City of Syracuse

Submitted by Robert T. Bond

Source:  Dwight H. Bruce (ed.), Onondaga's Centennial.  Boston History Co., 1896, Vol. I, pp. 548-555.

The public schools existing prior to the city incorporation were all maintained as district schools of the town of Salina and under the general school law. Neither the charter of the village of Salina, adopted in 1824, nor that the village of Syracuse, adopted in 1825, made any change in the status of the schools then within their limits; they were from the first, and continued to be down to 1848, common schools of the town of Salina.

The first public school within the present limits of the city was Districts No. 1, Salina, situated in the First ward, near the site of the present Jefferson school. The school was built in 1805 and was commonly known as “the old red school house.” It stood on what was later the southeast corner of Washington Park, and in it were held many of the old time spirited elections. In 1839 this district was divided, the old building having been demolished by the Salina boys as unfit for further use, and two one-story brick buildings were erected on Wolf street three blocks apart, and known as No. 1 and No. 8. Isaac Van Tassel taught the first school while fitting himself for the ministry; he died about 1847 while serving among the Maumee Indians. Among the teachers in the new No. 1 were David Parsons, U. H. Van Seest, and Lewis Cornell, and in No. 8 were Thomas Wheeler, a Mr. Whitney, David Parsons, Elijah Devoe, and Edward Smith,1  who began in May, 1845, and is still in the profession as principal of Prescott School. Another division in Salina created districts 15 and 16, the first under charge of the late J. B. Brigham and the other of Miss Delia N. Earl. In the meantime the first school house in the village of Syracuse was erected in about the year 1826, the exact date not being known. It stood on ground on what is now West Willow street, now occupied by Young’s stables. It was a square, hip-roofed structure, shown in the engraving, and for a considerable period was used for various public gatherings. Among the teachers in the old school house were William K. Blair, Hiram A. Denning, Mr. Williams, Mr. Evans and Mr. May.

District No. 5 was organized January 1, 1839, on Lock street. A lot was purchased fronting on Lock and Salt streets and a contract let for a building to cost $1,600. Efforts were made to collect $2,000 by tax, but they failed and the building was not finished. Within the succeeding two years, however, it was completed by the erection of a two story front with four more rooms. District No. 6 had a one story brick building near the old mill pond; this was used until 1872, when Madison school was built, when it was abandoned. The first school house in District No. 7 was of brick and only one story. It was built in 1839, on the old Putnam school site which was abandoned for school purposes in 1888. In 1843, after considerable strife, the old building was supplemented with a two story front, making the finest school building then in the county. Of this school A. G. Salisbury was principal until he was elected the first clerk of the Board of Education in 1848. District No. 9 had a small wood building on West street. District No. 10, in the village of Lodi, had a small house on East Genesee street, built probably in 1828. It was replaced in 1840 by a two story brick building on East Fayette street, which became known as the “cold water school.” through the temperance work carried on in that vicinity by Oliver Teall.

This includes all of the schools in the limits of the city when it was organized in 1848. The first branch of old No. 3, in Geddes,’ was organized in 1867 and a school house built on Magnolia street and named Noble school, from W. Noble, who had taken a deep interest in educational matters. Some years later the name was changed to Magnolia school. Previous to 1874 the village school house had been rebuilt and in that year the older pupils who had attended Magnolia School were transferred to the new building. Delaware school was completed in 1890, and Magnolia was abandoned. The Frazer School (the second branch of the Porter School of Geddes) was organized in 1879. The wooden house stood on the site of the present brick building and was burned in 1885; the new structure was finished in 1887. The Rock School was organized in Geddes in 1872 and opened in a building at 92 Geddes street. Two years later the district purchased the Brown Memorial chapel, removed it to Rock street and converted it into a school building.

