The historic Geneva School House was constructed in 1924 and first served twelve grades of Geneva students. It became an elementary school in the 1940’s. In 1988, the new Geneva Elementary School was built and the little brick school house became a Family Resource Center.
The school house is slowly being renovated – new hardwood floors, carpeting, painting, decorating, roof repairs, and other improvements. Almost all of the work has been performed by volunteers from the neighboring rural communities.
History of the Geneva School House
Earliest schools in Geneva were located in the homes of local citizens. The first formal school was a log school built by the cemetery in 1874 on land donated by a Russian immigrant, Progar Debogory. At that time Geneva was still known as Harney Cove and Lake Geneva was called Turkey Pond. The log school was replaced by a wood plank school which was used until the 1901-02 school year. It had two doors, one for boys and one for girls.
Mr. Henry B. Jones, born in Geneva around 1883 said of the old school: “There came from that little school, men that I am proud of: two millionaires, Mr. Wade Raulerson was one and my Uncle Walter Gradick; two judges, my cousin Judge W. Bert Pattishall and his brother Will; also a dentist; and Herman Daniels, the preacher; and (I) became an accountant with Haskins Sells. I feel that little old schoolhouse, way out in the woods, developed some real fine men.”
The school by the cemetery was used until the 1901-02 school year, when a new school was built on Main street just about where the tennis court is now located.
Although the outside dimensions of this school did not change, the school was soon divided into 2 rooms for lower and upper grades. Later it was divided into 3 rooms for lower, middle and upper grades. This school was used from 1903 until 1924.
In 1924, a new Geneva School was built of brick construction on the corner of First and Main Streets. The school had three classrooms, an office, and an auditorium. Soon there were all 12 grades in the school. By 1933 there were around 80 students in eight grades. (It was then that the high school students started attending Sanford High School.) There was no kitchen or lunch room in the school but a few feet outside the door on the east side of the school there was a small wooden building about 20 x 20 feet in size that served as a combination kitchen and lunch room. Meals were prepared there and the students would file in, one or 2 classes at a time, sitting at tables with long benches.
The school architecture is unique and is the only one of its style in existence in Seminole County. The building is listed on the “Florida Site File of Historic Places” and also on the “Seminole County Threatened and Endangered Resources List.” The school was designed by architect Elton Moughton who also designed many of the buildings in Sanford, including the historic school that now serves as the Student Museum.
Elton J. Moughton Sr.’s immortality is built of brick and mortar. The architect’s legacy is the community he left behind. Last week, Sanford marked National Preservation Week with several events united under one theme – Memories Worth Sharing. The city’s Historic Trust, Main Street and the Sanford Museum combined efforts to highlight the city’s history with tours, lectures and entertainment. One of those memories worth sharing was the work of an architect who designed and built homes, schools, a resort hotel, civic and public buildings and commercial structures from warehouses to automobile dealerships. For much of his career, Moughton was Seminole County’s only architect. During his life, Sanford thrived through the boom-time of the 1920s, survived the Great Depression and boomed again during the post-World War II years. Elton Sr., who died in 1955, was born in 1893, the year the nation sank under its worst depression thus far. Banks had made bad loans. Speculators had overbuilt and overspent for Florida land. The stock market crashed. Fortunes were lost, but not for long. Florida’s doom days always seem to be followed by the next boom-time. By the time Elton Sr. began his career as an architect in 1917 – his state license was number 13 – Florida was once again enjoying the dizzy heydays.
In 1925, then-Sanford Mayor Forrest Lake announced he and his business partners would build a resort hotel along the city’s lake front. He hired young Moughton to design and supervise construction of a Spanish-style lake-front hotel. The hotel construction started long before the bulkhead was built along the lake front. Workers fished off the porch during lunch breaks. ”When the crash came that was the end of it (the boom),” he said. ”No homes were built during the first two years of the Depression.” Elton Sr. would return to Sanford when times improved. He designed lodges for the Masons and the VFW, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. store, the downtown Ford dealership and warehouses for the National Biscuit Co. and others. All of the public schools of his era were built from his designs. (Pine Crest Elementary was his last.) At one bridge along Country Club Road near Lake Mary, Bud slowed down to point out the plaque with the names of the county commissioners in office when it was built.
In a paper called, “The History of the Seminole County Public Schools”, The Geneva School has been praised for its accomplishments:
“In 1941, under the direction of principal Willie Sieg, a unique 4-H program was established. Sponsored by Rollins College, the program was designed during the depression to help meet the needs of families. In reality, it was a course on Home Economics and Farming. Female students became adept at canning, sewing, quilting, etc. The boys planted and raised farm animals on the school grounds – chickens, cattle, hogs, even bees. The Geneva School won numerous awards with the program. The faculty was invited to speak about the program in Tallahassee. Miami newspapers and the magazine “Progressive Farmer” covered the event. The program had a huge impact on the state curriculum.”
The brick school building served Geneva students well for 64 years. In May, 1988, a new Geneva Elementary School was dedicated. The old school building was saved for the community and in 1995 was dedicated as the Geneva Family Resource Center, later having offices of the St. Johns River Water Management District and a Sheriff’s substation.
In 2008, the building again became vacant and was being considered for demolition. The communities of the eastern rural area of Seminole County combined efforts and convinced the school board to turn the school building over to a newly formed non-profit organization – the Rural Heritage Center… and the rest is history.
By Mal Martin, Geneva Historical & Genealogical Society, Inc., 2011