Vacant School Building in NJ

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey
Date added: January 23, 2024 Categories:

The Mott School and the building known as the Second Street School are located within a few hundred yards of each other. The Second Street School was constructed in 1854, and the Mott School in 1881. Mott School was closed and vacated in 1980, while the Second Street building was converted to a private home.

State-supported public education was a widely debated idea from early in the nineteenth century, but was not accepted practice until 1845, when a new state constitution was ratified. It included provisions for state funding, which mostly went for teacher's salaries and supplies. Townships and municipalities were responsible for raising additional funds, such as those needed for buildings. Since many felt that private support for education should not be mandatory, small tuition fees were often charged to help pay for the buildings.

In this period attendance was also optional, and many early educational programs were established to satisfy local requirements, resulting in a lack of standardization. Teachers often lacked formal education, and occasionally were widows or unmarried women who volunteered the use of their homes. Buildings specifically erected for school use were local projects, scraped together with minimal funds and usually built for poor children whose parents could not afford tutoring or private schools. In such an atmosphere early schools were converted from existing buildings or designed simply to satisfy local needs and tastes.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the area around Second and Center Streets was still a part of Nottingham Township. It is now the southernmost ward of the city, an area flanked by the Camden branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad to the west and the Delaware River to the east. When Trenton annexed Nottingham in 1856, it was still sparsely populated. Major development in this area occurred with Trenton's industrial expansion during the second half of the century. To accommodate the accompanying influx of merchants and working-class residents, blocks of brick and clapboard row houses were built in the prevailing vernacular versions of Italianate and other styles. Today, the main thoroughfares in the Sixth Ward; Center, Second, and Third Streets, retain most of this post-Civil War vernacular architecture, the effects of which are historic streetscapes of modest two and three-story residential buildings with facades uniformly abutting the sidewalk.

Local district school buildings often consisted of two rooms either side by side or, as with the Second Street building, one room over another. Grading was not introduced until later in the century, and 50 to 70 pupils, regardless of age, were crowded into each room for the class work.

Built of brick construction on two stories, the roof gable faces the street in the Greek Revival tradition, as opposed to the typical row house with the ridge parallel to the street. Several additional features distinguish the Second Street School from its context. It is set slightly back from the street with four exposed elevations. Instead of the usual hall entry on one side of the facade, the entrance is in the middle of the building. The result is that the building obviously stands out as having been built at a different time and for a different purpose from those around it. Apart from the insertion of a double entrance when the building was converted into two housing units in the late nineteenth century, the exterior remains remarkably intact, though in somewhat poor condition.

During the time between the period of the Second Street School and the opening of the Mott, or 6th Ward, School, great reforms were being enacted in the educational system of the state. These reforms stressed the value of a centrally organized educational system, supported by the state and local revenue, as one of the essential prerequisites to a truly democratic state. The result of such advocacy was the reorganization of the Board of Trustees into the Board of Education in 1866, headed by an elected Superintendent of Instruction whose responsibilities were to oversee educational standards. Teacher salaries were increased, school building design was standardized and more structures were built. The Trenton Normal and Model Schools were chartered to train teachers. Benjamin Gregory, Trenton principal of schools from 1888 to 1901, was the strongest local proponent of such changes, and the public school curriculum during his term gradually adopted manual training, music, art, and kindergarten in addition to the traditional subjects of spelling, rhetoric, writing and the like.

Population increases in the 6th Ward required such reforms. The number of residents had grown from 747 in 1860 to 2,791 in 1891 and, as stated above, this growth was due largely to immigration. By the 1920 census, half of the local population was "foreign," mostly from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Part of the philosophy of these reformers was that public education was to be "the transformation of the European newcomers into American citizens who would share the mores and culture of the new democratic society (West, Elementary Education in New Jersey [Princeton, 1964], p. 42)." In other words, the public school was to be a socializing agent in addition to an educator, and in the Eastern European community of the 6th Ward, the Mott School must have been crucial in this way.

The Mott School is thus the result of a different period from the Second Street School. The Trenton Board of Education Minutes of October 10th, 1881, noted the official opening of the original building. The building committee secretary recorded $200.00 due to architect William B. Thines for the plans of a four-room two-story brick building with a hipped roof.

Called the Sixth Ward School, this first structure on the site was designed to follow the guidelines for the proper appearance of a school that was now part of a centrally controlled educational system. Thines had also drafted plans for Trenton's "new" city hall, a mansard-roofed structure with ornate window hoods and a gothic clock tower, which is still impressive despite the removal of the tower and various changes to the facade. Thines is also credited with the design of the 2nd Ward school building, and several of Trenton's famous "potteries", according to Industries of New Jersey--Part I: Trenton of 1882. Although this building expressed the latest ideas in school architecture, within thirty years these ideas were supplanted with grander vision and Thine's building was largely replaced by the final addition.