The origin of the Brighton School was District No. 44 of Onondaga, organized in 1842. The first school house was of stone, and was used until 1860, when a two story brick structure was erected; this was occupied until the present handsome building was finished in 1891. The district was taken into the city in 1887. In 1883 the district was changed to Union Free School District No. 2, and in June, 18768, from the north part of this district was formed School District No. 29, of Onondaga; it included the territory of the village of Danforth and was called the Union Free School of that village. Danforth was annexed to the city in February, 1887, and the name was changed to Danforth School.

What has always been known as Rose School was organized very early in the century and was one of the first in that part of the county. The school house which succeeded the first one stood where the Rose School was located when the district was taken into the city.

On the 10th of April, 1848, a public meeting was held in Market Hall, over which Alexander McKinstry presided, to devise a system of common schools for the city. A series of resolutions prepared by the Rev. Samuel J. May, referring to the organization of the city and the resulting benefits, with need of taking early and efficient steps to provide for the education of the young, was adopted. The following resolutions were adopted:

That it is fitting and proper that a complete system of schools, free to all the children of the city, should be amply sustained at the public expense, as that of our city government, or fire department, or highways, and should be so supported.
   Resolved, That the noble example set by many cities in our State and country in respect to common schools, should be generously emulated by the city of Syracuse.
   Resolved, That a committee of five from each ward be appointed to consider the plan of public instruction originally proposed by those who drafted the charter of our city and compare it with the plan in operation in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Providence, Rochester, and Buffalo, and report to an adjourned meeting, in detail, such a plan of public schools as they shall deem best adapted to the circumstances and wants of the city.

The chair the appointed the following as the committee contemplated in the second resolution:

   First Ward, --- William Clarke, Michael Lynch, I. R. Quereau, Miles W. Bennett, Noah Wood.
   Second Ward. --- John Wilkinson, Dennis McCarthy, L. W. Hall, Henry J. Sedgwick, Alexander McKinstry.
   Third Ward. --- Hiram Putnam, Theodore Ashley, Rev. Mr. Raymond, Phares Gould, P. S. Stoddard.
   Fourth Ward. --- Hamilton White, David Bonta, W. W. Newell, A. G. Salisbury, E. T. Hayden.

It was resolved “that the committee be requested to meet at the trustees’ room on Saturday evening next.” Also, “that this meeting adjourn to meet again at the call of the committee.”

It will be observed by the reader of the foregoing pages of city history that the men composing the committee just described were leading citizens, and men who would at once adopt liberal measures for the establishment of a more efficient and comprehensive system of schools. That they did do this is clearly shown.

“An Act in Relation to the Public Schools of  Syracuse” was passed by the Legislature on April 11, 1848, the result of the committee’s work, which, with some amendments, forms the basis of the present school system of the city. It provided for the appointment by the mayor and Common Council of two classes of school commissioners, one of which should hold office one year and the other two year from the date of the first appointment, and that thereafter one commissioner should be elected from each ward annually. These constitute the Board of Education and substantially have full control of every matter relating to the public schools. The act was amended March 11, 1865, and March 27, 1868. One commissioner is now elected by the people from each ward for two years and it is so arranged that the “even” wards elect one year and the “odd” wards the next year. In pursuance of the act eight commissioners were appointed by the mayor and Common Council, and they met in Market Hall, April 21, 1848, and after choosing Hiram Putnam and R. A. Yoe, president and secretary pro tem., proceeded to draw for their respective terms as follows: First ward, William Clark, two years; J. P. Babcock, one year. Second ward, James Noxon, two years; C. M. Brosnan, one year. Third ward, Hiram Putnam, two years; Daniel Bradley, one year. Fourth ward, Oliver Teall, two years; C. A. Wheaton, one year. Oliver Teall resigned the office and the vacancy was filled by T. B. Fitch. William Clark was chosen president of the board, but declined the honor, and Hiram Putnam was given the place. At the next meeting of the board, on April 26, 1848, A. G. Salisbury,2  who had been principal of the Putnam School previous to the city organization, was chosen clerk, and upon him devolved also the duties of superintendent of schools, at a salary of $600 per year. Upon its organization the board adopted the following resolutions:

   Resolved, That the Board of Education will not employ any teacher in any of the public schools of the city who uses intoxicating liquors as a beverage, or who is addicted to the use of tobacco.
   Resolved, That the President of the Board give public notice that the common schools in the city will be opened free to all children of the city.

