COLUMBIA COUNTY, NEW YORK
By Captain Franklin Ellis150
The project to establish a Lancaster school in the city of Hudson was originated in the spring or summer of 1816, and warmly advocated by a number of prominent citizens, who, in pursuance of this project, met by appointment at the Hudson library-room, in the evening of Sept. 17, in that year, and proceeded to organize by the choice of Ezra Sampson as chairman, and Josiah I. Underhill as secretary, of the meeting.
A short discussion and interchange of ideas upon the subject in question disclosed a unanimity of opinion that the establishment of such an institution would be a measure of high importance and of great advantage to the community; and it was thereupon by the meeting:
"Resolved, That Judah Paddock, Robert Jenkins, Samuel White, and Josiah I. Underhill be and are hereby appointed a committee to make the necessary inquiries in procuring a suitable building as a school-house, and if none should offer, to take into consideration the expense of a lot and building, the ways and means of defraying it, and report at a future meeting."
It was then voted to adjourn, to re-assemble at Major Daniel Fowler's school-room on the 27th of the same month. At the adjourned meeting the above-named committee reported:
"That we have the prospect of procuring a suitable site for a building, of about one hundred and thirty feet square, west of the rope walk.
"The corporation of this city have gratuitously given towards the contemplated object a lot of ground, seventy-five by one hundred and twenty feet, north of the jail, on the corner of State and Fourth streets.
"A suitable building, to accommodate two hundred and fifty scholars, or of the dimensions of sixty-four by forty feet, we find cannot be erected short of $1000.
"A lot, with a building, can be purchased for $480, but would require an addition of twenty feet; the probable expense of which, with the necessary repairs, would amount to $800.
"As relative to the ways and means to defray the expense of the building, &c., we find on inquiry that the monies now in the hands of the chamberlain of the city, with what he will probably receive of the State school fund within a few months, will be nearly sufficient to support the school for the first year.
"Your committee, therefore, beg leave to remark that if a sum sufficient to erect a building for the above purpose, by subscription, contribution, or otherwise, could be raised, the school may with safety be put in operation so soon as a house can be erected for its reception."
This report was accepted, and Samuel Plumb, Judah Paddock, Thomas Jenkins, James Strong, and J. I. Underhill were appointed a committee "to solicit subscriptions, donations, or cash towards erecting a building suitable for a school-room," upon which the meeting adjourned sine die.
The next meeting was held at the city hall in the evening of Nov. 11, 1816, at which the subscription committee reported that the sum of $1300 had already been subscribed, though many of the opulent and charitable of their city had not yet been called on. With such encouragement it was thought expedient to perfect the organization of the society by the election of thirteen trustees, which was then proceeded to; and the following gentlemen were chosen separately and by unanimous vote: Elisha Williams, Judah Paddock, Samuel Plumb, Thomas Jenkins, Robert Taylor, Prosper Hosmer, Samuel White, James Strong, Robert Alsop, Daniel Coffin, Patrick Fanning, Thomas Bay, and Josiah I. Underhill.
At a meeting of this board, Feb. 1, 1817, the following were elected as its first officers: Elisha Williams, president; Judah Paddock, vice-president; Daniel Coffin, treasurer; Josiah I. Underhill, secretary.
The act of Legislature incorporating "The Hudson Lancaster Society" was passed April 15, 1817. The trustees named in the act were the same as elected by the subscribers at their meeting in the preceding November; but it was provided that in every succeeding board three of the trustees should always be members of, and elected by, the common council of the city of Hudson.
By the terms of the act, the county treasurer was required to pay annually to the treasurer of the society "such sums as shall be apportioned from the school fund to the city of Hudson, which shall be applied by the trustees of said city as may be in their opinion entitled to gratuitous education, and to the support and maintenance of the school or schools established by them." And for the same purposes the chamberlain of the city was required to pay into the hands of the treasurer of the society all the revenue arising from liquor and tavern licenses in the city.
