The Early Years Recalled
Remembering Franklin Academy
A Program of the Prattsburgh Community Historical Society
September 11, 1989
The Prattsburgh Community Historical Society presented a program commemorating
the early years of the Franklin Academy in Prattsburgh at the Society's
September 11, 1989, meeting held at the Prattsburgh Presbyterian Church.
There were several performances by members of the Society. The first
drama was a reenactment of what might have been the discussion at a meeting
on March 20, 1823, in Judge Van Valkenburgh's office. Present were the
principal founders of Franklin Academy.
Represented in the scene were Robert Porter by Hugh Fullerton, Reverend
Hotchkin by Fred Lewis, Van Valkenburgh by Eugene Poore, Jared Pratt by
Valentine Pratt, Dr. Niles by Royce Sanford, and Stephen Prentiss by Charles
Babcock. All of the men were dressed in dark frock coats for the performance.
Off the stage in the audience was O'Malley, a fictitious personality representing
the working people of the community dressed in working man's garb and
played by Rob Litchfield.
The discussion among the "Founding Fathers" got around to the question
of admitting females to the academy. Stephen Prentiss made a plea that
young women, as well as men, be admitted to the proposed new academy,
quite likely because his talented daughter Narcissa wished to go.
One other of the group said that he had voted in favor of admitting women
but had since acquiesced to the majority. Mr. O'Malley badgered them for
their stodginess, but the founders couldn't give in to allow women to
come to the school. Only a few years later, in 1827, Franklin Academy
did welcome women. Narcissa Prentiss entered Franklin Academy in 1828.
That year there were 34 boys and 28 girls at the school.
Following this part of the program, Barbara Gifford sang "Annie Laurie",
a song that was popular for many years in the time of the Franklin Academy.
Next on the stage were six women portraying some of the celebrated women
of Prattsburgh. Clara Babcock represented Catherine Porter St. John,
told of her life and accomplishments. Mrs. St. John was a granddaughter
of Robert Porter, the principal contributor to Franklin Academy. She
an 1848 graduate of the academy and went on to Mt. Holyoke College to
graduate there in 1852. In 1860 she married Charles R. St. John. They
bought the Porter Homestead in 1865 and raised a family of four children:
Charles, Edward, Emma, and Robert. Mrs. St. John took an active interest
in the Temperance School in Prattsburgh and was at one time president
of the local Chautauqua Society.
Colleen Dean read a letter written in 1927 by Evaline Sherwood Edwards
who had graduated from Franklin Academy with honors in 1862. Edwards moved
to Evanston, Illinois, in 1880 and taught school for 35 years. In her
letter of 1927 she suggested that an historical society be started in
Prattsburgh. The Prattsburgh Community Historical Society was organized
in 1987, sixty years later.
Marion Simonson recalled her years at Franklin Academy. She remembered
that at the time of the disastrous fire in February 1923, students were
attending classes in different buildings around the village within a
few days after the fire. Mrs. Simonson graduated in 1925, the year the
building was completed.
Gertrude Smith told of Leona Bancroft's editing and publishing the Prattsburgh
Advertiser, operating an ice cream store, and a print shop. Miss
Bancroft was from a family of six children. When she was a student
at the school
in 1892 she already exhibited a talent for humor and poetry. She loved
to hunt and fish, too. Mrs. Smith read Miss Bancroft's poem "The Old
Clock" and another she wrote just for Gertrude when she graduated.
Janice McConnell Ogden read from her mother Carol McConnell's remembrances
of her school days. Janice Van Amburg read the poem "Tapestry of Dreams"
written by Florence Hotchkin who is still alive and 100 years old. Miss
Hotchkin's great-great-grandfather was a brother of the Reverend Hotchkin,
one of the very first men to preach in Steuben County.
Following the presentation of the ladies, Harlan Howe spoke of the Lyceum
that was formed in Prattsburgh in April 1843. The Lyceum movement began
in Mallory, Massachusetts, in 1826 and spread very rapidly throughout
the country. By 1831 there were 900 towns with Lyceums. It was an independent
system of adult education and self-improvement. Mr. Howe, whose grandfather
was a member of the Young Men's Lyceum in Prattsburgh, read from the
of the meeting of March 25, 1844.
Lyceum meetings were held every week for an entire evening, and each
year an exhibition was held. Papers were read on an amazing variety of
subjects, and debates were staged. The members gained skill and poise
in argument and public speaking which prepared them for careers in law,
ministry and politics. At one time the Prattsburgh Lyceum had $500 subscribed
toward a building, but by 1850 the Lyceum had disappeared in Prattsburgh.
The movement died out just after the Civil War.
Paul Graves told about the fire of February 1923, that started where
painters had been working in the back part of the church. Embers from
the church ignited the academy building and it was lost, too.
William Garrison, who is president of the Prattsburgh Community Historical
society, introduced each of the presentations and reminded the 100 or
so people present that the Pilgrim's Thanksgiving Dinner will be held
at Morning Glory Farm on Bean Station Road, Saturday, October 7. The Pilgrim's
Dinner is a joint meeting of the Prattsburgh Community Historical Society
and the Crooked Lake Historical Society.