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Chapter 15 

The Schools of Williamsville

Many locations have been given as the site of the first school in Williamsville, probably due to the facts that deeds have been mislaid or lost and that private schools were held in homes and other buildings at various times. No teaching license was required and anyone who could read, write and "cipher" could set up a class and charge for instruction.

It is believed that Caleb Rogers conducted a private school in a wooden structure at Main Street and Garrison Road as early as 1812 on one of the two -sites deeded by Jonas Williams to Benjamin Caryl and Isaac Bowman as trustees of School District No. 6.

The other site was a narrow, triangular plot on Main Street just west of Grove Street where a school was erected in 1817.

It is believed that Caleb Rogers, who lived only a few doors to the east of the site, constructed the school and also became its first teacher.


Another deed, known to have been conveyed to School District No. 3 by Jonas Williams but since mislaid or lost, was for property at 70 Eagle Street, adjacent to what is now the Lutheran Church. A school house was erected and served for about 50 years until 1875 when the trustees, Philip Zent, Henry Long and Christian Wolf, sold the buildings and property to Esther and John Hershey for one dollar.

Subsequent owners were John Sider of Canada, Franklin Luce and William Bitterman who made molds for sculptors and did much of the statuary work for the Pan American Ex- position in Buffalo in 1930.


The third school building in Williamsville was constructed in 1840 by Timothy S. Hopkins at a cost of $1,000 and is still standing at 72 Cayuga Street. The exterior retains its simple lines but the interior has been modernized to house a Senior Citizen's Center and the offices of the Amherst Historical Society.

Shaded by trees as old as itself, the school is one of the village's famous landmarks. A Mr. Johnson was its first teacher but the school came to be known as "Miss Spaulding's School" in tribute to "Little Miss Bertha" Spaulding who taught in its one classroom for 25 years.

At a long table in the center of the room, divided into squares by strips of red tape, "number work" was taught with the use of colored pegs manipulated to fit the directions of the teacher.

Friday afternoons were used for "speaking pieces" and singing to the accompaniment of a pump organ played by Miss Spaulding. According to a former student, "another nice thing about Friday afternoon was that school was dismissed early." During "recess" and before school the girls played on one side of the walk leading to the building and the boys played on the other side. On stormy days, the pupils were sent home early, the older children being held responsible for the safety of the younger.

Some years later the single room was partitioned to make two class rooms and a second teacher was hired to accommodate the school's 40 pupils.

After the school was discontinued, the taxpayers of School District No. 3, around 1950, voted to deed the building to the Bachelor Arms Club, a group who served the youth of the village and the town, with the understanding that the property would revert to the district if it were no longer needed for that , purpose.

In 1962 the property reverted and was contributed by the School District to the Town of Amherst. The Town Board remodeled and refurbished the building as a second center for the activities of the Senior Citizen's and the Historical Society.


At one time (dates undetermined), children were taught in the front part of the store that occupied what is now the Ronecker Building and the east portion of the Widler (Coe) Building across the street. (The Widler building was razed in 1963 for the construction of the present Police Station and Courthouse.)

The latter school was conducted by Miss Mary Beach, who had retired from teaching in eastern schools. Children attended only in the morning and adults attended in the evening and it is suspected that rivalry existed between the public and the private school.

Until 1853, however, there was no provision for education beyond the elementary grades. Higher education had to be obtained away from home and was generally limited to children of affluent families. Some attended the Seminary at Lima, New York.

In 1853 a group of citizens under the auspices of the Christian Church met to discuss the possibility of having a private school in Williamsville beyond the elementary level.


At the formative meeting for the Williamsville Classical Institute, members pledged from $100 to $300 but the cumulative total was insufficient to develop the school. Benjamin Miller then pledged $1500 besides contributing chairs, desks, and benches from his factory and the brick building was planned.

The property on Academy Street was purchased from David Hershey for $700 and a warranty deed was issued to the following trustees: David Greibiel, John Frick, Isaac Hershey, George Gross, Christian Rutt, John Hershey, Timothy A. Hopkins, Samuel L. Bestow, Benjamin Miller, John Witmer, Alexander Gotwalt, Arthur H. Moulton, John Gotwalt, John B. Campbell and James Stevens.

