THE HISTORY OF SCHOOL ONE
Built in 1911, former Public School No. 1 in Troy, NY was the first school constructed as part of a two-decade building campaign to support burgeoning enrollment due to the rapid industrialization and accompanying population growth. School No. 1, at the corner of Sixth and Ingalls Avenue, served hundreds of families, many of them immigrants, who lived in modest brick row houses within walking distance to work in a string of collar and cuff factories that lined the east shore of the Hudson River. School No. 1 meets National Register Criterion A for education because of its association with the development of the local public school
system. School No. 1 also meets Criterion C for architecture because it is representative of Progressive-period school construction. The building's construction and layout took into account concerns about fire safety, proper lighting and program-driven spaces. School No. 1 was built to the design of M.F. Cummings & Son, a prolific and prominent architectural firm responsible for a myriad of Troy's commercial and public buildings, including 10 schools. The period of significance is the building's 1911 completion, until it ceased being a grade school in 1976.
Carved from the vast Hudson Valley land holdings of the Dutch Vanderheyden family, Troy was incorporated in 1789, in a region settled by the Mohicans and, during Dutch colonization, the 17th-century feudal land-owner Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. Troy's prosperity depended first on the Hudson River for sloop trade, then on the Erie and Champlain canals, and, finally, on the convergence of four major railroads. These modes of transportation were critical to its manufacturing concerns and their development. Troy's commercial success was swift and extensive. Multi-storied warehouses and stores developed along the riverbank. As early as 1807, a small iron mill was in existence on the Wynantskill creek, where water power was harnessed to process Adirondack ore. Early paper mills beginning in 1827 drew power from the Hudson River as well. Ambitious industrialists Erastus Corning and Henry Burden had started careers that would eventually lead to the development of a gigantic iron and steel industry in the city. By 1860, the city had become one of the nation's leading iron producers, with several large mills and numerous smaller ones. During the 1860s and 1870s, the city's shirt and collar industry grew from a cottage industry to a large-scale factory enterprise. This textile industry at its peak employed 15,000 mainly women in the early 20th century.
"Troy industries also produced items such as stoves in huge quantities, and thriving small businesses offered everything from groceries to cigars. The location of School 1, in what is now North Central Troy, has its roots in an early 19th century outpost first called the village of Middleburgh. Lots began selling along the Hudson River and the Piscawenkill Creek, but the community, which came to be known as Batestown, remained small, consisting of the Bull's Head Tavern and a few shops in 1823." Situated between Troy and, further north, the village of Lansingburgh, Batestown was destined to lose any sparse identity it had and become swallowed by the industrial milieu of these growing and increasingly industrialized communities. Still, it provided the framework for the later neighborhood, defined by home, church, work and school. In 1845, Batestown, divided by the major route of Vail (later Sixth) Avenue, remained open land, but the Troy and Lansingburgh Railroad by 1869 spurred development. By that time, the H. Green & Son Spring Factory and the J.B. Carr & Co. Chain Works appeared near Douw Street. Then, a paper mill by 1873 sprung up at the west end of Middleburgh Street. Sixth Avenue and River Street became parallel north-south thoroughfares, from which short, densely built residential streets intersected. A string of paper mills, a flour mill and a major paint
"Troy's prosperity depended first on the Hudson River
for sloop trade, then on the Erie and Champlain canals, and, finally, on the convergence of four major railroads."
