In the early 1800s, the Rev. John Stanford gathered a small group of deaf children in downtown New York City to teach them the alphabet and basic language skills.
This act of compassion by the founder of the New York School of the Deaf planted the seeds for a heritage of caring and innovation that has distinguished the school for nearly two centuries.
Chartered in 1817, the New York School for the Deaf is the second oldest school for the deaf in the United States and the oldest in New York State. Originally located in New York City in the Almshouse behind City Hall, the school moved uptown in 1829 to a ten-acre parcel of land between present day Saks’ Fifth Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The school moved again in 1856, after purchasing a 37.5-acre wooded estate on the bank of the Hudson River, near the current location of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. The school adopted the name of this estate, Fanwood, as its nickname, one that has followed the school to its current location.
In the late 1890s, Fanwood adopted a military curriculum to instill discipline and provide a more structured learning environment for students. The school was the first in the nation to do so and was also the first school for the deaf to form a military band. For the next 50 years, precise military drills in tight formations were a daily occurrence on the Fanwood parade grounds.
After spending 80 years in Upper Manhattan, the school purchased a 77-acre apple farm on Knollwood Road near White Plains in 1934. Embarking on a major expansion program, the school constructed Ford, Peet and Currier Halls, the current centerpieces of its campus, as well its athletic field and several residential dormitories. In 1952, the school dropped its military program and become a coeducational institution again. Since then, Fanwood has continued to expand its mission of providing a wide range of educational services to help deaf and hard-of-hearing children in school and become successful adults.
In 1964, the school built Johnson Pavilion to accommodate the growing numbers of elementary school children who became deaf as a result of the rubella epidemic. Today, the pre-school classes represent the fastest-growing segment of the school’s enrollment.
Since 1977, Fanwood has practiced a total communication approach to learning – which challenges students to develop their linguistic ability in a number of areas, oral and written English in addition to American Sign Language.
Fanwood has also fully recognized the benefits of using technology to help deaf children function in the world of the hearing. The TTY phones and closed caption TVs of the 1970s have given way to video phones, smart boards and computer learning aids.
In addition, all students are now assigned MacBooks as part of the Apple 1:1 program for use in the classroom and, for high school students, to use at home as well.
As the New York School for the Deaf approaches its 200th anniversary, Fanwood will continue to build upon its heritage of combining individualized instruction for students with the latest innovations in education for deaf students.
1808… Rev. John Stanford gathered a small group of deaf children in downtown New York City to teach them the alphabet and other basic language skills.
1817… New York School for the Deaf received charter, opening its doors to students one year later in downtown Manhattan. School was the first school for the deaf to be chartered, but didn’t officially open until after the American School for the Deaf.
1829… School moved to midtown Manhattan between the location of present day Saks’ Fifth Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
1856… New York School for the Deaf moved to the Fanwood estate in upper Manhattan, which was named after Fannie Monroe, daughter of previous owner. Fannie enjoyed walking through woods of the estate, hence the name Fanwood.
1864… Gallaudet College established, significantly expanding educational opportunities for deaf students.
1892… School adopted military curriculum and formed military band in 1910; first school for the deaf in United States to do so.
1893… Alexander Graham Bell introduced thirteen-year old Helen Keller to the school at the celebration of its 75th anniversary.
1938… School moved to White Plains. Ford, Peet and Currier Halls built at this time, along with Jessup and Winthrop Halls.
1952… Fanwood dropped its military curriculum and began accepting female students as it returned to a co-educational educational model.
1964… School builds Johnson Pavilion, Cloud and Gartner Cottages, along with annex to Currier Hall.
1998… Peet and Ford Halls renovated, which included the addition of auditorium, library, media center and computer lab.
2007… School celebrates 190th year of providing educational services to deaf and hard-of-hearing students
In addition to a number of distinguished alumni, Fanwood’s rich history also includes a number of noted trustees and connections to the deaf community. De Witt Clinton was the first President of the Board of Trustees, while Samuel Morse served as a trustee from 1861-1863. In 1893, Alexander Graham Bell introduced Helen Keller to the school during a visit to celebrate the school’s 75th anniversary.