The inherent love of civil and religious liberty was the prompting of
the pioneers in the Onondaga country in whatever they did in the formative
stage of conditions in the early settlements here. They were god-fearing,
patriotic, order-loving, and ambitious for prosperity and success.
They established their homes, cleared the land, reared their dwellings
and laid the foundations of schools and churches. Upon this basis
arose the communities which in one hundred years made this region equal
in all respects, save antiquities and ruins, with the oldest and most favored
parts of the civilized world. This is an educational paper, and will
show by what means the educational interests of the new communities were
cared for and promoted.
The Pompey academy had its origin in a movement of leading citizens of Onondaga country in 1800, who joined in a petition to the Regents of the University of the State for its incorporation. There was no academy in the county, and the granting of the provisional charter was accompanied by a resolution declaring an uncertainty as to Pompey being a proper location for such an institution, and expressing doubt of the expediency of there being more than one academy in the county; and the Board of Supervisors of the county was asked to advise as to whether any objection existed to the proposed institution. The Supervisors voted approval, but the Regents were tardy in their action. But on a second application in 1802, the Regents voted a provisional charter. The necessary subscriptions for the academy had been raised, and the erection of the building was begun in 1803 and completed in 1810, with an endowment of $1,450 from the unexpended fund. There were in the original board of trustees twenty-six of the most prominent citizens of Pompey, Onondaga and Camillus. Henry Seymour, Victor [sic. Victory] Birdseye, Daniel Wood, Luther Marsh, Dirck C. Lansing, James Geddes and Jasper Hopper were prime movers in the enterprise. Rev. Joshua Leonard was the first principal and under him began a phenomenal career of one of the most famous academies in the state. The list of subsequent instructors is a long and honorable one, and the graduates include very many prominent men in the affairs of the state and nation. In 1834 the old building was vacated, and a new academy and preceptor's house were built at a cost of about $4,500. The later structure was typical of the best school buildings of the time; it was a large wooden building, painted yellow, nearly square, being 50x40 feet on the ground, two stories, with a hall running through the middle of the first floor, study rooms, 15x10 feet, on each side of the hall; a long room, 15x40 feet, at the rear, in which the common school of the village was held for many years, and on the opposite side was a similar long room in which the academy was conducted. Later both long rooms were used for the academy. A picture of these familiar school quarters in plain in the minds of many surviving pupils of the beloved old school, from whose portals have emerged into the activities of the world many students who have made their enduring impress upon those activities. The second story of the edifice was occupied by the chapel, forty feet square. "The stage" was at the front, opposite the stairway, and from this platform were made the first appearances of those whose eloquence filled executive, legislative and legal halls, and illumined the pulpit and bench in after years. An interior view of this famous old hall is preserved and has an enduring interest for those who once were familiar with its scenes and personalities. The academy was for some years used on Sundays for religious meetings.
There were in Central New York at the time the Pompey school came into existence academies at Canandaigua, Cayuga and Lowville, and none further West.
There recently were presented to the Onondaga Historical association by Henry H. Baker, secretary of Pompey academy, now a union free school, the following original papers, for preservation:
The certificate of incorporation by the Regents of the University, executed by Daniel D. Tompkins, Governor and Chancellor of the University, dated March 19th, 1811.
Letters patent issued by Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, conveying to the trustees of the Pompey academy, lot 15, township of Camillus, 638 acres, as an endowment for the support of the academy, dated May 11th, 1813. About $4,000 were realized from these lands, which are located on the Seneca river about two miles below Baldwinsville. Victory Birdseye procured the legislation for this state grant.
Accompanying this article are pictures of the old and the present Pompey academy. The site is one of the most commanding in all the Onondaga country, overlooking more of the landscape than any other place in the central part of this state. A detailed history of the institution appears in the "Reunion of Pompey," published by W. W. Van Brocklyn in 1875.