Taking my normal walks, I stroll past a couple of former schools. It made me wonder how many of us know who the schools were named after. There are eight schools still in use that are named after influential people from the community, and there are several closed schools that have names inscribed above their doors. I would guess that most people don’t know the history behind those names. I wish they taught them in the schools. Maybe they did, but I don’t remember it ever happening.The first school in Lockport to have a name was the school on the corner of Market and Chapel Streets. Due to overcrowding in the district, the board acquired this property in the fall of 1917. It was used to house grades 3-7 from September 1917 until 1925 when the new DeWitt Clinton School was completed on Clinton Street. At that time, it was closed as a school and sold off. It was named the Edward T. Arnold School in honor of a long-serving school board member. (There is a lot more history to this building, which I will go into more detail later in another column.)
Edward T. Arnold was born October 1, 1862, in Holley, NY., and moved to Lockport when he was two years old. In 1889, he married Catherine Mahar of Barker, with whom he had one daughter. He died June 8, 1934, just hours after the school board voted unanimously to name a second school in his honor. He had served as a board member from June 1906, to his death in 1934. This second school to be dubbed “The Arnold School” was the William Street School at the junction of William and Scovell Streets.
The contract for the construction of the William Street School was approved at a board meeting on September 29, 1903. L.C. Wille would be the contractor for the building designed by William E. Huston. The completed structure was inspected by the board and the public on July 20, 1904, and opened its doors to its first students on September 6th. The school closed its doors around 1940-41 when the new junior high school on Passaic was built.
Anna Merritt was born February 20, 1866, the daughter of George and Frances Baker Hayward. She graduated from the Union School in 1885. She began her teaching career in Lewiston in 1886, teaching there for one year, and teaching a year in Wilson. ultimately transferring to the Union School in Lockport in 1887. She played a large part in the formation of the Mother’s Club, and the formation of the first kindergarten classes in the district.
Merritt was the first woman to serve on the Lockport Board of Education. In the fall of 1913, she and Mrs. Clara A. Sharp were the only candidates running for a seat on the board, assuring that one would be the first woman elected to a seat there. Merritt emerged victorious and continued to serve for nine years. Mrs. Merritt was a poet and writer, writing poems about the old Union School and having them published in the newspaper. Here is a sample:
Today, as by chance I was passing
By the old stone school on the hill
I noted the dignified bearing
The solemn old building wears still.
‘Twas noon-time in spring time
And the laughter of maidens fair,
With the shouts of the boys more noisy,
Rang out on the balmy May air.
The girls maiden secrets were telling,
The leaves whispered low to the breeze
The same sweet message they whispered
When we walked ‘neath those self same trees.
There is more to this. Perhaps in a larger article I will reprint the whole thing.
Charles A. Upson was born March 27, 1875 in Tonawanda, Upson graduated from Lockport High School when it was located on East Avenue across the street from the YMCA. In 1910, he founded the Upson Company, making fiberboard for home construction. During the Great Depression, when home construction was halted, Upson developed the idea of putting puzzles on his fiberboard. TUCO puzzles were instantly successful and were sold across the country.
Charles Upson held 44 patents on machinery dealing with his paper mill, including the red and black paper used by Kodak for their film spools. Additionally, he founded the Lockport Rotary Club and was a director of the Lockport Exchange Office. In 1955, he was appointed to the White House Conference on Education.
Upson was elected to the school board and began serving his term in May 1919. He was selected as President of the Board in May 1946, and finally stepped down from the Board in 1955. At his final meeting in June, 1955, it was decided that the new elementary building at the corner of Harding and Beattie Avenues would be named in his honor. The motion took him by surprise.
“I take this as a sign of appreciation of the years I have pounded away at school affairs. I hope the new building serves the children well. It is one of ten that have been built to replace eleven old ones while I have been on the Board. All my work for the schools has stemmed from the feeling that a man owes service to his community and should not just be a seat warmer. If I can help in the future in any way, and there is no one else to do the job, please call on me.”
Charlotte Cross had one of the longest teaching careers in Lockport history. She was hired in September, 1859, and retired at the end of the 1912-1913 school year. According the a newspaper article in May, 1912, Cross was speculated to have, at that time, the longest tenure of any teacher in New York State. She was born in Lockport December 17, 1839, the daughter of Thomas and Charlotte Butler Cross.
Her first position was at the Dayton Street School in Lowertown. She remained there for three years, after which she transferred to the Junior Department at the Union School. In 1868, she was made principal of that department. She held that position until her retirement in 1913. It was said that upon her retirement, “every man and woman in the city under 60 years of age, who had been educated in the Union School, had been her pupil.”