By 1896 the growing neighborhood required a larger building, and the first addition was erected which doubled the school's size and maintained a complementary design. Designed by Brouse and Arend, who were also prominent Trenton architects practicing from the Forst-Richey building on the corner of Warren and State Streets. Now the rear wing of the Mott School, this is a somewhat simple two-story structure with iron beam lintles and multi-paned windows which are occasionally grouped together. The interior possesses wood wainscoting, and reed and bull's eye window and door surrounds. Despite the unassuming design, this building follows the early concepts for school design outlined in 1874.

The third and final school building on this site, erected in 1912, is the most prominent and significant. It replaced the earlier hipped-roof building, though some of this structure may be incorporated within. William B. Slack, architect of this neo-classically detailed monumental style building, was born May 17th, 1866, and died June 27th, 1962, living to be 94 years old and drafting nearly until his death. According to the Trenton Sunday Times Advertiser, Slack was "one of the state's best-known and highly respected architects". Originally from Trenton, he worked for five years with the architect Bruce Price in New York City, then president of the American Institute of Architects. Slack then returned to Trenton to open his own practice, where he specialized in school and civic architecture. Slack's designs include the Rider College Building, Notre Dame High School, St. Raphael's and Holy Angels Schools, St. Catherine's School, and the Lincoln Public School, built in 1923, the first all-black public school in Trenton. Slack's contributions to Trenton civic architecture include the massic Mercer County Court House, a beaux-arts style American Renaissance Court House, in addition to the Mercer County Jail and the State Office Building.

Slack's building is highly detailed on the exterior. Keystone lintels, raised brick courses, and a bracketed hood over the main entry, all contribute to the monumental visual impact of the school. Slack's interior design incorporates a large third-story assembly room with a high ceiling supported by dark wood beams and corbelled brackets, as well as a recessed performance area and stage. The assembly room reflects the ongoing changes in education. Since schools were becoming larger, with numerous classrooms, a large space was required for group assemblies and public presentations. The room was probably also available for community use. The architectural detailing in the room indicates its importance as a prominent space within the community.

The physical fabric of the building is in excellent condition, virtually unaltered since 1912. The interior has survived remarkably intact. Nearly all the original architectural features, such as doorways, classical entrances, windows, classroom details, etc. remain as examples of the period's institutional detailing. The Mott School is the visual centerpiece of the neighborhood. Situated facing west on the eastern side of Centre Street, the main thoroughfare of the ward, the building is one of the only municipal structures in the neighborhood. Its neo-classical facade spans nearly the entire 100-foot lot frontage, giving it a monumental appearance that stands out amidst the simpler, more vernacular detailing of the rest of the streetwall. However, unlike most other period schools, the building's facade abuts the sidewalk, and the schoolyard projects to the area. This siting, the brick construction, and the fenestration pattern on the three stories, all incorporate the building well into the prevailing design of the streetwall. In this way, the Mott School is architecturally consistent with the rest of the neighborhood, while its scale, its historic value to the community, and its detailing make it the centerpiece of this area.

The Mott School is a monument to one of Trenton's most famous military heroes, Gershom Mott, for whom the school was dedicated in 1896. Born near Trenton in 1822, Mott was educated at the Trenton Academy, and served in the Mexican and Civil Wars. By the close of the latter war, he was commissioned Major-General, the first New Jersey soldier ever to gain that distinction. He later was appointed the warden of the New Jersey State Prison, located in the 6th Ward. Ironically, the Minutes of 1881 indicate that Mott may have offered some of his land for sale to the School Committee for the construction of their new school that same year, only to be outbid. The school and Mott Street are two public testaments to this famous Trenton Civil War hero.

There is also a building that was built as Trenton's first black school. Previously known as the Higbee Street and Nixon School, it was erected around 1857, which places it in the same time period as the Second Street School. The building also shows some of the Greek Revival influence visible in the Second Street School.

Building Description

The Mott School is a massive brick and stone T-shaped structure facing west on the eastern side of Centre Street, a residential thoroughfare comprised mainly of two and three-story brick and clapboard structures, in the South Ward of Trenton, New Jersey. The structural form of the school is composed of three distinct rectangular blocks; the frontal portion extending north and south beyond the facade lines of the two portions to the rear, thus forming a T-shaped massing. The Mott School had three periods of construction, undertaken by three separate architects. The original building, circa 1881, was a square hipped roof structure. The 1896 rear addition currently surviving is a 2-story rectangular structure, with the majority of its windows reflecting the low arched curve of late 19th-century commercial architecture prevalent in the neighborhood and throughout Trenton. The front and central portions, erected in 1911 are neo-classical in style. The front section is highly ornamental with Georgian Revival detailing as befits its focal position on Centre Street.

