In 1978, Robert Reeder Green wrote in his book “The Land Along the Shabakunks” (a delightful and informative record and reminiscence of life in Ewing in the early years of the 20th century) of the day in September 1914 when
“...all was ready for the laying of the cornerstone in the north-east corner of the building. It was a gala day. Township officials, school board members, everyone was there. The horses and wagons and autos nearly filled Gendek’s field. The names of all us kids were placed in a metal box and are today sealed under the cornerstone. … The school had four classrooms, a teacher’s room and a supply room, with toilet rooms in the basement. … The front entrance was covered with a portico, ...[and] gave weather protection to the children as they loaded and unloaded from the (horse-drawn) school wagons.”
The site of all this excitement? The new Lanning School on Pennington Road, named in honor and memory of Ewing’s own son Judge William Mershon Lanning, who had passed away in 1912. The new school building was one of four modern primary schools which would be built in the second decade of the 20th century, to replace the out-moded one-room schoolhouses which had dotted Ewing’s rural landscape for the better part of the previous century.
The craftsman-style brick building on Pennington Road provided a place for a solid education for Ewing children in “readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic,” as well as history, geography, penmanship, and likely other subjects as well. A spelling contest among the students at all Ewing primary schools was held every year at Lanning, and a baseball diamond across the street was the site of informal and inter-scholastic ball games. Less than a decade later, four rooms and an auditorium were added to provide suitable accommodations for the increasing enrollment.
Meanwhile, when the NJ State Normal School at Trenton outgrew its location on Clinton Avenue in the late 1920s, it was decided that the teaching-preparatory institution should move to the rural expanses of neighboring Ewing Township. The State purchased property at Hillwood Lakes, off of Pennington Road, on farmland owned by the Green, Wenzel and Titus families, among others.
Conveniently, there was a primary school - Lanning School - across the road which provided a perfect “demonstration school” for the students studying Education at the now-renamed Trenton State Teachers College. A relationship was forged between the Ewing Board of Education and the College which lasted for many years, allowing students at the College to hone their instructional skills in a lively, local setting, while simultaneously providing a top-notch education to Ewing’s children.
As the decades passed, demographic changes in Ewing and the need to consolidate expenses eventually resulted in the closure of the Lanning School first as a demonstration school, and later as a Ewing public school in the 1990's. But it did not stop the building from providing a safe haven for educating children.
Since the 90s, Lanning School has housed the Children’s Day School of the Family Guidance Center, a private, special education school providing academic and therapeutic programs to address the educational, emotional and behavioral needs of students classified with behavioral disorders, with the goal of their eventual return to the public school classroom. The school is a supportive environment in which skilled educators and counselors seek to “encourage children of varied backgrounds to reach their academic goals and become the best citizens they can be.” The Family Guidance Center organization has been providing these and similar services to such children for fifty years.
On Saturday, May 17, from 1 to 4 pm, the Center will celebrate the Centennial of the Lanning building together with their own golden anniversary, recalling to some extent the opening “gala day” that Robert Green described. The public is encouraged to attend. While it’s unlikely that horse-drawn wagons will still carry them, former Lanning School students are especially encouraged to come and share their memories. A proclamation, displays, a presentation of Lanning School history by the Historical Society, tours, musical performances, a student art auction, and refreshments will entertain and educate young and old alike. One hundred years ago, “everyone was there.” We hope you’ll be there this time.