Long before the first bricks were laid to build Eleanor Rush or New Albany schools, Cinnaminson was part of one super district that also encompassed Delran, Riverton and Palmyra.
A resolution passed by the township on Dec. 14, 1863, establishes the creation of the Cinnaminson School District, which at the time included all four of the abovementioned communities. The district honored that heritage and commemorated its 150th anniversary Thursday.
At that time, the district was limited to just first through sixth grades and was primarily for boys, Superintendent Salvatore Illuzzi said. It wasn’t until the 1880s that each of towns established their own districts.
And it wasn’t just the geography of the district that was different. There are plenty of contrasts between the school system then and now, Illuzzi explained. Take the concept of public school—it didn’t exist.
“In order to send your kid to school, you had to pay tuition. There was no public school system,” he said. “Only around a quarter of the population that could go to school went to school.”
Cinnaminson students attended two schools up until the early ‘60s: the Strabel School (now the Memorial School/district administrative offices) for white students, and the Phillips School, a one-room schoolhouse for African-American students (now home to the Burlington County Footlighters).
Beginning in 1961, with the Cinnaminson High School groundbreaking—prior to that all Cinnaminson students attended Palmyra High School—the district began to take on its current state, with all four existing schools being constructed the early part of that decade, Illuzzi said.
Cinnaminson students and faculty recognized that history Thursday. Events and activities were organized district-wide, including the annual senior citizens breakfast. Middle school students gave a presentation to the nearly 200 seniors in attendance—some of whom attended the Strabel and Phillips schools—covering the district’s rich heritage.
“It’s just a fascinating history … The names keep reappearing of the folks who made this district what it is,” said Illuzzi. “This is an opportunity to recall some of the giants in this community.”
Much of the credit for the present-day district’s knowledge of that history goes to Joan Novatoski, who, in doing the research for the township’s 150th anniversary a few years back, came upon the resolution establishing the school district.
“We kept that resolution, knowing we would do something (when the day came),” said Illuzzi.
Novatoski, a former journalist, said she’s always been fascinated by history and doing research, which led to her discovery of the resolution. Though now a Florida resident— “I think the snow became too much,” she said of her exodus to the south—Novatoski lived in Cinnaminson for roughly half a century.
She moved to town in the late ‘50s, and at that time, much of it was still farmland, she said.“As the town grew, we needed schools,” said Novatoski, a former member of the town’s historic preservation commission. “We wanted a good strong community, with a good school system … It’s developed into a great school system.”