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Charles E. Gorton, 1845-1922

Charles Eugene Gorton died on June 5, 1922, after a career of 50 years’ service to the Yonkers public schools, beginning in the early 1870s as a teacher in Public School 2. (The building, though no longer serving as a school, survived into our own day. It was demolished in early 2020.) 

Born on December 15, 1845, on a farm in North Brookfield, New York, Charles E. Gorton received his baccalaureate degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. His arrival in Yonkers followed some years later, when his brother James, an educator in Ossining, notified him of a vacancy in P.S. 2 and suggested that he make a bid to fill it. Speaking of Mr. Gorton three years after his death, one of his former students, Richard Edie, Jr., recalled his classes in civics, mathematics, physics, and chemistry, and commented: “How he enjoyed working out a hard problem!” Another former student remembered that for many years he willingly taught night classes.

At the time of his death, Charles E. Gorton was the Superintendent of Schools, a position that he held for approximately 40 years. The number of students enrolled in the Yonkers public schools when he arrived here was about 2,500. It was close to 20,000 when he died.

In response to the superintendent’s death, Mayor William J. Wallin ordered the flags on all municipal buildings to be flown at half-mast. Wallin, who would later serve on the New York State Board of Regents, said of the superintendent: “Mr. Gorton was pre-eminently a great teacher. He had a genius for the work. And with it, he had unusual ability as an organizer and executive. He was a man of great culture, a scholar, and always to the very end of his life, an earnest, enthusiastic student. To his most intimate friends, the scope and depth of his learning, the many fields where he was master, was constantly a source of wonder.”

The Yonkers Statesman editorialized: “The entire educational system of the city—the city’s proudest possession—stands as a monument to him, for he was responsible for its development. His efforts, his personality were the inspiration that has given to Yonkers the finest educational system in the State.”

Charles Gorton’s civic engagement in Yonkers extended well beyond his contributions to public education. He helped to raise funds for St. John’s Riverside Hospital, where he served on the board of trustees; for St. Joseph’s Hospital and for the now defunct Homeopathic Hospital and Maternity. He played a role in the planning of both the YMCA building on Hudson Street and the YWCA building on South Broadway. For many years he helped to organize the Memorial Day ceremonies held on the grounds of Philipse Manor Hall. Along with Mayor Leslie Sutherland, author John Kendrick Bangs, and several Yonkers officials, he was a member of the committee which in 1901 was charged with turning Andrew Carnegie’s $50,000 endowment into a new home for the Yonkers Public Library. And he assisted William F. Cochran in the founding—and later served on the board of directors—of the Hollywood Inn. (The brainchild of philanthropist Cochran, the Hollywood Inn was intended to be a venue where young men could profitably spend their leisure time. The Inn’s impressive structure stood for many years at the southwest corner of Hudson Street and South Broadway.)  

Charles Gorton was also active in local businesses. He was for many years the president of the People’s Savings Bank and a director of the Westchester Trust Company. He was said to be an expert in real estate, and it was reported that he was a member, though a non-practicing one, of the New York State Bar. 

At one time he held membership, as well, in the Palisade Boat Club and the Corinthian Yacht Club. 

Charles Gorton’s funeral took place on Wednesday, June 7, 1922 in the First Presbyterian Church on North Broadway. Out of respect for the deceased superintendent, the city’s public schools were closed for the day. Among the mourners were Mayor Wallin, the New York State Commissioner of Education, a number of former Yonkers mayors, the principals of all the Yonkers public schools, and numerous men and women who had benefited at one time or another from the kindness or skill of the “father of [the]schools system” (as the Statesman styled him). In accord with Mr. Gorton’s wish, there was no eulogy. He was buried beside his wife in the family plot at Oakland Cemetery.

On the evening of Friday, January 16, 1925, the new school building on Shonnard Place, the Charles E. Gorton High School, was dedicated. Charles Gorton had seen architect G. Howard Chamberlin’s plan for the building, and he had been told, shortly before his death, that the new school would be named in his honor.