Following is a list of the teachers first appointed by the Board for the four wards:

   First Ward --- No. 1, Lewis Cornell, principal, monthly salary, $35. No. 8, Edward Smith, principal, $35. No. 15, J. B. Brigham, principal, $50. No. 16, James Johonnt, principal, $35; Miss Delia Earl, assistant, $15.
   Second Ward --- No. 4, N. P. Stanton, principal, $48; Mrs. N. P. Stanton, assistant, $18; Miss Palmer, assistant, $15. No. 5, R. R. Stetson, principal, $45; Mrs. R. R. Stetson, assistant, $16; Miss M. A. Clapp, assistant, $18; Miss J. A. Van Denberg, assistant, $18.
   Third Ward --- No. 6, J. B. Beal, principal, $35; Miss Hannah Burnet, assistant, $15. No. 20, Miss A. Bennett, principal, $18.
   Fourth Ward --- No. 7, W. W. Newman, principal, $50; Miss E. E. Williams, assistant, $18; Miss S. M. Cox, assistant, $18; Mrs. R. C. Newman, assistant, $18. No. 12, J. M. Winchell, principal, $35; Miss A. Barker, assistant, $15; Miss H. Kingsley, assistant, $18.

As the population of the city increased, new schools and buildings were added, as shown in the subsequent list. In 1854 a High School department was organized in the old Prescott School on Lock street, with Charles C. Roundy, principal. This department was removed to No. 4, on Church street, in 1855, and was afterwards continued in rooms in the Pike block and in others over the lower floor of what was then Sherman’s grocery, on the southeast corner of Warren and East Fayette streets, until 1869, when it was established in the present building on West Genesee street, which was erected at a cost, including the site, of $100,000. The principals of the High School since Professor Roundy have been W. A. Brownell, A. M., Ph. D., Samuel Thurber, A. M., George A. Bacon, A. M., Ph. D., and William K. Wickes, A. M.