Any person subscribing not less than five dollars to the society became thereby a member, and any person contributing to the amount of twenty dollars became entitled to send, during his or her life, one child to the schools of the society, at a yearly tuition of two dollars; while a subscription of fifty dollars secured the free tuition of one child during the lifetime of the subscriber. The seal of the society, as adopted by the trustees, was "to have the inscription of HUDSON, LANCASTER, with crossed pens, engraved thereon."
At a meeting of the trustees, held Feb. 20, 1817, it was resolved, "that the site of the building be on the lot of land given the society by the Corporation of this city," and James Strong was appointed a committee to apply to the common council for the excise money, "and also to pray for the remaining half of the Public Square." At the next meeting he reported that "that body has granted the remainder of the public lot, north-east of the jail." A proposition was now received from the society of the First Baptist church, through their trustees, William Johnson, Henry P. Skinner, and William Foster, offering to contribute to the school-house fund to add another story, for the use of their congregation, as a place of worship. This proposition was entertained and finally acceded to , and the two societies became joint owners of the building, which was a substantial brick structure, standing in the southwestern angle of Fourth and State streets.
The school was opened Oct. 13, 1817, under charge of Josiah I. Underhill as principal or teacher; the conditions of his engagement in that capacity being as follows: the trustees were to furnish one hundred scholars, whom they might select as being entitled to gratuitous education, and for each of these they agreed to pay to Mr. Underhill the sum of five dollars for tuition for the year, and one dollar for stationary; total, six hundred dollars.
A considerable number of scholars, children of twenty-dollar stockholders, were entitled to the privileges of the school at two dollars per year, and there were a few whose tuition had been prepaid by fifty-dollar subscriptions. The remainder of the teacher's compensation was to be derived from children of parents able to pay for their teaching, and it was stipulated that "the hazard of filling the school with these scholars is to be taken by the teacher, and the trustees are not to be accountable for the tuition thereof."
The prices of tuition to those able to pay were fixed as follows: "For reading and spelling, one dollar per quarter; for reading and writing, one dollar and fifty cents; for reading, writing, and arithmetic, two dollars; for reading, writing and arithmetic, with grammar or geography, two dollars and twenty-five cents; if taught both grammar and geography, two dollars and fifty cents per quarter;" stationery being included in these rates.
No scholar could be admitted to the school without medical inspection, if such should be required by the teacher, and one could be allowed to continue in the school unless decently clothed, and cleanly kept in all respects by their parents or guardians. A committee of the trustees made monthly visits to the school to examine into its condition, and report the same to the board.
The whole number of scholars admitted to the school during the first two quarters was three hundred and forty-one, of which number one hundred and twenty-seven were entered by the trustees, to be paid for out of the society's funds. At the end of the second quarter the whole number in school was two hundred and fifty-two.
In the report made at that time by the trustees, they remark that "The method adopted by the teacher in the instruction of his scholars necessarily varies from that usually practiced in Lancasterian schools in this country, inasmuch as more advanced studies were taught. It conforms, however, as nearly to Mr. Lancaster's plan as circumstances will admit, and the scholars generally make greater proficiency than in ordinary schools. If all have not advanced with equal rapidity, it is no more than ought to have been expected. In so large a number of children of various capacities engaged in different studies, all will not equally excel."
At the end of the first year the whole number of scholars attending the school was two hundred and forty, of whom one hundred and twenty-seven were taught at the expense of the trustees.
During the year 1818 a vigorous effort was made in the interest of the city goverment to secure the repeal of so much of the act of incorporation as gave the excise revenues of the city to the society, but this was met by strong opposition, and failed of success, though while in agitation, it wrought considerable embarrassment to the affairs of the school, and we find that in May, 1819, "Messrs. Henry Dibblee and Cornelius Miller appeared before the trustees, and stated that they would hold themselves individually responsible for the tuition of the charity scholars now in the school until the next meeting of the Common Council, when, they had no doubt, a resolution of the council would be passed that they will not apply to the Legislature at their next session to take from the society the Common-School Fund now appointed to them."
