Niagara Gazette

April 1, 2013

HIGGS: Early city schools built lifetime relationships

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — During more successful and populated times in the early 1900s, this area was growing along with the city’s industrial base and it became necessary to construct more neighborhood schools. Children walked to school in these days — no, this is not an April Fool comment — no school buses picked them up at corners near their residence, so it was necessary to locate schools in various parts of the city.

Built in 1907 the 13th Street School and the 22nd Street School were built in nearly identical designs. The architect was James R. White and they were considered the most modern school construction for the era. Both schools had the two entrances at either side of the front façade; one marked boys and one girls. Some historical research and my own vague memories of 22nd Street School (a bit later than these early days however) tells us that throughout the majority of the 1900s, the typical classroom had seating arranged in straight rows, with students seated alphabetically directly behind and next to one another. The arrangement focused on a teacher-centered classroom where information was presented in lecture format, verbally or written on the board. The teacher could observe all action going on in the room. A shift occurred late in the 1900s and into the 21st century with a focus on seating that promotes interactive learning, with students seated in groups at a small tables or a large conference table, for instance. Harry F. Abate School comes to mind which will be discussed in a later story.

Miss H. May Brown was the first principal of 13th Street School, a two-story brick building with 11 classrooms. An addition was added in 1917 bringing the cost of the entire project to $128,428.27. The school was closed in 1968 and the city obtained the property in 1976 and demolished the building with the exception of the gymnasium which was used for a short time as a recreation center and is currently owned by Eleventh Street Properties in the area principally owned by Niagara Falls Redevelopment. The last principal was Rudolph Marion.

Twenty-Second Street School was the one I attended for a couple of years while growing up on 18th Street in the city’s North End. It was located between Cleveland and Niagara avenues and was a two-story brick with 12 classrooms. Built in 1907 also, the total cost including land and equipment was $101,818.76. The first principal was Miss Nellie B. Flynn who remained in this position until 1938 when she retired. Original enrollment was 143 students with a staff of nine teachers. This grew into a staff of 17 with 623 students by 1920 at which time a three room annex was added. Hyde Park School was built in 1928 and absorbed many of the neighborhood students and the staff was once again reduced to nine. The school was closed in 1972 when Mrs. Ann Hodge was principal and the building was sold to A.D. Zoog, Inc. for $8,003 and later demolished. Residential housing now occupies this area.

Construction of the 10th Street School located at the corner of Ferry Avenue and 10th Street began during January of 1914. This was a rapid growth period in this area of the city also. Architects were from the firm of Wright & Kremers and the contractors were Allen and Smith of Buffalo. The building was open for school that same September as promised and contained a new feature not included in any of the previous new schools of the same period — a swimming pool with showers and other accessories. There were 11 classrooms in the two-story brick building with a total cost of $143,736.78. The first principal was William J. Downey and Rudolph P. Marion closed this school in 1972 when the board of education sold it to Forrester Development Corp. for $28,500. It has been operated since then as a community health center.

During the mid 1900s there was a need for more school facilities and in 1918 the 24th Street School was built between Forest and Independence avenues. The architect was Charles R. Phelps and was considered the most up-to-date school of the times. A swimming pool with accompanying facilities was included in this school also.

The first principal was Leslie C. Dona. A grandstand was added in 1925 but was removed in 1955 and remodeling took place in 1960 when an auditorium and gymnasium were added. The cost of the original portion was $195,170.08 which included the land, building and equipment. The 1960 addition and remodeling costs were another $238,177.00. When the elementary school closed in 1976, the principal was Mrs. Margaret Russo. It was used for the Niagara Falls Adult Education Center when the Whitney Avenue School closed. This Center was moved again in 1991 to the South Junior High School and the 24th Street School became a satellite of Gaskill Middle School. It later became an alternative school and is now occupied as the second location of the Head Start program following the sale of the Sacred Heart complex on South Avenue.

There were several more schools built during these times due to population growth and I am sure there are many memories floating around about the ones I have covered so far. This type of “local” school had a large impact on the building and nurturing of neighborhoods, which in turn built lifetime friendships and relationships. Stay tuned.

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