In 1857 the first catalog was issued, containing the names of the officers, teachers and students, some of whom came from as far as the Canadian Northwest Territories, Washington, D. C. and Michigan. (Traveling preachers of the Christian Church publicized the school.)

The faculty consisted of Thomas Munell, Principal, Professor Modern Languages and Belles Lettres; Joseph King, A.B., Professor of Mathematics and Ancient Languages; Miss Julia Abbott, Preceptress; Josie W. Emmons, teacher of Instrumental Music; and Tobias Witmer, teacher of Vocal Music.

Yearly tuition was charged per each course. English cost $12; Mathematics $15; incidental expense "per session," 50 cents; and "board and wash," per week, cost $2.25.

The course of study was divided into 3 years and 3 terms each ("tri-semester"-100 years ahead of its time). Subjects listed were philosophy, astronomy, theology, trigonometry, botany, rhetoric, political economy, moral science, geology, chemistry and the languages-Greek, Latin, French and German. Special courses were organized for those intending to teach. Each student was expected to attend some place of worship every Lord's Day and to join one of the two literary societies- one for men and one for women.

Literary debates involved deep study over such topics as (for the Ladies Society) : "Our future husbands should never be allowed to criticize our cooking or say 'Mother made a better pie' " and (for the Men's Society) - "It is more beneficial to saw wood before breakfast than to wait until next week."

The Williamsville Classical Institute, which had become known as the "Academy" closed its doors in 1869. Two men whose names are not recorded, came to Williamsville to rent the building and operate a private school, but the venture was unsuccessful.

For a while the school stood empty except when the congregation of the Church of Christ Disciples worshipped there during the construction of their church on Main Street.

In 1874, School District No. 3 rented the Academy for use as an elementary school and, in 1892, purchased the building and property from the Institute for $250, naming it Union Free School No. 3 and added a high school program.

The first Regents examinations were held there in 1892 and its first graduates, in 1895, were Gertrude Metz (Joslyn) , Mary Long, Harriet Dodge (Lehn), Lena Snyder (Grove) and Grace Beach (Trotter) who won the first Chalmers Gold Medal for scholarship.

By 1902 the school had 65 students in the high school departments and 143 in the elementary program.


In 1921, the red brick building that was originally the Williamsville Classical Institute was inadequate for School District No. 3. Condemned by the State Department of Education as antiquated and unsanitary, it was demolished after a bitter battle at the polls when, in 1921, it was voted to build a new school on the same site at a cost of $122,000.

The members of the Board of Education who "fought a good fight" for the new school were Dr. William H. Baker, Ernest B. Walker, Howard G. Britting, George J. Measer, Sr., George W. Walters and Henry Longnecker.

The contractor agreed to complete the school in 200 days but it was not opened until 1924-2-1/2 years later; although the auditorium was completed in time for graduation exercises of the class of 1923. The class officers were: George Helfter, Ursula Senf, Virginia Britting and Kathryn Wolf. Other members of the class were Harry Calvert, Virgil Widler, Evelyn Kunkle, Arlene Scully, Elizabeth Bates, T. James Brennan and Adelaide Feist.

The first principal of the school was Burt G. Brennan who was followed, in 1924, by Walter J. Harrington. In 1931 a large addition to the high school department of the Academy school was built and the curriculum was enlarged. Now art, manual training, music, domestic science were being offered. Patrick J. Murray became Assistant Principal.

'Where "Cap" Harrington awarded 9 diplomas in 1925, his first year at the Academy School, 66 graduated in 1950, his 25th Anniversary as principal-and the last year that Williamsville's high school was located at that site.

Rapid residential growth in the area had forced the referendum for centralization and, upon approval of the taxpayers, Williamsville Central School District was formed, to include eleven districts with a registration of 1603 pupils.

The Board of Education in 1950 included: J. Robert Chalmers, President; Mrs. Marguerite H. Lapp, Mrs. Elsie Bohnhoff, Fred H. Buddenhagen, John J. Reick, Robert C. Thompson and Laurence E. Garrow.