manufacturer from about 1827 to 1889 clustered around a hydraulic canal that supplied water power from the Hudson River. Homes along River Street and Sixth Avenue would have co-existed with these factories. The Hopkins insurance map of 1881 still shows many vacant lots. Such was not the case by 1885, when substantial brick buildings began to appear. These included, just within two blocks along Sixth Avenue, the first School No. 1, by 1884 situated on the same lot as the current building; St. Patrick's Church, founded in 1871, followed by its school in 1887; and Christ and St. Barnabas Church, a mission chapel begun in 1871. The manufacture of collars and cuffs blossomed as the main industrial enterprise in Troy and a principal employer of primarily thousands of women from about the 1850s to roughly 1920. The detachable collar had its roots in the cleverness of Hannah Montague, who devised the removable collar in 1827 to make laundering her husband's shirts easier by separately washing the more heavily soiled collars instead of the whole shirt. Ultimately, collars in a wide variety of styles became a fashion statement, and, a way to separate the "white collar" class from "blue collar" class. Five of the largest brick masonry collar factories were built on River Street along the Hudson River shoreline and near an abundant workforce. Searle, Gardner & Company built its factory nearly across from the School No. 1 schoolyard in 1899. Southward, Van Zandt, Jacobs & Company built its factory in 1895; Wilbur,
Campbell, Stephens Company located next to it in 1899; Miller Hall and Hartwell was established in 1880 and expanded in 1891; the largest collar maker, Cluett, Peabody & Company occupied a rambling brick complex along four city blocks. By the 1880s, Troy took on the characteristics of a mature industrial city, with a population swelled by waves of immigrants. The first were the Irish who fled the potato famine of Ireland in the 1840s. Their ranks dominated Troy's powerful mid-19th century iron industry and the growing textile industries. By 1860, 23,000 residents, almost sixty percent of the city's population, were either immigrants or the children of immigrants. Eastern and Southern Europeans constituted the next influx of immigrants after the 1880s. In 1901, with a population of 60,651 people, there were as many as twenty-six collar and cuff makers as well as thirty-eight laundries at where collars were cleaned. Collar businesses in North Central Troy employed much of the neighborhood. At the turn-of-the-century over half of the neighborhood residents who had jobs worked in the collar industry. Industrialization and the population boom, which peaked at 76,813 in 1910, ultimately shaped the maturation of Troy's public school system. Development of Troy Schools First as a village, then as a growing city, Troy made tentative steps toward educating its children. A "Red Schoolhouse" was built in 1791, and, in 1795, the village adopted an "Act For the Encouragement of Schools." As a newly
"Industrialization and the population boom,
which peaked at 76,813 in 1910, ultimately shaped the
maturation of Troy's public school system."
incorporated city in 1816, Troy established a district council to create schools in four wards and to raise through taxes $500 annually to support them. New York State in 1815 endorsed Quaker-inspired Lancasterian schools and Troy immediately followed suit, relying on a system in which older students were pressed into service to educate younger children. While economical and aimed at benefiting the poor, the Lancaster schools still collected tuition. These so-called "rate bills,” paid by parents who could afford tuition and waived for impoverished children, thus stigmatizing them, became the crux of a national, state and local movement to create common, or free, schools. Common, tax-supported schools were most famously championed in the 1830s and 1840s by Massachusetts’s reformer Horace Mann, who actually rode horseback to inspect individual schools. He found unevenly supported schools, often in decrepit condition, lacking adequate ventilation, heat and lighting, as well as basic tools such as standardized books, blackboards and comfortable furniture. Wealthy children could attend school longer; poor children could not afford to go at all." Mann's theory of education as the great equalizer gained traction nationally and internationally. In 1849, New York State founded a free school system; Troy established common schools the same year. "Troy's tuition-based system up until that point bordered on chaos. Teachers were expected to collect tuition. Due to the level of arrears, trustees of Troy's first school district tried reducing fees, then in 1848 hired a tax collector whose salary at times exceeded the amount of tax collected." Arthur James Weise in his 1889 book "Troy's One Hundred Years," wrote that the free school movement "buried a system which pinned the fluttering rags of poverty to the garments of the unfortunate, and helped to usher in an era which opened to doors of our schools to rich and poor alike, which unified the system and extended it throughout the entire city."
Initially, the school board was comprised of two commissioners from each of the city's then 10 wards; the board relied on a clerk to see to the actual operation of the schools. The board of education gradually shrunk, to 12 elected commissioners in 1873, seven in 1892 and three mayoral appointed commissioners in 1903. At the end of the 19th century, the Troy public school system, like those in other U.S. cities, saw expansive growth. Troy in 1884 had 15 elementary schools, a high school and a presence in two privately run orphanages. As immigration and industrialization further expanded, school systems and reformers came to grips with how to keep children in school and what to teach them. In the early 20" century, the term "progressive” took on various meanings in education, from I.Q. testing and the curricular tracking of college-bound students, to vocational education for "hand-minded,” primarily immigrant children who some educators predicted would most likely enter the industrial workforce. "Early proponents of the so-called "manual training” of children believed that manual dexterity and visual observation were part of a holistic education. Even in its purest form, the manual training method did include some trade skills, such as carpentry, and general use of tools (for boys). Supporters acknowledged that manual training might lead these students to later work in industry, but insisted that the primary goal was to round out a child's education by encouraging learning by touch and sight. Calvin Milton Woodward, a Washington University professor who once taught in secondary schools, and the founder of the first manual training school, in St. Louis, Mo., consistently held this position, summarizing his philosophy with the motto, "Hail to the skillful, cunning hand! Hail to the cultured mind Contending for the world's command, here let them be combined." Troy educators viewed manual training as vocational, directed at primarily immigrant students who they believed would work in industry.
"Industrialization and the population boom,
which peaked at 76,813 in 1910, ultimately shaped the
maturation of Troy's public school system."
