Flatbush had an “unusual number of fine schools”to be proud of by the turn of the century. It obtained “for their schools the highest possible standard of excellence in educational work.” At the time of the City of Brooklyn’s annexation of the Town of Flatbush in 1894, there were only one or two schools. The Eagle reported in 1896 the need to expand the number of schools due to rapid growth.[i] Twelve years later, in 1908, there were six or seven beautiful buildings, all teaching the most modern education methods with top of the line educators.[ii] Flatbush was known to maintain the “highest possible standard of excellence in educational work.”[iii]
Erasmus Hall Academy was considered the top of all the high schools, the pride and joy of Flatbush. It was deeply loved and revered by everyone in Flatbush since its founding in 1786, and was even considered the best school in the state. Dr. Walter B. Gunnison was the principal of the school since it was given to the city in 1896 until his death in 1916. Dr. Gunnison was just as admired as his school. The Eagle wrote frequently about Erasmus Hall and Dr. Gunnison; he was a man of distinctive “character and scholarship,” a “splendid principal,” and “a son of thunder as Erasmus Hall’s head.”[iv] Regarding a surprise party the students threw for Dr. Gunnison in 1910, the New York Times wrote that “he is greatly beloved,” and that he never took a vacation except the time allotted by law. He transformed the school from being ruled by an iron fist to a partially run by a student government system, under which the students flourished.[v]
Erasmus Hall was known for its successful educational methods. The enrollment was at 2,700 students by the early 1900s.[vi] When the school became public and part of the Board of Education in 1896, a celebratory night was held on October 15th in the Flatbush Reformed Dutch Church. Every seat was filled, the Eagle reported, and there were even people standing. The article states that for two hours, “the audience … listened to six speeches not just with patience but with evident relish.” Of all the speakers, Dr. Gunnison, the principal, was given the most attention.[v] Erasmus Hall was not just a school, but a “school-home.”[iv]
[i] “Suburban Schools: How the Residents of Flatbush, New Utrecht, Parkville, and Windsdor Terrace Fare in the Matter of Educational Facilities,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 30, 1896.
[ii] Herbert Foster Gunnison, Flatbush of Today (Brooklyn, New York, 1908), 25.
[iii] Fisher, Flatbush Past and Present, 57.
[iv] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 15, 1896.
[v] “Surprise for Dr. Gunnison,” New York Times, April 23, 1910.
[vi] Gunnison, Flatbush of Today, 29.