After 64 years, one last day to play at Briarcliff

06/30/2014 2:00 PM |
Students and parents outside Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham at the school's last Field Day. Briarcliff kids will attend Miller Avenue Elementary School next year as part of a district restructuring. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

Students and parents outside Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham at the school’s last Field Day. Briarcliff kids will attend Miller Avenue Elementary School next year as part of a district restructuring. (Credit: Rachel Young)

Last week, dozens of cars lined the narrow streets surrounding Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham, where faculty, students and parents were celebrating Field Day, an annual event that rewards children for nine months of hard work in the classroom with an assortment of warm-weather activities.  

Walking among students enjoying games of kickball and musical chairs that afternoon was principal Louis Parrinello, outfitted in a red-and-black pirate costume corresponding with the day’s theme.

“It’s bittersweet,” Mr. Parrinello said as he surveyed the happy scene. “It’s been a wonderful journey. We’re closing a chapter at Briarcliff Elementary School and opening a new one at Miller Avenue. It’s a change for all of us, and it’s an exciting one.”

A STORIED HISTORY

According to the Shoreham-Wading River School District’s website, Briarcliff — a 15-room Norman-style mansion — was constructed in 1907. Sand and gravel hauled from the nearby beachfront were used to mix the structure’s 10-inch poured concrete walls, and seaweed was used as insulation.

The house’s most prominent owner was Donald B. Upham, a millionaire who made his fortune in the oil industry. In 1926, he added a wing containing a suite for his French bride, whose first name is unknown. The project cost $55,000 — roughly $737,000 today, adjusted for inflation — and featured a boudoir lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

“Upham spared no expense, as the mansion was complete with a wine cellar, a massive fireplace and hand-carved wood panels,” the district said. Mr. Upham’s stay in Shoreham — as well as his marriage — eventually ended and the district said he “departed his beloved mansion in 1947 at the age of 50.”

Briarcliff was later used as a summer camp for French children. In fact, the names of former campers were carved into the shelves of a large cabinet still in the school’s possession and are easily visible today.

In 1950, the mansion was sold to the Shoreham-Wading River School District for $30,500. An additional $42,000 was laid out to transform it into a public school.

Over the years, the district made various improvements to the building, adding a gymnasium and three classrooms around 1957. About a decade later, another addition was completed, bringing the number of classrooms to 11.

In 2002, four temporary classrooms were added to “accommodate the rising student populations throughout the district,” the district said.