Cherry Lawn School, founded in 1915, was one of the first co-educational boarding schools in the country. If this was its only distinction, Cherry Lawn would have a solid claim to its place in American educational history. Yet it was much more.
Like many innovations, Cherry Lawn's start was largely an accident of fate. The young daughter, Bertrice, of Leo and Gerda Stein of Stamford, Connecticut was stricken with a severe case of polio that left she unable to walk. Her uncle, Dr. Fred Goldfrank, who had recently earned his M.D. at Harvard University and was a pediatrician practicing in New York City, reacted to this family tragedy in a most unusual way -- he abandoned his medical practice! He, instead, turned his energies toward Bertrice's needs. For the next year, he tutored Bertrice and the other Stein children. In those days, "special education" as a field was not well developed as we know it today, and traditional schools were not equipped to provide a quality education for students in Bertrice's circumstances.
Starting with just four students on the Stein's property in Stamford, the idea of establishing a school based on a progressive and innovative approach to education that focused on the development of the whole person soon emerged. The school derived its name, Cherry Lawn School, from the Cherry trees that graced the Stein's property.
After just four years, the young school acquired twenty eight acres in Darien, Connecticut where it moved in the fall of 1920. The official address was 120 Brookside Road. Roger Strasser, a nephew of Dr. Goldfrank and an early student, later taught English and was a trustee, as was his wife, Clarice, some years later. She also was Director of the Summer Program for many years.
Some of this early history is recalled by Herbert Goldfrank in his loving tribute to "Uncle Fred." Dr. Goldfrank himself penned the essence of his educational philosophy in an open letter that became known as the Cherry Lawn Credo.
In 1933, Dr. Goldfrank passed away. After a short time the school's trustees invited two former Cherry Lawn teachers to serve as co-directors: Dr. Boris Bogoslovsky and Dr. Christina StaŽl von Holstein Bogoslovsky, or Dr. Boris and Dr. StaŽl as they were called at Cherry Lawn. Dr. Boris came originally from Russia where had been an official in the Kerensky government, and Dr. StaŽl was from Sweden. Dr. StaŽl in fact was related to Mme de Dr. StaŽl, the renown Swedish-born French author of the Napoleonic period. Dr. StaŽl was an historian by training and Dr. Boris taught science until he joined the United Nations in 1945 where he was a translator in the Secretariat. He also was an observer for the U.S. government at the Nuremberg Trials. They brought with them two different cultural backgrounds, but similar ideas. Their roles at the school, however, were different; Dr. Boris tended to focus on broad issues of school policy, while Dr. StaŽl devoted more of her energies to the day-to-day administration of the school. It was a very effective pairing.
Manor House was on the original property and Stein House was added during the early years of the school's operation. As the school grew, new buildings were added. Boys House, built in the late 1930s, was designed by the well-known architect, William Lescaze. It was considered quite avant-garde at the time. The Swedish Pavilion, the Assembley area and classrooms, and several other structures were added as well.
During the World War II period, the school was a home to several European refugees. There was a shortage of maintenance help at the school due to the war effort, so students cleaned study halls, made repairs, and did dishes. Air raid drills and blackouts became a part of school life. School enrollment rose to better than 150 during this period.
In the late 1950s, A.A. (Al) Medved became Director following the retirement of Dr. StaŽl. During his tenure, the lower grades were phased out so that by the late 1960s the school had grades nine through twelve only. In recognition of excellence, Mr. Medved helped establish two annual awards: the Cherry Lawn Trophy Award for the top all around student, and the Trustees' Award Medal in honor of a distinguished alumnus.
In spring 1972 Ludwig C. Zuber, a long time history teacher and administrator at the school, was named Director. Unfortunately, by then two major fires and mounting financial problems plagued the school until it became impossible for the school to continue. Students and parents were informed in the summer of 1972 that the school would not open that fall.
During the nearly sixty years of its existence, many traditions developed. The formation of a democratic student government with elected officers, a student reading at morning assembly, the Cherry Lawn Song, the "Senior Clap", athletic programs beginning with tennis, school newspapers, and the school yearbook, the Cherry Pit, were but a few.
Today the ground upon which the school was located is a public park owned by the Town of Darien. The name, Cherry Lawn Park, is the only hint to its past. Until the 1999 Reunion, there was no plaque or other commemoration of the school. A few things, however, can be recognized by those who attended the school: the tennis courts remain; the old gazebo; the athletic field, half of which is a town garden; and of course the lake with its little stone bridge.
The rest is gone. Until recently, the only building on the grounds that was there when the school closed was the former Girls House, which was built in the late 1960s to replace Stein House after it burned down. It served for years as the Darien Nature Center, but has been torn down. It is pictured at right. [Photo credits go to Eddie Podolsky, CLS'72.]
To replace the old nature center now stands a lovely new Darien Nature Center building. [Photo credits go to Mike Manners, CLS'72.]
(Note: We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Herbert Goldfrank, Clarice Strasser, Al Medved, June Kahana Goldberg, and many others to the formation of this brief history.)
Be sure to read the wonderful book written by Clarice Strasser about her days at Cherry Lawn.
It's available online by clicking the button, below.