The first annual report after the incorporation of the city gives the total amount of money received by the Board of Education as $12,531.60; the number of children taught during the year, 3,250. In September, 1850, it was resolved to call for proposals for building three new school houses, one near the old court house on North Salina street, one south of No. 7, and one in district No. 9. The latter was abandoned and the one on the north side was located on Ash street, corner of Townsend, and the other on Montgomery street between Adams and Jackson streets. The buildings were to cost $3,200 each. In 1851 the small school lot on West street (No. 9) was exchanged for a lot eight rods square on Seymour street, which was afterwards increased to a frontage of ten rods. Later in the same year the lot of No. 3 was also enlarged by a purchase of 4 by 11 rods. Early in 1852 a contract was let to Amos L. Mason for enlarging No. 8 building and for a new house in No. 9. Evening schools were first opened in this year. In 1856 the property known as the “hemlock church” was purchased and put in use, thus relieving the crowded schools in the Fourth, Seventh and Eighth wards. In 1857 the Fayette School house (now Irving) was so nearly completed that one room was finished off and a school opened by pupils transferred from No. 7. At the beginning of the second decade of the city schools, fifty six teachers were employed, against twenty-four ten years earlier. In February, 1859, the Common Council authorized the sale of Nos. 1, 2 and 8, and the purchase of what was called the Richmond property in the First ward at $2,400. On that lot in that and the following years Salina School was built. In the same year contracts were let for building a school house in the Fourth ward, Lodi street, which was finished in the spring of 1860. In 1859 the designation of the schools by numbers was changed to names as follows: Nos. 1, 2 and 8 were dropped and they were represented by Salina School; No. 3, Jefferson School; No. 4, Genesee School; No. 5, Prescott School; No. 6, Fayette School (now abandoned); No. 7, Putnam School; No. 9, Seymour School; No. 10, Lodi School (now abandoned and Madison school takes its place); No. 11, Montgomery School; No. 12, Townsend School; No. 13, Irving School; the new school on Lodi street was named Clinton School. The Salina School was completed in May, 1860, and in June the New York State Teachers’ Association held its session in the city. In the same year a lot on West Genesee street, opposite the High School, was purchased for $3,000, and has been used for Genesee School. It was first used as a school in May, 1863. In March, 1867, corporal punishment was abolished in the city schools. While this action caused temporary consternation among the teachers, the general discipline was improved. In that year the High School lot was purchased and plans for the building adopted. Two other lots were also purchased, one on Butternut street and one between Otisco and Tully streets, costing $4,250 and $4,700 respectively. In 1868 May School building was erected at a cost of $15,875, unfurnished. In the fall of 1869 a contract was let for building Franklin School and finishing the lower floor at a cost of $13,400, and in the spring of 1871 the Genesee building was raised one story. In the same year a lot was purchased for Madison School at a cost of $6,000, and the old Franklin School on Lodi street was sold. Madison School building was erected, costing $17,500. Putnam School was partly burned in October, and immediately repaired. In 1874 lots were purchased and wooden buildings erected in the Fifth and Seventh wards, costing respectively $7,019.15 and $8,891.41. These are known as Grace and Adams Schools. On April 4, 1875, Salina School building was wholly burned and a new structure was at once erected costing $15,256. In 1878 Charles R. Wells employed to teach penmanship in all the schools, a position which he filled with great acceptance until the close of the year 1891-2, when he was succeeded by William H. Covert. In 1880 contracts were let for Prescott School building for $19,465, and for the Seymour School addition for $2,529.75. The latter building was abandoned in 1881 as unsafe and the present structure was erected. In 1880, on account of the crowded condition of the Fifth ward school, a branch was opened in the southern part of the ward and was called the Merrick School. Rooms were fitted up in the basement of a church for temporary use until a new building was erected. In 1887 Frazier School in the Third ward was erected at a cost of nearly $20,000; a lot was purchased for a new building in the Putnam district on the corner of Madison and Mulberry streets at a cost of $15,000; the present structure on this lot was finished in the next year, the contract price being $33,390. In this year villages of Geddes and Danforth were annexed to the city bringing in the Porter, the Gere, the Brighton, the Danforth and the Rock Schools. In 1886 also a lot was purchased in the Fourth ward, where a school had been kept in rented rooms, and a four room wooden building erected. In 1889 new schools were recommended for the Ninth and Twelfth wards, and a new building was ordered to relieve the Fifth and Ninth wards and another for the relief of Madison School. For these purposes $30,000 were appropriated, lots were purchased, and the buildings were erected. In February, 1890, the new school building in the Ninth ward was finished and occupied, which cost including lot $23,900. In the same year plans were adopted for a new building in the Eleventh ward, which resulted in building the commodious structure on the corner of South Salina and Colvin streets. In 1892-3 new buildings were erected for Montgomery and Grace Schools, and in 1894 Townsend School building was erected. The vast number of extensions and other improvements on the various school buildings that have been made since. the city incorporation cannot, of course, be mentioned in these pages.3

