Niagara Gazette

May 6, 2013

HIGGS: Comments and more on landmark school building

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Anthony Manarina sent me an email reminding me that “Vincent Ladd, a stern but dedicated man, ran a tight ship as principal at North Junior during our years there during the early 1950s.” He also recalled John Overhiser, one of his teachers who taught math and geometry and said he was a tough teacher who taught life lessons in his classes without the sugar coating. He mentioned others; Lucille Carella, Paul Balassone, Al Mis and of course the Dominianni sisters, Blanche and Adeline.

Now, who can help us remember his great Latin teacher — tiny lady with great white hair as he recalled. He said it was an interesting place to be, and there was a lot happening socially in the world and in our school.

Well, it did not take long or even a prompting as John Loss called me also to recall some memories of his days at North Junior. He remembered Vincent Ladd and also Jacob Goldstein as vice–principal. The great Latin teacher was Mary Nixon and she also taught Spanish. Margaret Mould was the French and German educator. He reminded me North Junior included 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grades and high school was 11th and 12th. He went on to Trott Vocational and worked on the Niagara Power Project and now lives on Grand Island.

Another connection — he is somehow related (on the Shanesey side) to, and became close to my good friend Connie Rodhy who recently passed away. We talked about the former school buildings being reused such as Trott as a Niagara County Resource Center and the NF High School now the NACC. Also the former LaSalle High School is now the LaSalle Preparatory. All of these former schools no longer with us are the result of a population decline when our industrial employers left us. As a student in driver training he recalled they were taken to Augustus or Townsend Place to perform the “three-point-turn” during the dreaded road test. It was nice to hear from both of them.

There were two more intermediate or “junior high schools” but we have to backtrack a little to stay in the times. Trying to keep all of these landmark schools of the past in the proper time sequence is difficult as so much was going in our city during these early years. A little recap is probably necessary now as you have had a lot to digest during the last few weeks.

On March 17, 1892, two villages were incorporated into the City of Niagara Falls – Suspension Bridge and the Village of Niagara Falls. Only two schools existed then, Fifth Street School which changed to the Niagara Falls Union School in 1888 and the Suspension Bridge Union School which ultimately became Cleveland Avenue School. A centrally located high school was proposed by then Superintendent of Schools, Nathaniel L Benhan. He was in favor of one location with financing one of his main reasons.

During May of 1901, the city residents voted for a new high school to cost $150,000. The land at the corner of Pine Avenue and Portage Road was purchased from Augustus O. Porter for $26,000. He was a relative of Augustus S. Porter (1769-1849), a surveyor with the Holland land Company who was the initial person to purchase and settle upon the land along the American side of the Falls once the British occupation ended. He and his family were the major landowners of the times and Augustus S. Porter became the first Judge in Niagara County and the first Postmaster of Niagara Falls. Hence Augustus Place and Townsend Place named after his daughter who married a Townsend.

The cornerstone was laid on Nov. 26, 1902, at a grand ceremony with 300 students attending along with the Superintendent of Schools, Reuben A. Taylor and the Principal, Dr. Thomas B. Lovell and the full Board of Education. The new school opened in September 1903 with the same entourage marching from the State Armory on Main Street to the ceremony in the auditorium and classes began the following day.

The architect E. E. Joralemon, built a grand three-story brick building with a beautiful rotunda extending from the basement to the glass roof. By 1920 it became necessary to appropriate another $320,000 for an annex for the gymnasium and vocational shops. During this period of construction, on Jan. 24, 1922, the original main building was completely destroyed by a fire at an estimated loss of $650,000. A few firemen were injured but not seriously and there was no loss of life but the building burned through the night illuminating the sky a great distance away.

Classes were scattered wherever they could be accommodated and when the annex was completed the burned out portion of the school was demolished to make ready for the construction of the new Niagara Falls High School.

There is much sadness at this time within these walls as one of the founders of the NACC and its first executive director, the Rev. Hal Faba passed away on May 1. We are proud that his last professional theatrical act was as director of the play, “Over The Tavern” presented in this grand old building earlier this year. He shall be remembered as a mentor to all of us and a reminder to “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.