In his 1910 annual report, issued during the construction of School No. 1, Superintendent Edward Edwards Jr. described the vocational curriculum as "educating the hand as well as the brain" of children destined to enter the manufacturing workforce. Edwards and labor advocates, it was reported, believed that vocational education equipped these youngsters with "self-helpfulness” when it came time for them to work in Troy industries." Boys had the chance to work in metal and wood, girls in cooking and sewing. Former Troy High School Principal Leigh R. Hunt, in a speech before the High School Alumni Association in 1910, inferred that tracking was needed to encourage diversity and, therefore, students differing intellects. "The schools need to cultivate intellectual assertiveness rather than reduction to a popular average. There is too much leveling. Intellectual energy is a gift of the gods ... Let us in a word encourage diversity of mental industry rather than intellectual sameness and mediocrity.” " Public School No. 1, 1911 The new School No. 1 replaced a previous brick building, which lacked indoor toilets and artificial lighting, on the same site at Ingalls and Sixth avenues. The building was billed as a state-of-the-art facility that heralded a campaign of new construction and renovation. The improvements eventually yielded a highly anticipated central school in 1913 that served as a middle, high and vocational school; a new School 14, designed by M.F. Cummings & Son and finished in 1923; the $500,000 School 18, which was built in 1927 to serve the suburban neighborhood of Sycaway; and School 12, built in 1930 to serve South Troy. The school's elaborate Collegiate Gothic style, "fireproof" brick and concrete construction and
layout, which was intended to promote safe egress, optimal lighting and ventilation, were key elements of period school design. Space reserved for manual training and the new school's designation as a "grammar,” or middle school, undoubtedly positioned School No.1 to educate the immigrant and disadvantaged children of the neighborhood. The school's role in preparing some children for the trades was clear, as described in a Troy Press account of the dedication on April 6, 1911. The president of the school board, William Leland Thompson, noted that the school had been changed from a grade to a grammar, or middle school, whose students would seamlessly transition to the new central school, where they would learn the trades. A large portion of the ground floor of School No. 1 was reserved for cooking classes and manual training. In 1913, School No. 1 graduates had the opportunity to attend the new Central High School on Seventh Avenue. Set on a hillside on the fringe of downtown, the building is extant and now houses county government. Here, students would receive a "practical education," with girls learning the Household and Domestic Arts under the supervision of Miss Mettie B. Hills and boys training to be carpenters, machinists and electricians in a program led by Supervisor of Manual Training S.W. Rounds. If there was any doubt about the future work life of these children, it was engraved on a bronze plaque at the entrance. "The City of Troy has erected this building to give its children the opportunity to learn the rudiments of those industries to which Troy owes its prosperity.” At first separated from the nearby academic high school, the two schools were combined in 1917.
PERIOD SCHOOL DESIGN
In her 1990 history of New York State school architecture, Susanne Warren described school architecture of this period as maturing into a fairly uniform practice that consolidated reforms pertaining to an optimal, healthy learning environment; by 1910, key matters of ventilation, lighting, and style were codified either through legislation or standardization of best practices. From the late nineteenth century to 1900, educators and architects who came to specialize in school design focused on the link between sanitation, hygiene, and the proper means of venting to combat contagious disease. There emerged complicated formulae about ventilation in order to dispel carbon dioxide and other impurities thought to be toxic in expelled air. Uniform lighting, from banks of large, rectangular, closely spaced windows, was to be cast from the left of the students. Exterior design should be restrained, with
ornamentation used conservatively to evoke a particular Tudor or
ornamentation used conservatively to evoke a particular Tudor or Collegiate Gothic architectural style.* With these matters settled, attention after the turn of the twentieth century turned sharply toward fire safety, which was increasingly the focus of discussion among design practitioners and of government legislation. Increasingly, specifications called for outer and interior bearing walls to be built of brick, stone, or reinforced concrete; stairs and stairwells were to be similarly built. Fire safety also evinced itself in layout, with distinctly separated stair halls situated to facilitate quick egress during emergencies. This standard was spelled out in 1904 New York State law, which mandated that "all halls, doors, stairways, seats, passage-ways and aisles... (be) arranged to facilitate egress in case of fire or accident." School designs also required state review beginning in 1904. School design had arrived at the "one best way" to define the optimal school.