The number of "charity scholars" had in the meantime been reduced from one hundred to twenty, but on receipt of the above guaranty it was advanced to sixty, and during that year to seventy-five.
In the spring of 1821, Mr. Underhill retired from the charge of the school, and Mr. James H. Durham, a graduate of the Albany Lancasterian school, was engaged by the trustees, who agreed with him for the tuition of eighty poor scholars, at the rate of $300 per annum, or $3.75 each; a very material reduction from the price first agreed on with Mr. Underhill, leading to the inference that the pecuniary affairs of the society were less prosperous than had been anticipated. The number, however, was soon after increased, and, by the report of the trustees for the year ending in the spring of 1823, it was shown that the average number gratuitously taught in the school during that year was one hundred and fifty-six.
At that time Mr. Durham left the employ of the society, and was succeeded in the office of teacher by Mr. Abraham Underhill, at a salary of $350 per annum. In reporting this change to the council the trustees said, "And as our means consist of the school fund only, and as our proportion of that is but about $300, of which the school districts out of the compact part claim their proportion, we would therefore respectively petition your honorable body for the sum of $100, to aid us in the laudable design of extending the benefits of education to the lower classes of the community."
The assistance asked for was granted, and afterwards the same request was made, and responded to with considerable regularity, particularly after the passage of an act of Legislature in 1826, which diverted a part of the apportionment of school money to the districts outside the compact portion of the city.
In the autumn of 1827, Abraham Underhill left the school. During his stay he had given much satisfaction and his resignation was accepted with regret. Mr. B. Underhill was engaged as his successor at the same salary, but he remained only until May1, 1828, when William A. Coffin accepted the place, "to receive three hundred dollars per annum for teaching one hundred charity scholars or less, and to take pay scholars on his own account, in consideration of his furnishing the charity scholars with light, stationery, and fuel." He was also to receive one dollar per annum for each scholar whom he might teach beyond the specified number of one hundred, "whether charity scholars or not."
It was proposed in the year 1828 to open a school for colored children (or "African school," as it was called), under the direction of the Lancaster trustees; and in July of that year a committee was appointed to call upon the several religious societies in the city and solicit aid from them to carry out the project. This resulted in the following contributions, viz: by the Presbyterian, Universalist, and Friends' societies, each $25; by the Episcopalian, $20; and by the Methodist and Baptist, each $12. To the amount thus obtained the common council added $50, and the Lancaster society promised $25 per annum. The committee to whom the matter was given in charge reported, Aug. 5, 1828, "that they have procured the old Methodist meeting-house in Third street, at the rate of $40 per annum, and that the school is now opened." The trustees reported that the success attending the experiment had exceeded their expectations "so long as they were enabled to retain the teacher first engaged by them," but the teacher, Miss Odell, withdrew at the close of the year on account of insufficient remuneration, and the school was discontinued for the winter, but with the hope of reopening so soon as a suitable teacher could be obtained, and the financial outlook would warrant.*
In 1829, Hon. Elisha Williams tendered his resignation as trustee of the society,--a position which he had filled continuously from the time of first organization, and during nearly all of which period he had held the presidency of the board. The vacancy occasioned by his resignation was filled by the election of James Mellen as trustee.
A census taken by a committee of the trustees in 1828, showed the number of children of school age (5 to 16 years) residing in the compact limits of the city to be 1011. In 1830 an enumeration of the same showed 1012, viz., 953 white and 59 colored. Two years later the number stood precisely the same, 1012.
Mt. Abraham Underhill was again employed as teacher in 1830, and continued in charge of the school until the spring of 1833, when he was succeeded by D. C. Macy. On the 1st of May, 1834, Mr. Ebenezer Howard, of Madison county, was employed at a salary of $500, "and all he can make by pay scholars, the trustees to furnish stationery and fuel;" and he was allowed ten dollars for his expenses to New York to procure information concerning the working of the public schools in that city.
