An Elementary School Student from 1956


An elementary school student from 1956 in Orangetown would have been a part of the baby boom generation; between 1946 and 1964 30 million children were born in the United States. His family might have taken advantage of a house built by Tappan Village Homes. Post war housing was difficult to find because no housing had been built during the war years. Not all servicemen's families would qualify for housing at Shanks Village, converted barracks housing units created out of Camp Shanks. In 1953 the Village Directory listed 1,400 veterans and their families as residents. Stanley Wyatt, a local resident, created some amusing cartoons that document this period. Our student might have lived at the property east of Rt. 303 and Oak Tree Road; such a house was selling for $10,750.00 with only 5% down payment. Orangetown in the 1950's was changing from an area of small hamlets and villages surrounded by family farms to one of housing developments and shopping centers. To serve the new homeowners a maze of local roads was built. The opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge and the last section of the New York State Thruway in 1955 as well as the completion of the forty two mile long New York-New Jersey Palisades Interstate Parkway in 1958 encouraged even more people to settle in the area. During this period of expansion the Tappan Express commuter train was remarkably disbanded from service, encouraging commuters to use the new roads.


Our student would have enjoyed growing up during a period of economic prosperity. Scholastic magazine showed that by 1956 there were 13 million teenagers in the country – the best fed, best schooled and best cared for generation in history. Rigid gender roles were adhered to and this was reflected in the toys that were manufactured for children at the time. Throughout the 1950's schoolchildren were instructed in 'duck and cover' drills; when the teacher called 'drop!' children would crawl under their desks and cover their heads with their hands. This response was supposed to protect them from nuclear attack. On May 17th 1954 in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas the Supreme Court ruled that the 'separate but equal' doctrine was unconstitutional. This landmark decision banned segregation based on race in our school systems and had a profound effect on education.


Our student would have seen growth in the community; the Tappan Grammar School additions of 1950 and 1952 were larger than the original school building; the Tappan Reformed Church rebuilt the Manse Barn and the Tappan Library was located in the former garage of the Moritz Funeral Home Housing developments were popping up all over town. On small screened televisions in lacquered wooden consoles families gathered to watch black and white flickering images. By 1956 Americans were buying TV sets at the rate of twenty thousand a day. Television changed the way people looked, acted and consumed. TV connected Orangetown residents immediately with trends and fads throughout the country, from Elvis Presley to I Love Lucy. As the 1950's saw the beginning of pop culture it also saw the end of the polio epidemic. This disease caused paralysis and often permanent disability. Dr. Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine in 1954 which was produced by the local Lederle Labratories in Pearl River and administered to schoolchildren throughout the country in a massive volunteer effort. By 1962 polio had virtually disappeared. With this victory came an increased trust in technology and a tremendous sense of optimism for the future