tour of the school and get information on visiting this wonderful museum by clicking here.