Niagara Gazette

January 14, 2013

HIGGS: Educational landmarks the lesson plan

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The word “landmark” can be defined in several different ways. I guess a simple definition is a prominent or well-known object in a particular landscape.

There is certainly no lack of “landmarks” in Niagara Falls. We may have lost a lot of our architectural building treasurers but that does not mean we cannot look back at some of them that may be gone or morphed into something else and there are a lot of other objects that fit that category.

Let’s look at some of the school buildings scattered around the city, public, private and parochial that may have become something different now or may be lost to history. My friend and fellow historian, Pete Ames, guided me to a great book compiled and written by Patricia Wilson Rice who was involved during 1991 on the Historical Subcommittee of the City of Niagara Falls Centennial Committee. It is a one-stop shop and was just what I was looking for as my research time is somewhat limited.

I will be calling on my readers to offer some personal memories when we reach a particular school that is near and dear to them. I will try to give a heads up on coming attractions so feel free to call me (282-3599) to leave a comment or two on my message center.

In the early history of our area, Niagara Falls was comprised of settlements and villages. One of these was Schlosser, named after Fort Schlosser located about one mile above the Falls. The fort was destroyed by the British in 1759 after the French surrender.

Along came Augustus Porter, an early settler, who took advantage of an offer from the state of New York to purchase land along the Niagara shoreline and in 1806 he built a saw mill and a blacksmith shop. He moved his family to Niagara Falls and built a house which was later destroyed during the War of 1812 but rebuilt on the same site. By 1824 this area became known as the Village of Manchester after the industrial City of Manchester in England and soon had a population of 550 citizens.

Ms. Rice records the possibility of a one-room schoolhouse as early as 1807 near what is now Main and Second streets. She admits there is some doubt as the population probably did not warrant even a school of that size. By 1812, New York state had passed the first Public School law which “permitted and encouraged the people (by promising money) to set up school districts, elect trustees, build a schoolhouse, hire a teacher and collect taxes form the people to pay the cost.”

General Parkhurst Whitney became the first school commissioner in 1814 and built the first recorded school house, the Union Chapel, near the Eagle tavern on Falls Street. It was also used for church services. During these times, only a few children continued their education beyond the elementary grades.

In 1838, now a Judge, Augustus Porter donated land on Second Street near the woods at the edge of the village and stipulated that a school be constructed at a cost not to exceed $800. Cost overruns were familiar even in these early days and the deficit of $107 included the cost of a much needed “privy.” Two years later the enrollment was 180 pupils and following the incorporation of the hamlet into the Village of Niagara Falls in July of 1848, increased population called for a railroad terminal in this area. The land and building were sold and the proceeds were used in the construction of the original Third Street School in 1850. The small school building was moved, became a private residence and was still standing in 1960, but not fit for habitation, was condemned and torn down.

The Third Street Grammar School (1850-1897) was built largely due to the efforts of James F. Trott. Mr. Trott was active in educational progress and was elected trustee in School District Number 2 in the Town of Niagara. When Niagara Falls became incorporated in 1892, he was appointed by Mayor Wright to the City Board of Education where he served for 50 years and became known as the “Father of Our Schools.” One current board member, Don King, has accumulated more than 30 years of service and should soon hold the title of “Caretaker of Our Schools.”

The Third Street School building cost was $2,833 and was considered extravagant, as the price for the lot was another $1,175.45. However, it served the village well and by 1897 was too small for the population growth. It was voted for demolition and replacement by a larger and more modern school. Alumni (some who were the first students in 1850) gathered to say farewell to their childhood memories. They toured the building, took photographs and listened to a reading of its history. James Trott was present and everyone was pleased to learn the original bell would be saved for use in the new school.

During construction of the new school, many of the students were transported by trolley to Sugar Street School in Echota. A few also attended Fifth Street School which is our coming attraction.

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