SARACUSE, N. Y., 1893


The first public school law enacted by the Legislature of the State of New York was that of 1795, which simply provided for an annual appropriation of $50,000 for five years, apportioned at first to the several counties according to their representation in the Legislature, and later according to the number of assemblymen; to the towns according to taxable population, and to the school districts according to the number of days' instruction. It has already been pointed out that for the five years during which this act was operative, the freeholders of the town of Seneca annually elected commissioners of schools to receive the money apportioned under it. The names of the first commissioners chosen by the town were James Rice, Oliver Whitmore and Phinehas Pierce, selected May 3, 1796. There are no records to show what action, if any, was taken by these commissioners or their successors in office under the act, or how much money was received by them. An inquiry addressed to the Department of Public Instruction at Albany has elicited the information that in the report of school returns to the Legislature of 1798, no returns whatever were received from Ontario county, and that the appropriation for that year averaged one cent. per day to a scholar. The official report of 1798, the only one made during the five years of the life of the act, was, however, confessedly incomplete; but even if it had contained a report from the town of Seneca, it could have shown little more than the number of schools in the town, and the number of children in school attendance, though official information on these points would have been interesting and valuable, particularly in settlement of the question whether there was more than one school in Geneva at that early date.

In 1805 the common school fund was created by a legislative act, but no distribution of the annual revenues arising from that fund was made till 1815. Meanwhile, June 19, 1812, an act was passed by the Legislature which became the basis of the present common school system of the State of New York. Acting under this law, the freeholders of the town of Seneca at a special town meeting held September 29, 1813, at Powell's Hotel (the present Water Cure building), elected three commissioners of common schools, viz.: Valentine Brother, Nathan Whitney, David Cook; and six inspectors of common schools, viz.: Seth Whitmore, Joseph Hart, Foster Sinclair, Caleb Rice, Polydore B. Wisner, John Collins. Unfortunately there are no records either in Geneva or in Albany to show when the original division of the town of Seneca into school districts was made, or what the boundaries of the school districts as first organized were. The first report of the first superintendent of common schools, the Hon. Gideon Hawley, merely shows that out of thirty towns in Ontario county, twenty-four, representing one hundred and eighty seven school districts, reported, no town being especially mentioned. The report further shows that the school districts reporting received for the year from the State $3,873.92, and that the attendance of pupils was ten thousand six hundred and ninety-eight. Whether the town of Seneca reported, and what its report was, must remain matters of conjecture.

In 1839, when the Union School of Geneva was formed, the corporate limits of the village comprised two school districts, Nos. 1 and 19. The difference in the district numbers seems to indicate that in the original division of the town of Seneca into school districts, the village of Geneva was made district No. 1, and that at a later date a second school district, No. 19, was set off within the village limits. This view is strongly supported, if not confirmed, by the language of a document bearing date January 15, 1822, in which the trustees of the Geneva Academy present the old academy building to "The Trustees of the District School in the village of Geneva "-language incompatible with the theory that there were then two district schools in the village. School district No. 19 must have been created, however, only a few months later, for the census of Geneva the same year enumerates two district schools

No records exist to show that teachers taught in these district schools or what buildings the schools were kept in; but tradition and incidental references to the schools in old newspapers and documents have preserved to us not a little information on these points A petition addressed to the trustees of Geneva Academy under date of September 27, 1821, speaks of "the District School" as being then kept in their building. Later, as is well known, district school No. 1 was kept on Geneva street, and district school No. 19 on Pulteney street. Of the earlier district school teachers, the names most frequently mentioned by the older inhabitants, are those of Peter B. Hard, J. Brown, and D. W. Keeler.

The Union School of Geneva was the pioneer institution of the kind in the State, and its plan was first suggested by Francis Dwight, who submitted the proposition to Charles A. Cook, Perez Hastings and Aaron Young. The proposed system being at length submitted to the taxpayers, met with much opposition, but the advocates of the measure finally overcame all obstacles and established for Geneva a grand union school which afterward served as a foundation for many other similar institutions throughout the State On the 24th of April, 1839, School District No. 1 of the town of Seneca was formed from the older Districts Nos. 1 and 19, which comprised the village corporation. The sum of $3,600 was voted by the district with which a site on Milton street was purchased and a suitable school building erected. It was completed in 1839, had four rooms and accommodations for 300 pupils. At first five teachers were employed, Isaac Swift being the first principal.

In 1842 an addition to the building was erected, being the east wing, and in 1853 a further addition was made to the building, the west wing; also in the last mentioned year three branch schools were established in the village, known as the North and South branches and the Colored School. The Middle Branch, on Lewis street, was erected in 1854. In 1891 the Prospect avenue branch school building was erected at an expense of $9,000. The instruction of colored students in a separate building was abolished in 1863.

In 1853, by an act of the Legslature passed April 15, the Geneva Union School was incorporated and authorized to establish and maintain a classical department, and also to instruct a normal class under the supervision and control of the State Board of Regents. On March 16, 1869, its corporate title was changed to "The Geneva Classical and Union School." Of its history Mrs. Bradford says: "It has fitted many young men for college, many for teachers, and has sent abroad many more to occupy places of trust and honor. As it was the first institution of its kind in its organization, so now it is one of the first in moral and intellectual improvements."