   Statistics of School Buildings. --- Jefferson School (No. 3), built 1848, enlarged 1874.
   Montgomery School (No. 11), built 1851, enlarged 1857, rebuilt 1892.
   Townsend School (No. 12), built 1851, enlarged 1861, enlarged 1881, rebuilt 1894.
   Seymour School (No. 9), built 1852, enlarged 1862, 1865, 1881, and rebuilt 1882.
   Salina School (No. 8), enlarged 1852, 1858, abandoned and new house built 1859-60, enlarged 1871, burned and rebuilt 1873, remodeled 1890.
   Irving School (No. 13) built 1857, enlarged 1866, enlarged 1881.
   Putnam School (No. 7) enlarged 1857, 1863, burned and rebuilt 1871, enlarged 1881, new house on new lot built 1888.
   Clinton School, built 1859, enlarged 1861, 1866, 1870; rebuilt 1895.
   Genesee School (No. 4), built 1862, enlarged 1870.
   High School, built 1867-8.
   May School, built 1867, remodeled 1885.
   Franklin School, built 1869-70, remodeled 1886.
   Fayette School (No. 5) and Lodi School (No. 10), abandoned 1871.
   Madison School, built 1871.
   Grace School, built 1874, rebuilt 1892.
   Adams School, built 1874.
   Prescott School, enlarged 1867, abandoned and new building erected 1881; enlarged 1894.
   Frazer School, burned and rebuilt 1887.
   Vine School, built 1887.
   Bassett School, built 1890.
   Merrick School, built 1890.
   Delaware School, built 1890.
   Brighton School, built 1891.
   Croton School, built 1895.
   Tompkins School, built 1895.
   Garfield School, built 1895.

A Truant School was opened in September, 1895, at No. 824 South Salina street, Eighteenth ward, under an act entitled, “An act to Provide for the Compulsory Education of Children, “ passed by the Legislature May 12, 1894. The first custodian was Charles Schwartz.

The report of Superintendent Blodgett for 1895 showed that there were at the close of the year 336 teachers in the schools, and the average daily attendance of scholars was 12,578, an increase of 518 over 1894. The number of pupils in the average attendance to each teacher 37.43. The number of reported pupils in private and parochial schools was 3,200. The cost per pupil of public schools was $15.69, an increase of $0.18.

Superintendent Blodgett recommended manual training and kindergarten. He also made some pertinent remarks as to the qualifications of the principals of schools and teachers. He was very strenuous in his argument for a new High School or schools, and urged, also, the adoption of a four years’ course. He showed the wisdom of placing the High School under the Board of Regents.


1 Edward Smith is a native of Skaneateles, N. Y., where he was born in 1917. He obtained his education in the public schools of Cattaraugus county, and on May 1, 1845, he took a position as teacher in old No. school in Salina, where he continued twenty-one years. He was then made superintendent of the public schools of Syracuse, and held the office twenty-three years, resigning in 1889, to become principal of Prescott School, which position he now holds. There are few if any educators in this State, and none in this county, who have been so long and honorably connected with teaching. Mr. Smith was tendered a complimentary dinner at the Vanderbilt House on May 17, 1895, upon the completion of his fiftieth year in connection with the schools of Syracuse. Mr. Smith was succeeded as superintendent in March, 1889, by Prof. A. B. Blodgett, whose sketch appears on another page of this work.

2 Albert Gleason Salisbury was born in August, 1813, at Seneca Castle, Ontario county, N. Y., and received his education in Whitesboro and Pompey Academies. In 1833-9 he opened a school in the session room of the First Presbyterian church in Syracuse, and later taught in a building on East Genesee street. From there he went to Putnam School as principal in 1840. One of his assistants was Miss Sarah Tallman, whom he afterwards married. During the enlargement of No., a few years later, Mr. Salisbury taught a select school over where Grant & Dunn’s hardware store is situated. When the enlargement of No. 7 was completed he went back to it as principal and so continued until elected the first clerk of the Board of Education of the city. This he resigned in 1850 to again become principal of No. 7. He was again elected clerk in June of the same year, and again resigned to take his former place in 1851. In 1854 he opened a private school in the Myers block, which he made very successful. In 1857 he returned to his former position where he continued until 1864, when he was made paymaster in the army. In 1867 he was appointed a warden of Auburn prison, where he remained a little more than a year. H died in 1874.

3  For further details of school history the reader is referred to Edward Smith’s very complete work on the  subject, published in 1892 by C. W. Bardeen, from which many of the foregoing facts have been gleaned.

Submitted 15 November 1998