by Francis H. Gardner

A paper read before the University Extension Club, May 17, 1909, at the home of Dr. Earl S. Elliott.

Had the topic assigned been Early Schools and Teachers of Ancient Troy instead of modern Lyons, the results of these researches would have been hardly more unsatisfactory, fragmentary and confusing. No teachers nor pupils connected with the first schools here are now livng, as more than a hundred years have elapsed since that time.

"The child that a mother attended and loved,
The mother that infant's affection who proved,
The husband that mother and infant who blessed -
Each all are away to their dwellings of rest."

The Women's Souvenir Edition of the Lyons Republican published in 1896 says that until the year 1843 the only permanent means of instruction which the Village of Lyons, with its 1800 inhabitants, afforded, were two common district schools. An unsuccessful attempt has been made to establish an academy, several select schools had been opened: but were soon discontinued and many of the townspeople were sending their children away to avail themselves of the instruction which could not be found at home.

The idea was becoming prevalent among its citizens that something ought to be done to raise the standard of its schools and to furnish broader fields of education in this village. The plan of a union school was brought before the people, and, after numerous and well attended public meetings, they decided to consolidate the two existing districts: to unite the moneys received from the state funds with those derived from the citizens, and to concentrate the efforts of all towards establishing a school that would be worthy of popular favor. This consolidation of districts took place in October, 1843.

Authorities differ as to the location of the first school house in the Village of Lyons. One says that the very first school building in the place, and probably in the town, was a primitive log structure that stood on the hill on the west side of Butternut Street at the head of Queen St. It was there, we are told, as early as 1804 or 1805, but was burned down soon afterward. In June 1813 the town was divided into twelve school districts. J.W. Gillespie and John Brown were school commissioners. It seems impossible to find the names of any teachers who taught in this ancient school edifice or of the pupils attending school there.

Grip's Historical Souvenir of Lyons says that the first school house in the village stood on the west side of Butternut St. just south of present jail on the site of the old Catholic Church. It was built of logs at first and Thomas Rogers taught there in 1808. This was afterward replaced by a frame building, the fifth one erected in the Village for school purpose. If this source of information is reliable the second schoolhouse, also built of logs, stood on the north east corner of the Presbyterian Church lot. Captain Hill taught there. The third school was in the old "Glover House." Mr. Fuller, afterward in government employ, and Andrew Hull, the first Judge of Allegany County, taught there. The fourth schoolhouse stood on the present site of the Broad St. German Lutheran Church.

The sixth place of learning, now a residence standing where it always stood on the east side of Catherine Stret between Holley and Lawrence now occupied by Mr. Eben Bourne was used as a school until some time in the thirties.

Quite a number of private schools came into existence in the village during the early period. One of them was taught in the old Flatiron Building at the junction of William and Broad. The following advertisement of a select school is found in a Lyons paper dated March, 1828: "Miss Chapin will open a school for the instruction of young ladies Apr. 14 next (1828), in the Village of Lyons, in the upper room of Mr. Yale's tin factory. Terms - Reading, writing and plain needlework, $2 per quarter. Grammar, arithmetic, geography, history, rhetoric, chemistry, natural philosophy, map drawing, painting, or ornamental needle-work and lace work, $3 per quarter. The department of needle-work will be superintended by Mrs. Naglee."

The first German school was taught in the building which is now the Scott Homestead just out of the village limits on the road leading from Phelps St. Michael Lawrence built the house and his daughter taught the school.

None of the old residents are now living who remember their school experiences as far back as the 20's or 30's, though fortunately some of them left on record very interesting and instructive reminiscences.

Among the earlier teachers of the various schools were Thomas Rogers, Captain James Hill, Mr. Fuller, Andrew Hull, Mr. Trowbridge, Mr. Starr and Rev. Jeremiah Flint. In 1831 Miss Clarissa Thurston opened a school for young ladies on Geneva Street, nearly opposite the old Joppa House.

Some years ago the writer called on Mrs. Lavina Beadle of Canal St. an old lady in her 88th year, since deceased, and found her in excellent health and spirits, more than willing to talk on "ye olden times." Her mind was remarkably clear in regard to her early school days and she was able to give some very interesting information. She moved into town in the year 1831, when she was about seven or eight years old, and first went to school to Mrs. Hunt, nee Lydia Hayden. A room in the house now owned by John Bauer, nearly opposite the old Sturges home at the southern end of Butternut St. was used at that time for school purposes. She mentioned the following persons among her school-mates there: Carrie Hulett, Eleanor and Jane Price, Katherine Denton, Adeliza Leach, Ms. Cooks and Marietta Leach. She next went to school located just south of the jail. William Lovejoy was her first teacher and some of her school-mates were Sally Baird, Laura Ellis, Herman Leach and Charles Demmon. She characterized Mr. Lovejoy as a mild kind of pedagogue. He gave her as a prize for leaving off head the most times a stick pin, which gave her great pleasure. Her next teacher was Lucy Merchant, sister of the late John Merchant. Next a ministerial student by the name of Bostwick Hawley taught the school in order to secure funds to help pay for a college course at Wesleyan. He afterwards became famous as a Methodist minister. William Clarke, Albert Leach and Alfred Harrington were in school then. George Blount next taught there and some of Mrs. Beadle's schoolmates were Delia Dorsey, Clarissa Dorsey, Phebe Dunn and Louise Demmon. She said it was customary for the children to bring quills to the teacher to be made into pens, and she spoke of whips or rawhides hanging in a convenient place to be used when there was urgent need of enforcing the rules.

Mrs. Weller said that she once attended a select school taught by the Curtis sisters in a buildng on the Flatiron lot.

Mr. Wiliam Agett once attended there, having for a teacher a man by the name of McKenzie, who made it pretty lively for the unruly boys.

Mr. John Cold recalls hearing his father say that when quite a young lad he went to the Catherine St. School. Mary W. Ashley, the daughter of Dr. Robert W. Ashley, afterward Mrs. H.G. Hotchkiss, attended there at the same time, and was remembered by Mr. Cole and also by Mrs. Beadle, as a remarkably beautiful girl.

With a description of the rather remarkable Octagonal Schoolhouse of 1830 or 1832, as remembered by the late Mrs. DeWitt Parshall, this paper on the Early Schools and Teachers of Lyons must close.

This building stood on a hill northeast of the Williams residence, and the school there was conducted as a private one where many young people of the wealthy families were prepared for college. The structure, as the name indicates, was eight-sided in form, surmounted by cupalo, and was approached over a gravel walk crossing the terrace, on the summit of which the building stood. Surrounding it was a grove of fine hemlock trees. But the curious part of the affair was the interior arrangement. The entrance was through a vestibule in a projection of the building. The octagonal form was retained on the inside. The teacher occupied a raised dais in the centre of the room, surrounded by two rows of seats for the classes. Midway between the floor and the ceiling was a balcony. On the balcony and on the floor there was a curtained recess for each of the eight sides of the room - sixteen in all - which was a study room set apart for a pupil. Sixteen pupils could thus be accommodated, one in each booth. When we consider that this was an expensive school, we can see that ample accommodation was afforded for the usual attendance. There was a bell suspended in the cupalo.

The building was burned about the year 1838.


The above paper, delivered in 1909, comes from Vol. 67, Miscellaneous Collected Records of the D.A.R., 1934, pages 234-236. A copy of the original typescript is available to view in the genealogy room at the New York City Public Library. For information about persons listed please contact the Office of the County Historian (see our links page).

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