The front, Centre Street block of the school, nine bays in width, four in depth, is constructed of red brick laid in common bond, with dressed limestone detailing for the watertable, string coursing, window lintels, and entrance ornamentation. It has a raised foundation of rock-faced ashlar, pierced by six regularly spaced recessed windows on its western street facade, by three windows on the northern facade, and by three windows and a door on the south. A few foundation windows on the sides have been filled. The first floor is separated from the second level by a flat stone stringcourse and a similar stringcourse runs beneath the first-level window openings, providing a continuous sill. A cornerstone bearing the date 1912 AD is placed at the southwest corner between the watertable and sill level coursing. Raised brick courses ornament the surface between string courses.

Six nine-over-one wooden windows pierce the first level of the front facade, with two additional smaller nine-over-one windows situated on either side of the central door opening. All first-level stone window lintels are of Georgian derivation, being a flat arch with a pronounced keystone. The two windows flanking the main entrance have simple flat lintels.

The building's main entrance consists of double doors, with divided lights over solid panels, and is recessed. Two stone rectangular pedestals having molded upper cornices sit at ground level flanking the three stone steps. Above the door is a four-light wooden transom. A bracketed Roman screen flush with the facade surmounts the entry to the steps and doorway. A limestone Georgian revival pediment supported by brackets with foliated carved ornamentation interrupts the string course separating the first and second levels. The area between the brackets has recessed side panels and upper egg and dart moldings, and is incised with the letters spelling out the name of the building. A modern security gate of the accordion type is located across the opening of the main entrance recess.

The upper two levels of the building's facade are differentiated from the first through the use of an unornamented brick surface. Window treatment echoes that of the first level, differing, however, in three respects: a coupled window situated directly above the main entrance pediment, earred stone springs beneath the second-story window pair, and the use of simple flat stone window sill faces instead of a continuous sill face.

Two string courses embellish the face of the third level. A molded string course separates the second and third levels and lies at sill height, thereby forming a variation of the first-floor treatment. A second molded course intersects the upper window sash at the level of the juncture of the upper, mid-window lights. Third-level window configurations repeat those of lower levels but differ in upper ornamentation. Flat arched earred stone lintels adjoin the uppermost stringcourse, creating an effect not unlike a Greek key motif. Rectangular flat-faced stone blocks lie between each west facade lintel, with the north and south facade having western corner blocks, but none between the windows. Over the easternmost bay on the north and south facades, there is a pattern of two square and two rectangular flat stone blocks.

A molded limestone cornice with block modillions lies beneath the brick and stone parapet. A stepped central portion of the parapet bears an incised stone block with the name "MOTT SCHOOL", with blocks on either side exhibiting the beginning and ending construction dates, "1876" and "1911". Arched embellished stone antefix emphasizes each building corner. Stone coping finishes the upper edges of the parapet.

The architectural treatment of the north and south elevations of this forward portion are similar to that of the front, except that the easternmost bay features a grade-level entry, with paired windows at the half-floor level between the first and second, and second and third floors.

The central building block has six bays on each of its two exposed elevations (north and south). The upper three stories are laid in common bond red brick, and are separated from the rock-faced raised stone foundation by a plain stone watertable. The foundation is pierced by regularly spaced windows with some randomly infilled, as on the front section. Two three story flat brick pilasters divide the facade into three sections. Window treatment on all three floors differs, mainly in the size of window opening, the most easterly windows of the first and second floors being smaller, those of the third level being all of the same height. Most windows are nine over nine, although a replacement single light lower sash is found in some windows. Simple flat lintels and sill faces accentuate each window. Corbelling above the uppermost windows provides a stepped transition to the plain brick stone coping parapet terminating the upward thrust of the structure. On the south facade, a steel fire escape with mesh fencing leads from a partially brick infilled third floor window containing a fire door in the easternmost section. The fire escape extends over the easternmost 1896 block of the building. A metal string-type fire escape providing an exit from an upper window is situated at the southwest junction with the 1911 portion of the building. Metal fencing encases its ground level area. A stone stair enclosed by a tubular metal railing leads downward to a cellar entrance on the north facade. On the north elevation, a chimney is located between the westernmost and central bays.

