COLUMBIA COUNTY, NEW YORK
By Captain Franklin Ellis149
The most ancient building of which there is any authentic account as having been devoted to purposes of education within the present area of Hudson, was a small frame structure which, in the year 1784, stood upon the old country road, at a spot which is now near the corner of Partition and Ferry streets. No person now living knows whether it was built by the proprietors or by the people living at the landing before the purchase; nor is it known whether at its erection it was intended as a school-house, or for other purposes. What is known of it is, that in the year mentioned a small school, made up in part by children of the proprietors, and in part by those of the earlier inhabitants, was taught within its walls by one James Burns, of whose antecedents or qualifications we know very little, except that he was a prudent man, who, when excavation and the blasting of rocks were in progress near the school-house, "in order to open a way to the river and to procure stone for the proprietors," always dismissed his school in anticipation of the blasts; and on this account, if on no other, was popular with his pupils. Some of those pupils were living, aged citizens of Hudson, until within fifteen years of the present time, and often related this and other incidents of their earliest schools days. The building was afterwards removed or demolished to make way for the opening of the street; but this was not until after the incorporation of the city, for the first charter election was held in it, and it was then mentioned as "the school-house,"--from which it must be inferred that it was still used for that purpose, and was the only school-house in the place.
On the 19th of April, 1785, the proprietors voted to donate a full-sized lot on Diamond street to any person who would build thereon a building of size not less than 40 by 24 feet, which building should be and continue a school-house from which no description or denomination of people living in Hudson should be excluded, and for the use of which the owners shall receive an annual income of not more than 9 per cent on their investment, but should be at liberty to sell it to the corporation for educational purposes whenever they might have opportunity to do so.
We have no account of the teachers who taught in this building, except Joseph Marshall, who opened in it a school for the teaching of "Reading, Writing, Cyphering, Composition, English Grammar, Geography, Surveying, and the Latin and Greek Languages."
In a few weeks after granting the lot for the Diamond street building, the proprietors appointed a committee to examine and adopt a plan for a "proprietors' school-house," to be located on Market square. We find nothing to show whether it was built and maintained for the children of proprietors or not.
In the same year Ambrose Liverpool advertised in the Gazette that he would open a seminary, where, beside the English branches, he would teach Latin, Greek, and the use of certain musical instruments. In addition to his educational wares, he offered for sale a quantity of extra strong English beer; but notwithstanding this fact, and the suggestiveness of his name, it is not certain that he was an Englishman.
Schools were taught in the early days by Dorrance Kirtland, Major Fowler (on Parade alley), Mrs. Wilson, -----Prowitt (where Burns' saddlery-store now is), and by many other whose names have faded from the memory even of their surviving pupils.
On the 28th of May, 1796, the city council of Hudson
"Resolved, That the supervisor for this city be requested to propose to the board of Supervisors for the county to petition to the next Legislature for permission to raise money by a tax on the county for the purpose of establishing an Academy in this county; and that the Corporation of this City will sell the City Hall and the lots on which it stands for that purpose, the County paying to the corporation for same such sum as our said Supervisor shall agree for; and the Common Council of this City will engage to convey said building and lots for the aforesaid purpose."
This project failed of success, but for a number of years the old city hall furnished school-rooms in which the youth of Hudson were taught by many different teachers. In 1797 (March 1) the council resolved "that the trustees of the school taught by Mr. Hedge have the west chamber in the city hall, and that the trustees of the school taught by Mr. Palmer have the east chamber of the city hall for the use of the said schools for one year from the first of March, instant;" but in 1799 the school, then occupying a part of the building, was ordered "to vacate the premises before the first of October."
In the minutes of the council's proceedings, Jan. 11, 1804, is found the following resolution:
"WHEREAS, a number of Citizens have petitioned to this Council for one of the Chambers in the City Hall for the purpose of a school-room; therefore,
"Resolved, That the Council do not deem it proper to grant the prayer of the said Petition. And as there are two vacant public Lots either one of which may be occupied for a School-house; Therefore,
"Resolved further, That if any association of persons will build a convenient School-house, of such materials and of such dimensions as shall be approved by the Common Council, on either one of the said public lots, that the Common Council will convey one of the said lots to the said association for that purpose."
The suggestion, however, does not appear to have been acted on. In February, 1803, it was resolved in council that "the school money now in the hands of the County Treasurer from the Commissioners of Schools be appropriated by the Corporation for contingent expenses," which to the friends of education must have seemed like a step in the wrong direction. In the same year a charity school was opened by the Episcopalian society in Hudson, and this was so liberally supported by monthly contributions that the number of scholars attending it at one time exceeded forty.
Schools and teachers certainly seem to have been numerous enough in Hudson during the earlier years of her existence; how efficient they were, or with what degree of enlightened public spirit they were sustained, there are now few means of judging. The following extract from an editorial article which appeared in the Balance of Dec. 16, 1806, referring to the state of education here at the time of the opening of the Hudson Academy (a sketch of which will be found elsewhere in this book), is given as being pertinent to the matter in question:
"No public building (not even a common school-house) for the education of youth had been previously built in the city of Hudson.* No public encouragement was given to literary pursuits. The citizens of one of the most flourishing towns in the State were compelled to send their children abroad for education, or to leave them uneducated. Did a teacher appear among them, he had everything to discourage him. Amongst strangers, unaided by committees, trustees, or overseers, he had to procure his rooms, obtain his scholars, and, after all, collect his subscriptions. Had he merit, it would meet with better encouragement under well-regulated institutions. Had he none, his scholars would be little better for his instruction."
Undoubtedly these comments were more sweeping and severe than the facts would warrant. Still, it was true that (with the exception of the charity school before mentioned as having been opened under the auspices of the society of Christ church) there had been no provision for free education in Hudson, nor was any movement made in that direction until ten years later, when a number of large-minded men (among the foremost of whom was Captain Judah Paddock) succeeded in establishing a school on the Lancasterian plan, a principal object of which was to furnish gratuitous education to the children of the poor.
*This writer should have excepted the old Diamond street school-house.