John E. Pound was born in Lockport August 23 1843. He graduated from the Union School in 1863, afterwards attending Brown University and serving in the Quartermaster’s department during the Civil War. After the war, he was admitted to the bar and practiced law in the offices of L.F. and G.W. Bowen. He was elected to the Niagara County Board of Supervisors in 1870, and gained a seat in the New York State Assembly the following year. He also served as Assistant United States Attorney for eight years. He was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1880, casting his vote towards Ulysses S. Grant in his attempt for an unprecedented third term.
Back in Lockport, he served two terms as Mayor of the city. He was elected to the Board of Education in 1896, and served as President of the Board from 1898 until his untimely death, April 20, 1904. Upon his death, the Board of Education made the following resolution (in part):
“We recognize that in his death our city has lost one who, perhaps more freely than any other, gave of his time and talents for the highest public good….His great heart was open and sympathetic with the sufferings and hardships of the unfortunate...Thus it is that we find him, up to the moment of his demise, holding positions of responsibility, requiring much valuable time, in the church of his choice, in charitable institutions and fraternal orders, and at the head of the business management of our educational system.”
Roy B. Kelley was born on January 24, 1880, in Schevenus, Otsego County, New York. In 1921 he was hired to replace the retiring Emmet Belknap as Superintendent of Schools. During the nineteen years that he served in that capacity, he oversaw a massive building program in the school district that modernized education in the city. The schools Emmet Belknap, Charlotte Cross, DeWitt Clinton, John Pound, North Park, and Washington Hunt were erected under his watchful eye. The Lockport Public Library was also constructed during his administration.
Kelley continued to reside in Lockport after his retirement in 1940, finally moving in 1948 to New Hartford to live with his daughter, Martha. He visited Lockport several times before his death in April 1966. On a visit in 1959, he was given a tour of the new school that would bear his name, a reporter from the Union Sun & Journal described the gentleman as “visibly touched” by the honor.
Emmet Belknap was born September 23, 1855, in Unadilla, New York. He came to Lockport in 1889 to fill the position of Superintendent. It was during Belknap’s reign that the high school was constructed on East Avenue in 1890-1891. The Walnut Street and Washburn Street Schools were built, and the old Union was reopened due to overcrowding. In February, 1919, Belknap and the Board embarked on a project that would ultimately replace every existing school with new buildings.
After thirty-two years as Superintendent, Emmet Belknap tendered his resignation August 3, 1921. The board named him Superintendent Emeritus and named him superintendent of the library. Unfortunately, Belknap died a short time later, February 24, 1923.
DeWitt Clinton was the governor of New York State 1817-1822 and 1825-1828. He was governor for the beginning of the Erie Canal project and its completion eight years later. DeWitt Clinton Elementary School replaced the Clinton Street School. Of course the street was named after the governor. Considering that Lockport owes it entire existence to the Erie Canal, it seems only fitting that there would be a school named after the man who was responsible for the waterway.
There was a second school in the city named after a governor of New York. Washington Hunt was the 17th governor of the state. Born in Windham, New York in 1811, Hunt came to Lockport in 1828 to study law. He was elected to the House of Representatives 1843-1849. He followed that up by becoming the State Comptroller 1849-1850, and governor 1851-1852. He died February 2, 1867, and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery.
The Lockport School District’s newest building was named after George M. Southard. Southard served on the School Board for 30 years, 24 of them as President. He was a part of the board that initiated the construction of six new school buildings, the same ones from Roy B. Kelley’s administration. She died shortly after his retirement in 1946.
The naming of North Park has a little bit of an interesting history. The opportunity to name the new school was left to the residents who lived in the neighborhood. North Park won by a significant margin, although it was known before, during, and for quite awhile after its construction as “the Hawley School” as the replacement to the Hawley Street School.
Some of the other names that were nominated were: Peter H. McParlin, former board member; Jesse Hawley, father of the Erie Canal; George Griffith, former superintendent of schools; Roy B. Kelley; Dr. F.A. Crosby, former board member; S. Wright McCollum, postmaster; and Irving T. Roberts, police justice. It all came down to the neighbors, and North Park emerged the winner.
So there it is. There’s how the schools got their names. When you’re out on your own walks, maybe you’ll think back to the people who were so influential in our community that we honored them by naming our most hallowed educational institutions after them. While doing the light research for this article, I came across quite a few great stories about the schools and the people. Stay tuned. I’m sure there are more columns coming that detail some of those stories. They’re too good to not tell the world.
Craig Bacon loves local history. He finds the stories behind the naming of the schools fascinating. Let him know if you’d like to hear more of those stories.