1829, Part 7
New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
Up, Down and Sideways (No Merlot), Bring 'em On?, Engineering Education, Reading, Writing and Mapping
From Rochester in 1829 we move geographically on to the west. We pass though Batavia, where twenty-year old Elbridge G. Spaulding is beginning to study law in the office of Fitch & Dibble. Spaulding will have a successful legal career and become a mayor of Buffalo.
Back north to the canal again—it had bypassed Batavia—the next stop is the settlement of Lockport. Actually, make that village of Lockport; incorporation had taken place on March 26th. A local legend regarding the name of the town is fun, even if a grain or two of salt is advisable. One faction liked the name Lockborough; the other Lockport. A tavernkeeper named Esek Brown had just returned from Lewiston with a license for his establishment. The group thirst had been growing all day. They were let down when some busybody from the Holland Land Company pointed out the place needed a tavern sign to be in compliance with state law. That did it ! ! Historian Charles A. Kaiser tells us, "Ebenezer Mix arose to the occasion. He took a door-sill Esek had ready for his bar-room door, wrote on it with a coal 'Lockport Hotel, by E. Brown,' stuck it between the projecting ends of the logs of the bar-room, and Lockport Hotel and Lockport village were soon christened by something like immersion."
With the canal climbing sixty feet up the side of the Niagara Escarpment, the southern boundary of the prehistoric Lake Iroquois—larger than Lake Ontario— the double set of locks divided Lockport into two halves. To prevent confusion, a definition of Upper Town and Lower Town is in order. As the canal came in from the southwest the wall of the Niagara Escarpment could be seen ahead. The canal pushed into a long, narrow,, trench-like cul-de-sac, with tough sedimentary dolomite walls towering above on both sides. But this height difference had little to do with the town's neighborhood names; Upper Town is more of a cartographic term, meaning the half northwest of the canal. And, conversely— Lower Town is the half to the canal's southeast. The local population had dropped when many of the laborers moved on, with the upper town losing 400 workers — leaving around 2100 people— and the lower town around 900.
As rivalry between the two sections increased there were those that were putting their money on the lower town. A group of investors from the Albany area informally known as the Albany Company were pushing the lower town. Surveyors began laying out streets, with Market Street paralleling the canal's southeast side, acting as the nucleus of this section. At the far eastern end of the street a brick building was erected that would house the first bank in Niagara County. Located at the corner of Market and Church streets it can still be seen in the present day (2005). A block closer to the flights of locks the aforementioned frame Lockport House hotel was also built in 1829, and until it burned in 1841 was one of the finest stopping places in the western end of the state. The county's first newspaper, the Niagara Democrat had begun in Lewiston in 1821 and then moved here to Lockport the next year. After several transformations it had just now in 1829, become the Lockport Balance. Apparently it maintained enough balance to remain under the same name for another five years, before the next round of transformations would begin. The first brick mansions in the neighborhood were also going up now; many would follow.
Nine-year-old Joshua Lovejoy's feelings would have been mixed as he marched up Buffalo's Pearl Street on July 13, 1829. The day was glorious, with bright sunshine glistening off the waves out in the Niagara River, whipped up by a breeze that kept temperatures comfortable. Joshua and his fellow students marched proudly through the crowds lining the street as they headed off to opening exercises for the new Western Literary and Scientifick Academy. Lead by the Buffalo Band, the procession stepped off when the bell from First Church rang three times. Captain Randall's company of artillery, Captain Jordan's rifleman, and Captain Wilgus' light infantry followed immediately behind, then came the 55 boys of the school's inaugural class lead by principle Captain James McKay. Teachers and trustees, joined by honored guests brought up the end of the procession. Winds were too high for parasols and fancy full length skirts, so many of the invited ladies had chosen to go ahead to the school by carriage.
North they all marched. Past the customers and staffs of the downtown businesses; past the half dozen Seneca Indians in front of the Farmers' Hotel, past farmhands in front of the Plough Inn, past relatives, canal workers and many more of the city's remaining 8,000 citizens.
As the procession passed Court Street cadet Lovejoy's mind probably imagined a day sixteen years earlier, before he was born. The first Niagara County Court House stood on this site, as well as the nearby stone jail, two taverns and a number of log cabins. All that remained as the first week of January, 1814, ended was the smaller tavern, the walls of the jail and parallel rows of chimneys standing guard over open basement holes filled with charred bits of timber. Most of the inhabitants had fled at the approach of the British and their Indian allies. Joshua's father Henry was off with his militia company. Henry's wife Sally, Joshua's stepmother, stayed behind when she couldn't find a wagon to carry away her belongings. The enemy would not harm a woman. She would stay.
A neighbor saw her though a window when an Indian entered the Lovejoy house, saw her grab a knife, saw the tomahawk slash downward. Henry Lovejoy was a widower.
Joshua's thoughts were interrupted as his two sisters and their friends called out from the sidewalk and he returned their waves. He marched along with the rest of the cadets, headed for the new academy. Although the term 'high school' was not commonly used, the new school had its beginning two year earlier when the Buffalo High School Association raised pledges of $10,000 for a new institution. Many of its backers remembered the destruction that nearly wiped out their community, remembered the whole war with the British and all of the disasters and near-disasters that had loomed so largely during its drawn-out existence. One faction reasoned that the country could quickly raise an army of unconquerable patriots steeled to meet any threat. They proposed the new school be based on the popular 'monitorial' system with its standard classical course curriculum. The opposing faction held out for a model that added military drill and courses to the standard mix. Winners will be announced next time.
