By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — The first school built following the turn of the century in 1901 was the Ferry Avenue School located at 1605 Ferry Ave. between 16th and 17th streets. Earlier a small building known as the Pine Avenue School with four classrooms on the northeast corner of Pine Avenue and 16th Street accommodated students in that area. Since population was growing at a rapid pace and Pine was becoming a retail centerpiece, it was replaced by this school.
The architects were W.H. Orchard and E.E. Joralemon. Their design included a more efficient ventilation system utilizing a centralized fan, the first in the district school system. The school was dedicated on Jan. 10, 1902, and contained 18 classrooms in a two-story brick building of a rather simple design. Over 450 people attended the tours of the building offered during the afternoon and the dedication took place during an evening ceremony. Miss Catherine C. Martin was the principal and remained in this position for 41 years until her retirement in June of 1942. The costs including a gymnasium and auditorium and additions during 1925 and 1961 were $261,143.17.
This school remained in operation longer than some of the others we learned about but it eventually fell victim to decreased enrollment and was closed in 1980. The last principal was Harry Bouchard. Vacant for seven years, it was eventually sold to the Niagara Falls Neighborhood Housing Service for $10,000. This nonprofit agency reinvented the building into apartments and it is now known as The Joseph S. Presti, Sr. Apartment Complex.
According to its website during the mid-1970s “a group of concerned residents from the surrounding neighborhoods petitioned the city for help that would assist the blight they saw filtering in many neighborhoods. It was their tireless efforts and strong conviction for this area that Niagara Falls NHS, Inc was created. Part of a National Chartered Network of NeighborWorks America, Niagara Falls NHS, Inc., continues to address the neighborhood blight, maintains stability through various homeownership incentives and offers safe, decent and affordable housing.”
Its partial mission remains “to be a leader in neighborhood revitalization, provide new opportunities for low- and moderate-income families, and advocate for community needs ...” They have an office at 479 16th St. and own two other rental units at 501 19th St. and the Carroll Colpoys Apartments on Portage and Falls Street. For the last eight years they have held a giant flea market on the front lawn of the Presti Apartments. This year it will be Sept. 14. Tables and chairs are available for $20. It’s always a big event.
In 2008, the NHS adapted some vacant land behind the building for a community garden and the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club has been a part of this community garden at the Presti Apartments since its inception. Niagara University was the lead agency, but after the first year the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club took over. They rototill, the soil, purchase the vegetables, plant and care for them until they are full grown. The children harvest them and give them away free to the tenants in the Presti Apartments.
Before we get to the construction of a new high school in 1901, I want to bring some of the other neighborhood schools into the focus first.
Ashland Avenue School comes to mind as that was where my son Doug attended almost all of his elementary school years. Built in 1902 this two-story brick school was designed by E.E. Joralemon and included 10 classrooms. The land was formerly a vineyard harvesting plums and apples in orchards surrounding this area and it was obtained at a cost of $12,120.00 and the building and equipment brought the total to $84,811.58.
Miss Helen L. Prime was appointed the first principal. The History of the Niagara Falls School System was first initiated in a special class here in 1910.
In May of 1953 when Miss Isabel LeFort was principal the school celebrated 50 years. Over 200 former students and teachers attended including three of the original teachers from 1903. One of them, Miss Rosalie M. Martin, became the first vice principal at Gaskill Junior High School when it opened in 1931. It was in July 1972 when Doug was due to enter the sixth and final year of elementary school that we moved to Ashland Avenue. This was not the main reason for the move but it would have been nice to have his school just down the street. However, it was also the year the Board of Education decided to close the school and build the Harry F. Abbott central school which opened that September and he spent one year there before moving on to South Junior High School. More on this school later.
Many other occupants moved in and out of the former Ashland Avenue School starting in 1979 when it appeared as an office building. Center City Neighborhood Development, the APA employment Agency and Cubello Real Estate started it off. Then the American Red Cross occupied the first floor for many years with Healthy Heart Program of Niagara County on the second floor. In 2002, the Niagara Wellness Council and Opportunities Unlimited had quarters there and from 2005 to the present it has been the Refuge Temple of Christ.
The 1900’s saw many other school constructions as Niagara Falls continued to grow. We shall continue our educational journey. Stay tuned.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.