Niagara Gazette

April 29, 2013

HIGGS: Past personal connections and two connected schools

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Where did April go? I guess time flies when you’re having fun.

Working on the Beautify Niagara event is always fun as I encounter so many wonderful people in and around our city. Writing these columns is also fun for the same reason. I received a telephone call from Dale Flagler who lives in the Gowanda area. He told me he went to 5th Street School and South Junior and his family lived across the street from 5th Street School.

He said my story brought back memories of when he attended 7th, 8th and 9th grades at South Junior and when I asked him if he something to share like maybe a girlfriend or other friends he surprised me. I always knew Western New York people always have something in common but this was close to home for me. He said yes, he had a sort of girlfriend who lived on Augustus Place where I now live and her name was Kathleen Lake. Dale graduated form NFHS in 1964 and worked as a repairman with New York Telephone Company and Kathleen was a teacher at Lockport High School following her college education. More research led me to find that Dale was married to Sharon in the early 1970s and Kathy as I know her today married a young attorney, Ralph Boniello III, around the same time. He went on to become a Supreme Court Justice and I was on his staff for a few very pleasant years until my retirement. Small world isn’t it?

We now pay a visit to North Junior High School and the new Cleveland Avenue School as they are intertwined. Construction was started in 1922 at Cleveland Avenue and 15th Street on the North Junior High school. The work was completed in the spring of 1923 and at that time all the classrooms, furnishings, equipment and students from the original Cleveland Avenue School were moved to North Junior, where they remained until June 1925. Elmer Knowles was the principal at this time.

The new Cleveland Avenue School was completed in 1925 and was ready for occupancy. This allowed North Junior to become the intermediate junior high school it was planned for. Miss Frances C, Hickox was the first principal and Helen Knapp was vice-principal. They remained at the helm, serving together until June 1942 when they both retired.

North Junior was a three-story brick building with 45 classrooms, an auditorium, gymnasium and swimming pool like its sister in the south end of the city which opened in 1924. The total cost of this facility was $871,473.26 which included the land, building and equipment.

I attended this school in the early 1950s and as I recall we were segregated into classes based on our aptitude and former grades. The 7th grade was divided into groups such as 7-1, 7-2, 7-3 and so on with the smart ones in the lower numbers. I was placed in 7-1 (who would guess?) and we were given the opportunity to study four foreign language sessions to see if we would be interested in following up with a full four-year course of study. We had 10 weeks each of French, German, Spanish and Latin and when I entered the ninth grade I chose French which in actuality helped me immensely in grammar as my English teacher in the junior high loved literature and poetry so conjugating verbs was not my thing.

Not sure what they do today but I remember being taught the basics about a healthy lifestyle, learning how to plan and prepare a simple meal and some sewing and ironing. Do they teach this today? The boys learned the basic health (but separately) and had some mechanical courses as well as the reading, writing and arithmetic everyone had to study.

I do not recall who the principal was during my years at North Junior, but later in April 1976 the school celebrated its 50th anniversary. There were tours and displays of the early years. Our former mayor, Michael C. O’Laughlin was principal during this time. The Board of Education voted to close the school in 1982 and Anthony J. DiChiara was the last principal. The building was sold to MAC Associates, was never redeveloped and was demolished.

The connection to the Cleveland Avenue School was a real physical one as the heating system at North Junior also provided the heat at this school situated on Cleveland Avenue near 11th Street. Underground pipes ran along the street between the two schools and kept the street free of the elements during the winter months.

The design of the two-story brick, 19-classroom school is identical to that of the Maple Avenue School which was built in 1922. Mr. Knowles, the principal during the period of occupancy at North Junior moved to South Junior and Louis R. Witt became principal at the new school. The school bell from the former building was included in the design at the request of neighborhood residents and former students. Cost of the replacement school was $470,905.98 including land, building and equipment. Two temporary classrooms were added in 1967 along with new stairwells in 1970.

Cleveland Avenue School was in use for 51 years and was closed in 1976. The last principal was Wilfred Young. After demolition, a community service facility was built at this location. I also attended this school when we lived on the west side of 18th Street. Stay tuned.

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