The debate over the form Buffalo's new 1829 high school should take had been intense. In 1943 Buffalo reporter Walter McCausland would write, "Men of affairs delivered weighty opinions on the question. Preachers treated it firstly, secondly, thirdly, and even fourthly and fifthly. Editorial writers took quill pens in hand, and clearly proved the truth of each opposing view." McCausland will be our primary source for what follows.
In the end it was the proponents of military-style school that won out. They were headed by community leaders like state senator Samuel Wilkeson, who had been instrumental in building the city's harbor and bringing the Erie Canal to the city - who we last met in 1825, pouring Atlantic Ocean water into Lake Erie. There was former bookstore manager Roswell Willson Haskins, a Massachusetts transplant, now editor of the Buffalo Journal, Wilkeson's fellow promoter of Buffalo's waterfront and canal terminus. State assemblyman David Burt was on board as well. While seeking an administrator with a military background, they soon encountered Captain Alden Partridge, poster boy for military training in the schools - we can count him one of the godfathers of the ROTC.
Partridge, a military engineer, had been superintendent of West Point during the War of 1812, where he had written papers such as "Observations Relative to the Calculation of the Altitude of Mountains, etc, by the Use of the Barometer" and "Method of Determining the Initial Velocity of Projectiles". Having concluded that a practical education should contain military drill and discipline, down into the secondary and even the elementary level, he left the Point to preach the gospel. Despite the fact that he was almost universally praised (note the 'almost') for his theories all throughout his long life, he must have had an enemy or two. According to historian John Niven, writing in 1973, "He was fired as superintendent of West Point, for overbearing, and at the same time sloppy, administration and running the school as a "sort of aid society for hungry Partridges and impecunious friends."
If this is so, once away from the Point, he seems to have redeemed himself. Ten years ago, in 1819, he had settled in Norwich, Vermont, where he founded the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy (in 1834 it became Norwich University and a hundred and forty years after that would be the first military academy to admit women). Not only were standard scientific and liberal arts courses taught but Partridge added modern languages and agricultural studies. On the military side, Partridge would borrow muskets and artillery from the federal and Vermont governments and lead his 'troops' in field exercises. The youth (male, of course) of the U. S. would not be caught unprepared for war another time.
Now, in July 1829, the high school that Alden Partridge had masterminded is opening and nine-year-old Joshua Lovejoy and his 54 classmates march up Buffalo's Main Street to the new school, where dedication ceremonies will take place under the proud and watchful eyes of Alden Partridge and the school's new principal, Captain James McKay, Partridge's son-in-law. At least the latter wasn't quite a hungry Partridge.
13 July, 1829. Approximately 1600 hours. Buffalo's new school building sits ready for it's first class of 55 young men, even now marching up Main Street, accompanied by the Buffalo Band, officials, administrators and close to a thousand spectators, including proud families. It's not likely their formation was even close to West Point standards, but that would come in time.
The procession crosses Goodell Street arriving at the new academy building where a half-flight of stairs leads up to the first floor entry. As the parade enters the three-story brick building with its cupola and bell, some turn their heads to glimpse the sunlit river slightly over a mile off to their left. They enter and climb to the third floor in the July heat, filing into the lecture room. Once inside seats are taken and the opening ceremonies begin. In addition to the 500 or so fitted inside, an equal number gather outside. The edge is taken off the stifling air only by the feeble eddies stirred up by ladies' fans and whatever air moves in through open windows.
If 1943 reporter Walter McCausland was able to find the texts of the various speeches delivered on that day in 1829, he doesn't mention it. I'll spare you, as well. The assemblage was not as lucky - but entertainment wasn't easily come by anyway, so perhaps they didn't mind too much. The inaugural class probably didn't sleep too much that night. Tomorrow was another big day; classes began. Thoughts would not only be on the subjects older brothers had told them about, but on promised classes in "topography, construction of maps, navigation, fencing, ethicks, natural theology, evidences of Christianity, and metaphysicks."Parents most likely did not sleep much that night, either. Such a full educational menu came, as usual, at a price. The cost for a full 46-week academic year was $200, around $1,200 in our own time. (The average canal laborer made about 30¢ day). This did include classes and board, as well as washing and mending. Clothing and medical expenses were extra, as were fees for French, Spanish and Fencing. Five dollars was charged annually for fuel and the use of a bed; you could knock off a couple of bucks by not taking advantage of a bed. And, you were assured a small discount if you and your family were of the "lower classes".
The school apparently started off with a partial term (presumably with a price discount), but by late autumn the typical annual pattern emerged. Classes began in November. Christmas break isn't mentioned, perhaps they just had the day off; a week of exams were held in May, then it was back to the books (and fencing foils) until September exams. Six weeks off and then the cycle began all over again. McCausland tells us, "Every Sunday those cadets whose parents had not designated another place of worship paraded with their instructors from the Academy to First Presbyterian Church, which occupied the site on which now stands the Erie County Savings Bank. What a spectacle they presented, as they marched down Main Street in military order, resplendent in stiffly starched white duck trousers (dark blue in Winter) and blue coats sprinkled plentifully with globe-shaped silver buttons!"
The spectacle, however, was to last less than two decades. The academy would eventually become too expensive to run and sometime around 1846 the building would be taken over by the Sisters of Mercy and converted into a hospital.
© 2008, David Minor