On the 17th of December, 1868, the academy building on Milton street was destroyed by fire, and with it was also burned a large quantity of valuable school apparatus, books, pictures and other desirable property. Immediately following the fire, measures for rebuilding were adopted, and the work was done during the years 1869 and '70, the building being ready for occupancy in October of the year last mentioned. The new building was erected on the site of its predecessor, and cost, with furnishings, about $42,000. Extensive repairs and improvements have recently been made, and in particular in the summer of 1892 an extension to the south two stories in height was erected at an expense of $10,000, with ample accommodations for a chapel on the first floor and a laboratory and additional lecture rooms on the second.

The trustees of Districts 1 and 19, at the time of consolidation in 1839, were as follows: No. 1 Aaron Young, Wm. W. Green and S. S, Green; of No. 2, Clark Morrison and Wm. Barker. The first trustees of Consolidated District No. 1 were Bowen Whiting, Richard Hogarth and Francis Dwight.

The public schools of Geneva at the present time comprise the High School and Senior, also the East and West Junior Departments on Milton street; and the Primary schools on Lewis, Cortland and High streets and Prospect avenue. The present Board of Education is as follows: M. S. Sandford, Philip N. Nicholas, Samuel D. Willard, Arthur P. Rose and Chas. R. Mellen.

The first principal was Isaac Swift, 1839 to 1852; J. E. Dexter, 1852 to 1855; E. M. Hutchins, 1855 to 1857; B. I. Bristol, 1857 to 1859; Wm. H. Vrooman (principal and superintendent) 1859 to 1879; Henry K. Clapp, 1879 to 1889; Geo. W. Pye, 1889 to 1890; W. H. Truesdale, principal from August, 1890, to August, 1891, since which time he has filled the offices of principal and superintendent.

St. Francis De Sales, Catholic.- In connection with this church is a parochial free school, erected 1874, and opened for school purposes September, 1875; taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph; cost $17,000, furniture included. The Catholic children of the village are gathered in this school and there are 543 scholars enrolled, the average attendance being 470. The St. Francis De Sales Convent and school are in charge of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The property on which the church, convent and school is situated comprises the entire block fronting on Ex change street, between State and Toledo, and in the rear by Center street. The St. Francis De Sales Society is incorporated under the laws of the State of New York. The pupils of this school pursue a thorough graded course of studies and take the Regents' examinations, in which, as the records show, the most of them receive the honor mark for high standing. All expenses of the school are met by the voluntary contributions of the parishioners, who at the same time are taxed to educate the children of their wealthier neighbors.

The De Lancey School for Girls.- Thirty seven years ago the Misses Bridge opened a select school in Geneva, in the house on Main street now occupied as a residence by George W. Nicholas, and at a later date removed to the dwelling on the same street now occupied by Mrs. E. H. Hurd. About the year 1868 the Misses Bridge left Geneva for a time, but returned about 1878 and in 1880 established the present De Lancey School, using for a time the George W. Nicholas house, then buying the Admiral Craven property, also on Main street. Here the school was continued until 1890 under the care of the Misses Bridge. At this time the present principal, Miss M. S. Smart, succeeded to the school, and in 1891 secured for its use the "Foot Place." The school was incorporated in 1888. It has six instructors, an average of forty pupils, and is under the religious instruction of the Protestant Episcopal church.

In addition to the educational institutions already described as at present existing in Geneva, there are two excellent schools of primary grade, the one kept by Miss Gray, successor to the Quincy School; the other by Miss Smith.

The Geneva Lyceum.- This once notable institution was founded in 1831 by Rev. Miles P. Squier, D. D., its purpose being "to prepare young men to enter higher literary institutions, and especially to furnish facilities for pious young men who are contemplating the gospel ministry to lay a broad and solid foundation in the various fundamental branches of learning, for subsequent higher attainments."

The Lyceum buildings were erected in the west part of the village, the funds therefor being raised among the generous people of the region, upon the personal application of Dr. Squier. Although not intended to be specially denominational, the Lyceum was generally recognized as having Presbyterian leanings, a statement which finds confirmation in the fact that Mr. Squier offered the buildings and grounds to the Synod of Geneva ("on terms every way advantageous") for the purpose of founding a college. The offer was seriously discussed for a time, but at length was abandoned, after which the Lyceum passed out of existence about the year 1842.

The Walnut Hill School, an institution designed for the especial work of educating boys, was established in 1852 and was located at the south end of Main street, on the site now in part occupied by the residence of Wm. J. King. Of the history of this once popular school, but little reliable data is obtainable, though it is known that the course pf study was thorough and the discipline excellent. During most of its career its principal was Rev. Dr. T. C. Reed, who was assisted by three competent teachers. The school was discontinued in 1875.

Other schools famous in their day were Mr. Eddy's, the opposition school when the Geneva Academy was reorganized in 1821; William Kirkland's, 1828-1835; Walter T. Taylor's, 1835-1852; Professor David Prentice's, 1850-1855; Geneva Grammar school, 1866-1870;

Geneva Academy, 1869-1873; Quincy school, 1879-1891; and for girls, Mrs. Plum's, 1822-1825; Mrs. Aikin's, 1823-1827; Geneva Female Seminary, Mrs. Ricord, principal, 1829-1842; Geneva Female Institute, Mr. Chapin, principal, 1846-1849; Mrs. Titus's, 1849-1855; The Misses Field's, 1856-1873; Mrs. Bradford's, 1862-1868; Mrs. Hopkins's, 1868-1872; The Misses Black's, 1873-1880.

In the earlier time notable primary schools were kept by Mrs. Young, Miss Lowthrop, Miss Lewis and Miss Martha Tillinghast.

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