A new central high school, at a cost of $2,500,000, to be located on Main Street just east of the boundary of Williamsville, was also approved and it was expected that it would be ready for occupancy in September 1951.

Where the construction of the first high school on Academy Street was delayed by shortages following World War 1, the high school in Main Street was delayed by shortages following World War 11, by strikes and by a practically unbelievable general demand for construction materials.

United States was "on the move," the Niagara Frontier with its skilled artisans and facilities for power development and research was expanding rapidly and the Town of Amherst became a preferred residential area. School registration increased fantastically and has continued at a record-breaking pace since then.


Where six students graduated from Union Free School District No. 3 high school in 1892, 400 graduated from Williamsville Central High School in 1965. A faculty staff of 6 has grown to a staff of 385.

Where the total enrollment in public elementary and high school was less than 100 in a single building in the village of Williamsville in 1892, the school district, now centralized, has expanded to nearly 40 square miles and includes 4 elementary schools, 2 junior high schools and a senior high school with a total enrollment of 6977. The operating budget for 1965-66 is over $6,000,000.

The voters of the district have approved the construction of a new high school, two elementary schools and plans are being completed for a referendum for the purchase of 10 additional sites, some to include "campus schools" including elementary, junior and senior high schools on one location ... to provide for anticipated expansion of school enrollment within the next 10 years.

The current Superintendent of Schools, Dr. William E. Keller, and the members of the Board of Education of Williamsville Central School District are Mrs. Marguerite H. Lapp;President; L. Donald Morris, Vice President; Paul D. Clark, Clerk; J. Robert Chalmers, who has served for more than a quarter of a century; Joseph C. Tisdale, Donald R. Spink and Robert T. Bronkie.


A parochial school was established in Saints Peter and Paul parish in 1837. The first sessions were held in the home of Philip Jacob Wirtz, where the Reverend John N. Neumann was living.

There is no record of where the first school was held, but undoubtedly it was in a small rented, or contributed, building. Its first teacher, a layman, apparently was either unsuccessful or unsatisfactory, so the pastor assumed the duty.

When the present church was built in 1866 to serve the needs of the post Civil War Niagara Frontier, school classes were held in the nearby convent. In 1893, a school, which served the parish through the pastorates of the Reverend Phillips and the Reverend Adolph, was erected on the church grounds. Sisters of St. Joseph taught the school from 1886 to 1893, when the members of the Sisters of St. Francis, who are still supervising the curriculum, took over.

In 1920, under the inspiration of the Reverend Walter F. Fornes, the building was enlarged and courses at the high school level were introduced. Members of the first graduating class in 1924 were: Howard Tatu, Albert Anstett, Henry Lenz, Mildred Hafner, Margaret Berger, Amelia Beiter, Estella Fruehauf and Olga Cragin.

In 1929 the enrollments were about 385 in the grade school, 140 in the high school, with a graduating class of 30 and registration was rapidly increasing.

In 1962 the Educational Department of the Buffalo Diocese felt it advisable to open a diocesan school in the Williamsville area and constructed the present school on Park Club Lane near the Youngmann Expressway, just west of the limits of the Village of Williamsville-honoring the beloved Reverend byits name, the Bishop Neumann High School. It is now attended by students throughout the large Buffalo Diocese and its current enrollment exceeds 1200.

The former Neumann High School now houses the Sts. Peter and Paul grade school with its more than 600 students.


The first Lutheran School was established in Buffalo in 1948. In 1955 the school was moved to 1085 Eggert Road, Eggertsville and became known as the Martin Luther School.

The first school had an enrollment of 78 children in grades kindergarten through 4, with 3 teachers.

It now has an enrollment of 220 children in grades kindergarten through 8, with a staff of 8 teachers.

The school stands for the rights of every child to be fulfilled in a happy, Christian start on the path of learning, and feels that his program should stir his abilities, mature his judgment and guide his sense of moral and social responsibility.

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Left click the picture for a larger version A picture of The Williamsville Classical Institute Was referred to as the "Academy" . click here to see a bigger picture.
Left click the picture for a larger version A picture of The Cayuga Street Stone School The Third School building erected in 1840 by Timothy S. Hopkins, still stands today at 72 Cayuga St. click here to see a bigger picture.
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