Niagara Gazette

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May 13, 2013

HIGGS: Niagara Falls High School in the early years

Niagara Gazette — Since we are learning about city schools it is only fitting that we move on to the new Niagara Falls High School. The former building was completely destroyed by a fire in 1922 while construction of the annex was in progress. The building and equipment were considered a “total loss.” Insurance recovery was $378,379.24 and the replacement estimate, (without furnishings) was $644,929. School records including Regents’ examination papers and report cards were carried to Principal James F. Taylor’s nearby residence on 13th Street, much to the students’ dismay.

No time was lost in getting the students back to classes and getting the building back into its use. The entire city responded to the crisis with offers of emergency supplies of desks, chairs and other equipment. In less than one week all 1,200 students were back to class with most of them in the south end of the city. Some were at the Chamber of Commerce auditorium in the Masonic Temple, some at the YMCA, the YWCA and the First Baptist and First Presbyterian churches as well as St. Peter’s Guild House. Science class students attended school in the laboratory at the Niagara Alkali Company and basketball was played on the Acheson-Graphite Company court and at the State Armory on Main Street.

Fifth Street School housed the freshmen and night school classes. The office of Superintendent John B. Laidlow and some supervisory teachers went to Tenth Street School where night school classes were also held. Attendance actually increased, tardiness decreased in spite of the disadvantage of having to walk in all kinds of weather to and from various city buildings during the class day. (Maybe the kids today need a challenge to get them to stay in school.) For example, the school’s assembly programs were conducted at the Cataract Theater. In the fall of 1922, the freshmen and sophomores went to the new Maple Avenue Elementary School with classes divided into two sessions, in the morning from 8 a.m. until noon and in the afternoon from 1 to 5 p.m. Striking street car operators only added to the problems of the students walking to and from the Maple Avenue School. The High School Annex was completed in January of 1923 and was utilized for some junior and senior classes. South Junior High School was opened in September of 1923 which filled the gap for the remaining students. This tragic fire saw the last of the horse drawn fire apparatus as in 1923, the Tenth Street Fire Hall ended the era with the motorization of its fire hall equipment.

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