In 1835 the school was reported as being in a demoralized condition in the matter of attendance, some scholars being present but two days in a week, others only once in the same time, and still others not oftener than one day in a month. Under these circumstances the trustees passed a resolution giving Mr. Howard "more extensive privilege over the scholars," which was found to have a salutary effect.
The pecuniary troubles of the society were on the increase. To extinguish a debt of $160, which they had no present or prospective means of paying, the trustees, on the 3d of August, appointed Charles McArthur and Cyrus Curtiss of for the first ward, and Robert McKinstry and Laban Paddock for the second ward, of the city, to solicit subscriptions from the citizens; but these failed to obtain the necessary amount, and in the following year a loan was resorted to to pay the wages of the teacher. In the commencement of 1837 the board found it impossible to continue the school except upon a cheaper plan, and on February 17 they resolved "that the thanks of the trustees be tendered to Mr. Howard, with their regret that the insufficiency of their funds utterly forbid their again offering him the continuance as a teacher;" so Mr. Howard retired (a loan being resorted to to pay the arrears due him), and in May, 1837, Mr. Chauncey Gridley was employed at $350 salary.
In the winter of 1838, the affairs of the society being still unprosperous and their prospects gloomy, the ladies of Hudson came to the rescue with a fair and festival, given for the benefit of the school. This realized a profit of $489.04,--a result more favorable than had been expected, and which elicited the warmest thanks of the trustees to the ladies for the promptness and efficiency of their action.
Upon this a new arrangement was made with Mr. Gridley, to date from Feb. 1, 1838, by which he was to receive for his own services and those of his daughter, as assistant teacher, the annual sum of $550 for one hundred and twenty free scholars, with the privilege of taking paying scholars to increase the amount. At the end of two years (Feb. 1, 1840) this salary was raised to $600, and the thanks of the trustees were voted to him and his daughter (with a gratuity of $10 to the latter) for their excellent management of the school. In February,1841, his compensation was still further advanced to $635.
But the Lancaster school of Hudson was now near its end. On the 28th of September, 1841, its last board of trustees, consisting of Laban Paddock (president), Israel Platt, Charles Paul, Charles McArthur, Cyrus Curtiss, Robert McKinstry, Gayer Gardner, Charles Darling, A. V. V. Elting, and John Power, were convened "in consequence of the desire of the Superintendents of Common Schools [created by the then recently enacted school law] to have possession of the lots and school-house of the Society." With very little discussion, and probably still less regret, the board acceded to the request of the commissioners, and made the proposed transfer of the property to the city upon the conditions,--first, that it should "continue to be used for the purpose of establishing public schools in the city;" second, that the city should be bound to the faithful performance of the agreement made by the Lancaster Society with the First Baptist Society as to the erection and joint occupancy of the building; and further, that every person who by reason of a $50 or $20 subscription to the funds of the society had become entitled to receive the tuition of a child, either free of expense or at the rate of $2 per annum in the Lancaster school, should continue to receive the same privilege in the common schools of the city.
This was the end of the Lancaster School, the abandonment of old methods, and the inauguration of the present system.
*The colored school was afterwards re-opened. In the summer of 1830, a subscription paper, circulated by Rev. Mr. Chester and others, for this object, produced the sum of $120, to which the society added one-seventeenth part of their school fund (this being the relative proportion of the colored to the white children in numbers), and, on the 4th of October, 1830, the school was commenced in a room fitted up for the purpose, in the western portion of the Lancaster building. It seems, however, to have met with the strong opposition of some from the outset, for in less than a month from its commencement trustee, Charles Darling, a member of the visiting committee, made a minority report to the effect "that according to his Ideas, He is of the opinion that the black school has been the means of Injuring the other, and is fearful that a more serious injury will be the result." The school, however, was continued with more or less success and regularity until August 9, 1833, when it was finally discontinued.