STATE NORMAL SCHOOL OF POTSDAM.
The State Normal School at Albany was established in 1844, and until 1861 it remained the only school supported
by the State for the education of its common school teachers. In 1861 another school of like character was established
at Oswego. Their graduates demonstrating that special training for their important work enabled them the better
to perform it, a public sentiment was soon created in favor of the normal system. The War of the Rebellion for
a time turned the thought and energies of the people in another direction, and for four years no new normal school
were organized. But April 7, 1866, the Legislature, upon the recommendation of Victor M. Rice, superintendent of
public instruction, passed chapter 466, laws of 1866, naming the governor, lieutenant-governor, secretary of state,
the comptroller, the state treasurer, the attorney- general,, and the superintendent of public instruction, as
a commission "to receive proposals in writing in regard to the establishment of normal and training schools
for the education and discipline of teachers for the common schools of this State, from the Board of Supervisors
of any county, from the corporate authorities of any city or village, from the Board of Trustees of any college
or academy, and from one or more individuals." The commission was given the power to locate within the State
four additional normal schools. The act provided for the appointment by the state superintendent of public instruction
of a local board, which should have the immediate supervision and management of any school so located. The act
contemplated that these schools would be deemed of such special importance to the place where they might be located,
that different localities would compete with each other in offering to supply the necessary site, buildings, furniture,
and apparatus for their use.
This theory proved correct, and a lively competition was elicited. One of the first places to realize the importance
of such an institution was Potsdam. For half a century St. Lawrence Academy had been maintained here, as before
described, and had a name and reputation as broad as the continent. It had, from its organization in 1816, educated
a large number of teachers for the common schools.
Early in the summer of 1866 the Board of Trustees of the academy passed a resolution tendering to the State Normal
School Commission the grounds, buildings, library and apparatus belonging to that institution for the use of a
normal school, if located at Potsdam. At that time General E. A. Merritt was a member of the staff of Governor
Fenton. He had assisted Superintendent Rice in procuring the passage of the normal school bill, was quick to realize
the importance to any locality of securing such a school, was probably the first to suggest that Potsdam might
secure one of the four prizes, permitted by the bill, and labored zealously and indefatigably until the end was
Henry A. Watkins and Charles O. Tappan, president and secretary of the Board of Trustees, were among the most active
promoters of this enterprise, and caused petitions to be circulated in the principal towns of St. Lawrence county,
asking that efforts be made to locate’ a normal school at Potsdam. At a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors,
held June 19, 1866, the board pledged the payment by the county of the sum of $10,000, to be used in establishing,
said, school at Potsdam, and the village of Potsdam, at a special corporation meeting, pledged $12,000 more. It
its annual meeting, November 19, 1866, the Board of Supervisors voted $25,000 for the same purpose. This was subsequently
modified so as to rescind the former resolution of $10,000, leaving $25,000 as the whole amount contributed by
the county. Soon after this action was taken the Normal School Commission officially announced that it would locate
one of the schools at Potsdam upon the condition that the sum of $72,000, in addition to the property donated by
St. Lawrence Academy, should be raised to construct the necessary buildings, etc. The amount was much larger than
was suppoSed to be needed, and must be raised by a fixed date. People in other parts of the county opposed the
appropriation made by the Board of Supervisors, and for a time the success of the project seemed in doubt. The
friends of the proposed school used their utmost endeavors to overcome the arguments and efforts of its opponents,
who many times seemed likely to succeed, but at last all opposition was defeated. December 19, 1866, at a special
town meeting, the citizens of Potsdam nobly came to the rescue and voted the sum of $35,000 to complete the necessary
amount to secure the school. The Presbyterian church lot was purchased for $10,000, with the academy lot and the
$72,000 which had been pledged. as above mentioned, less the amount to be paid for the church lot, was tendered
to ‘the Normal School Commission and accepted by it, and the school located at iPotsdam.