The third and rear building section consists of a two story plus basement building mass. The building facade consists of common bond brick, as were the previous two blocks. It is a two story structure, seven bays on its rear principal elevation (east), and three bays on its north and south elevations. The side bays have single light end bays, with a central tri-partite bay. The rear elevation has three bays flanking either side of a central entry bay, which features two pairs of double leaf doors, each with five light transom, surmounted by an overscaled hallway window light, having paired twelve over twelve windows surmounted by a 7 by 4 pane transom. The dual entries represent the typical school plan of the time, with parallel entrances for boys and girls. The building terminates in a simple cornice with unembellished fascia. The doorways and the tri-partite windows on the side elevation feature iron lintels. The remaining windows on the side elevations feature four over four sash, while those on the rear elevations, with the exception of the multi-paned windows over the doors, are two over two in configuration.

Inside the building are found 16 classrooms, a large multi-purpose room, and various supply, boiler, and office rooms. The interior halls, particularly of the most recent portion, have some academic detailing, replete with heavily carved woodwork, tall ceilings, and deeply modeled moldings.

The front entranceway stairs, with richly molded rails and bannister, lead up to a wood and glass screen wall with double doors through which the visitor enters upon a hall of generous proportions. The vista of the hall is framed with twin Corinthian columns supporting a classical entablature, with similar half-columns embedded in the walls. This entry hall from Centre Street leads to a transverse hallway, with stairs to upper floors and exits on the north and south elevations. The principal corridor continues to the rear of the building, terminating at the paired double leaf exit doors. Thus, the interior hallways also reflect the "T" plan of the exterior. Classrooms in the forward portion of the building are accessed on the first floor from the front entry hall area, while on the upper floors they are accessed from the transverse hallway. A prominent feature in the transverse hallway are sculptured porcelain drinking fountains resting on single legs.

The classrooms are classic examples of the educational aspirations of the time. They are quite large, each containing 600 to 800 square feet, with a cloakroom, a teacher's walk-in closet, and several supply closets. The inside hallway walls are lined with chalkboards and trays, while the remainder of the walls are for the most part paneled in wainscoting rising to the levels of the low window sills. Heavy cast iron radiators are found along the exterior walls. The large windows rise nearly to the ceiling to provide maximum light, and interior walls of the central portion of the the building also contain windows near the ceiling to allow light penetration into the long central hallway. Walls are plastered, and the floors are of strip hardwood, except for the hallways, which consist of fire-resistant masonry. All three of the stairhalls are separated by multi-door partitions surmounted by nine light transoms. A chairrail lines the corridor walls, and all doors, windows, both interior and exterior, are enframed with wood-grained molded surrounds.

The principal common space is found on the third floor of the central portion in a multi-purpose room which served as auditorium, playroom, and, in more recent days, as a cafeteria. This room spans the entire area of the central portion, and is thus quite generously proportioned. Its focal point is the low curved timber stage with arched alcoves as a centerpiece, and a ceiling which rises in three planes with framing encased in heavily molded trim. The main beams which run longitudinally terminate in heavily molded hardwood corbel brackets. A baseboard and wainscoting similar to the classroom treatment adds unifying detail to the whole.

Overall, the building is in remarkably good condition, with alterations limited to a few gypsum board partitions in two or three classrooms, as well as a small kitchen area at the rear of the multi-purpose room. The school is located on a site of .439 acres. As indicated earlier, the structure sits flush with the building line on Centre Street, with a narrow side yard entry to the rear schoolyard. The schoolyard is for the most part paved with macadam, with two or three large trees and several pieces of playground equipment.

The Second Street school. This small vernacular structure, located on the same block, is the predecessor structure to the Mott School. Erected c. 1854, it served as the school for this portion of Trenton, then still sparsely developed, if not rural, until it was deemed necessary to erect a larger structure in the late 1870s.

Located on a roughly rectangular lot on the west side of Second Street, it sits diagonally less than 200 feet from the Mott School property. The structure is rectangular, with a 25' frontage on Second Street and a depth of approximately 40 feet, excluding modern extensions. Although it has been altered in the process of being subdivided into a two family residential structure, its basic form is evident.

The structure has vernacular Greek revival elements, and is constructed of brick. As built, it had three bays on the first floor and two on the second. The center bay on the first floor was the original entry, and it is this area that has been reworked to provide separate entries to the two dwelling units. The front and rear pediments feature a raking cornice, with return. The 1/1 non-original windows have rectangular stone lintels and flush stone sills. The front porch has been infilled on the right and remain open on the left.

The side of the structure has three bays and the rear has been obscured by frame extensions on both floors. On this elevation, only the pedimented rear cornice of the original structure is visible.

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey

Mott School and Second Street School, Trenton New Jersey