Distinguishing one from the other proved to be a little bit of a challenge, as many sources refer to Friendship Farm and the Ferrer Colony in the same breath. In truth, they were quite different. While Friendship Farm was largely the province of formerly-urban and taciturn German transplants, the Ferrer Colony took a decidedly anarchist turn, fostered by adherents of Spanish educator Francisco Ferrer.
Well-known for his political beliefs, Ferrer had founded the Escuela Moderna in Barcelona in 1901 as a means of promoting the tenets of anarchism. After he was executed for his alleged participation in an insurrection, free-thinkers around the world, including some in New York, sought to perpetuate his teachings through additional Modern Schools.
|Relief sculpture on the side of the Goldman house |
in the former Ferrer/Modern School Colony.
Not long after the blast, one of the Ferrer group leaders was visiting friends who lived at Friendship Farm when an a solution materialized. Dissatisfied with the Farm's conservative environment, one friend suggested that the New York group could purchase the adjoining land and start their own settlement in New Jersey.
|One of the Ferrer Colony's remaining tiny houses.|
Through it all, the ever-important Modern School attracted the support and attention of parents who wanted their children to benefit from a progressive, if not revolutionary education. The school had no curriculum or study requirements, supporting the community's belief that allowing students to make their own choices would result in responsible adults. After a brief morning gathering, kids could experiment with several options, including outdoor games, woodworking and art. Traditional academics were available but not forced; oral histories note that some children didn't learn to read until they were nine or ten years old.
The school and community persisted through the lean years of the Great Depression, losing many students whose parents couldn't afford tuition or had become communists. World War II seems to have struck the death knell; the construction and operation of nearby Camp Kilmer reportedly brought crime and hostility to what had been peaceful farmland. Nonetheless, the Modern School managed to stay open until 1953, most of its few students reportedly around kindergarten age.
Today, the only overt sign of the Modern School is a plaque erected on the site where it once stood, 79 School Street. Though many of the common buildings have been torn down and replaced by retail establishments, some of the small houses still stand in the general area, including the Russian, or Goldman house, notable for the bas relief artwork on its outside walls.