January 23, 1867, chapter 6 of the laws of that year was passed, which imposed taxes upon the county of St.
Lawrence, the town of Potsdam, and the village of Potsdam to raise the money donated by them respectively, and
created a commission, consisting of Bloomfield Usher, T. Streatfield Clarkson 2d, Hiram H. Peck, Henry Watkins,
Erasmus D. Brooks and Charles Cox, to prepare and improve the lands donated, provide suitable buildings thereon,
and furnish proper apparatus, books and furniture for the school. Bloomfield Usher declined to act as a member
of the commission, and Charles O. Tappan was appointed in his place by the other commissioners, by virtue of authority
given them under the act. The moneys were raised by tax, and turned over to the commission and expended by it for
the purposes mentioned in the act.
On the 29th of November, 1867, a contract was entered into with Joseph N. Greene for the construction of the buildings.
On the 24th of June, 1868, the corner stone was laid with imposing ceremonies by the F. and A. Masons of the county,
G. B. Winslow acting as Grand Master Mason of the State of New York, and in the course of that season the buildings
were erected. April 27, 1869, the school was organized and commenced in the buildings provided for it, with Malcolm
McVicar as principal. Dr. T. B. Stowell came to the school in 1890.
Photo of T. B. Stowell
Members of the local board of the State Normal School of Potsdani from the date of its location; the first since
the original board appointed by Superintendent V. M. Rice, August 10, 1867:
Henry Watkins, president, appointed August 10, 1867, deceased ; Charles O. Tappan, secretary, appomted August 10,
1867, resigned January 23, 1878; *Dr. Jesse Reynolds, appointed August 10, 1867; ; Ebenezer Fisher, appointed August
10, 1867, deceased; *John I. Gilbert, appointed August 10, 1867 ; R. G. Pettibone, appointed August 10, 1867, resigned
July 3, 1890; Noble S. Elderkin, appointed August 10, 1867, resigned December 31, 1875; A. W. Deiniug, appointed
August 10, 1867, resigned August 14, 1873; Abraham X. Parker, appointed August 10, 1867, resigned January 12, 1882;
*Edwin A. Merritt, president, appointed August 14, 1873; William H. Wallace, appointed December 31, 1875, resigned
May 6, 1878; *George Z. Erwin, treasurer, appointed January 23, 1878; William A. Paste, appointed May 6, 1878,
resigned July 3, 1890; *Absalom G. Gaines, appointed June 4, 1879; *John G. McIntyre, secretary, appointed January
12, 1882; *George H. Sweet, appointed July 3, 1890; William H. Weed, appointed July 3, 1890; *John A. Vance, appointed
July 1, 1891.
Those marked with an * are members of the present board.
The State Normal and Training School at Potsdam is a finely constructed building. The brown stone from the neighboring
quarry has been utilized to make a very handsome structure. It stands in the center of a large block, and a beautiful
campus covered with shade trees stretches before it.
It is a three story and basement building, containing every appliance and convenience for the instruction of the
pupils. Upon the roof is a cupola which contains a deep toned bell by which the pupils are admonished as to their
hours for study, the sessions of the school, bed time, etc. In shape it is a somewhat modified T.
Upon the lower floor are the principal’s office, the faculty room, reception room, janitor’s apartments, the offices
of the principals of the primary and intermediate departments, and the class rooms of the training school. In the
body of the T, on the second floor, is the assembly room of the normal department, an ample and well lighted hall.
On this floor also are many class rooms, the office of the preceptress, and the libraries; of these there are two,
the text book and the reference library. The third floor contains the piano department, the museum, and several
society class rooms.
The buildings are heated by steam and hot air, and there is a fair system of ventilation, but not a thoroughly
satisfactory one by any means. The basement is dry, cemented, and suitable for manual training rooms, if such are
ever needed. The boilers are in a separate building.
The extreme measurements are: length of front, 232 feet; depth, 180 feet. The body of the T is forty-five feet
in width, while the other divisions average thirty-six feet.