"Exterior design should be restrained....evoke a particular
Tudor or ornamentation used conservatively to evoke a particular Tudor or Collegiate Gothic architectural style.*"
PUBLIC SCHOOL No. 1 AS A STANDARDIZED SCHOOL BUILDING
Public School No. 1 exemplifies the best practices in period school design in the first decade of the twentieth century; its design embodies "state of the art” standards for fire safety, ventilation, illumination, and style. School No. 1 was included in "Grade School Buildings,” a 1914 compilation of school architecture that held careful regard for sanitation and lighting, as well as economy and convenience, according to author William C. Bruce, also editor of the American School Board Journal. The building employs fire-resistant construction methods in its steel frame, sub-basement and ground floor of brick and reinforced concrete, along with concrete floors. Stair halls are separated by east-west corridors lined by classrooms and the auditorium in a standard design intended to facilitate egress in the event of fire. Its flat roof is a third measure of fire safety because it eliminates pitched, fire-prone wood trusses. Pairs and banks of windows provide plenty offresh air, and the school's modified H-shaped plan accommodated the illumination standards of the day. Its pairs of
large rectangular windows at the ground floor, and banks of four rectangular. windows on the first, second and third floors, allow for optimal unilateral lighting. This fenestration defines the architectural style, with symmetrically located windows on all elevations. Cummings chose Gothic elements, such as the majestic stone arch over the east, main entrance, parapets subtly conveying the look of battlements, stone busts of boys and girls at separate north entrances and stone quoins, which contrast with the dark red Flemish brick masonry bond. While school designs of this era are usually more restrained, Public School No. 1 is heavily ornamented with substantial terra cotta window trim, belt courses and cornice. Distinctive, central sculptures at the rooflines of the east, west and north elevations depict an eagle, wings spread, perched on a globe and surrounded by a wreath of foliage. By the early 20" century, Americans embraced and prized the tax-supported public school system. School No. 1 conveys that sentiment.
"Public School No. 1 exemplifies the best practices in
period school design in the first decade of the twentieth century;
its design embodies "state of the art” standards for fire safety,
ventilation, illumination, and style."
M.F. CUMMINGS & SON
Marcus Fayette Cummings (1836-1905) was the principal figure of the Cummings office, which was carried on after his death by
his son Frederick, who joined the firm in 1890. Born in Utica, New York, the elder Cummings worked for a time in architectural offices located in the cities of St. Louis, Baltimore, and Buffalo. After returning briefly to his native Utica he relocated to Troy, advertising his services in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1862, a conflagration that killed several people and burned most of downtown. His first commission was in 1864 with the design of the Second Presbyterian Church, a monumental Romanesque Revival edifice (extant) in a downtown neighborhood, which, once rebuilt after the fire, included both high-style and modest Italianate row houses of his design on Fifth Avenue and Grand Streets. The talented and prolific Cummings distinguished himself locally, and, to a degree nationally, leaving an architectural legacy of numerous buildings and three influential architectural sourcebooks, Designs for Street Fronts, Suburban Houses and Cottages (1865), Modern American Architecture (1872), and Cummings' Architectural Details (1873). Marcus Cummings, or, after his death, M.F. Cummings & Son, designed ten Troy schools of varying styles between 1865 and 1923. Cummings or M.F. Cummings & Son designed a portion of the downtown Russell
Sage College campus (the Romanesque Revival Gurley Memorial Hall, 1891, extant) and the original Jacobean Revival campus of Emma Willard School (1910, extant). The firm's public building commissions included the Greek Revival Rensselaer County Courthouse (1898, extant) and the Second Empire City Hall (built in 1876, burned in 1938). Cummings or M.F. Cummings and Son designed two Beaux Arts downtown office buildings (the Ilium Building and the National State Bank Building, built in 1904 and both extant); and two factories, the Romanesque Revival Van Zandt & Jacobs (1895, extant) and the minimally adorned but classically inspired Troy Waste Company (1909, extant).
Recent History Beginning in 1950, Troy population began to decline. The more than two dozen collar and cuff factories by 1962 had dwindled to six firms that specialized in other textile manufacturing to stay afloat. The iron industry peaked even earlier, with the last vestiges disappearing by the late 1940s. The central school district followed suit, with the number of schools dropping from 15 in 1925 to just nine in 1981. School 1 remained a school until 1976, then became an alternative learning center, and district administrative offices. The building has been vacant about two years.
"The talented and prolific Cummings distinguished himself locally, and, to a degree nationally, leaving an architectural legacy of numerous buildings and three influential architectural sourcebooks..."
Public School No. 1 is a highly intact example of a Progressive-era school of 1911. Its fireproof construction, layout to achieve safety and strategically placed fenestration for proper lighting and ventilation, together with its imposing and highly ornamented Collegiate Gothic style reflect standard school design of the era. These features emphasize that the building still very much "reads” as a school. The building was designed by noted Troy architectural firm M.F. Cummings & Son, which made generous use of random
ashlar granite to highlight the ground floor, as well as intricate terra cotta carvings of school children, festoons and rooftop eagles to signify the school's importance to the community. Just as at the turn of the century, Public School No. 1 remains surrounded by numerous 19th century row houses, a former Roman Catholic cathedral and former collar factories which line the banks of the Hudson River, within sight of the school. A residential reuse is planned.