The article below is a reprint from a Buffalo newspaper, likely the Courier-Express (inferred from typography and style), 1943. Research and editorial notes by George E. Richmond

Buffalo's First High School Had Its Own Defense Program
The Western Literary and Scientific Academy was once housed in what is now the Pearl Block in Pearl Place.
By Walter McCausland

These illustrations were not part of the newspaper article.
Click on illustrations for larger size

Eagle Tavern. Built 1816 by Benjamin Rathbun; burned down in 1849. Presently the site of the Main Place Mall. Debate over terminus of the Erie Canal (Buffalo - represented by Samuel Wilkeson - VS Black Rock - represented by General Peter Porter) held here in 1822.

: "Old Buffalo," Broadway Arsenal. Nurses Home - General Hospital, 1909.

Samuel Wilkeson. Elected mayor in 1836.
Buffalo owes its survival to Margaret St. John and its growth to Wilkeson, for he was responsible for building the Buffalo Harbor, thereby securing the terminus of the Erie Canal. The city has named more places for a French general (Lafayette) who visited once than for the local man who made Victorian Buffalo possible.

"The Churches," as they appear in the early 1880's. St. Paul's at the left, the "Old First" at the right, St. Joseph's in the distance. Church Street is used as a stand for carters.

Buffalo Historical Society. "The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo," 1912

Old Court House, on Washington St. opposite Lafayette Square. Built 1818. Replaced by the Central Buffalo public library.
Source: Wilner, Merton M. "Niagara Frontier: A Narrative and Documentary History." Chicago: E. J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1931

Buffalo Public Library, Washington Street opposite Lafayette Square. Architect: Cyrus Eidlitz. Erected 1888. The Buffalo Public Library was dedicated on Feb. 7, l887 on the site of the Old Court House. Eidlitz won an architectural competition that also drew a design from the country's top architect, Henry Hobson Richardson.

: Buffalo Evening News. "A History of the City of Buffalo," 1908.

Eminent Rev. William Shelton was rector of St. Paul's Church 1829-1882). About 1900, Shelton Square was named after him.

: DeMille, George E. "St. Paul's Cathedral." Buffalo: Hoffman Printing, 1967.

St. Paul's C athedral

: DeMille, George E. "St. Paul's Cathedral." Buffalo: Hoffman Printing, 1967.

An artist's conception from a century later of the St. John residence, 1911 Main Street, south west of Court Street.

Margaret St. John's cabin is the only dwelling to be spared by the British when they burn the tiny village of Buffalo during the War of 1812. St. John had already lost her husband and son in battle. She sends her youngest children to safety and appeals to the British commanding officer. The story goes that he posted a guard at her door. St. John single-handedly rescued the village of Buffalo, feeding and sheltering many homeless villagers until they could rebuild. Presently the site of the Main Place Mall.

"Victorian Buffalo," Cynthia Van Ness, ed.

Buffalo's first mayor in 1832: Dr. Ebenezer Johnson, Buffalo's wealthiest citizen who had given up his medical practice..

:"Old Buffalo," 1832. Reproduced Nov. 16th to 27th. Broadway Arsenal. Nurses Home - General Hospital, 1909.

General Peter Porter. Hero of War of 1812. Unsuccessfully argued for Black Rock as Erie Canal terminus.

: Wilner, Merton M. "Niagara Frontier: A Narrative and Documentary History." Chicago: E. J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1931

St. Paul's Church on left; Guaranty Building behind it; Erie Savings Bank in center

Erie Savings Bank. Replaced by Main Place Mall.

: Buffalo Evening News. "A History of the City of Buffalo," 1908.


One hundred and fourteen years ago, [Ed. Note: 1829] national defense was the topic of many discussions in the little village of Buffalo. Around the cheerful log fire at the Eagle Hotel, during long winter evenings, citizens gathered to drink their hot buttered rum or gin and bitters, and debated whether the young men should be put to military training.

Some, with memories of Scott's glorious campaigns fresh in mind, asserted that America could raise up over night an army whose fighting spirit and determination would be unconquerable. Others, recalling the desperate flight of the last tragic days of 1813, when the British and Indians had brought death and destruction to Buffalo, maintained that lack of discipline and tactical errors of untrained fighting forces would make them an easy prey to well-disciplined troops. They pointed out that Scott's fighters largely were regular army men, and that the militia had had intensive training before the battle of Chippewa.

The question was of more than theoretical interest, for Buffalo was about to found its first high school. Should the new institution be conducted on the "monitorial" system then popular, with standard courses of classical instruction? Or should the new-fangled ideas of Capt. Alden Partridge, former superintendent of West Point Military Academy, prevail? Partridge was going about the country advocating that courses of a practical nature, with military drill and discipline, should be added to the usual subjects in schools of secondary and even of elementary grade.

Men of affairs delivered weighty opinions on the question. Preachers treated it firstly, secondly, thirdly, and even fourthly and fifthly. Editorial writers took quill pens in hand, and clearly proved the truth of each opposing view.

Roswell Willson Haskins of the Buffalo Journal, later to become the city's first superintendent of schools, strongly advocated military training. It was, he held, good for young men, body, mind and spirit. With Samuel Wilkeson and David Burt he urged the organization of a "scientifick, literary and military academy." To this end they brought Capt. Partridge, originator of the new educational system, to Buffalo.

Partridge, convinced that lack of trained leadership had caused the appalling calamities in the War of 1812, had originated this military type of school, founding the first institution of the kind at Norwich, Vt., in 1818.

Buffalo was ripe for such a project. Although the High School Association had been formed in 1827, and had held some sessions in the basement of First Presbyterian Church, it had but a short life. It was succeeded by the Western Literary and Scientifick Academy, with Capt. James McKay, son-in-law of Capt. Partridge, as principal. A four-story brick building [Ed. Note: Actually, it is three stories plus a basement that is half above ground.] with neat chimneys at each end and surmounted by a cupola and bell, was erected "at the upper end of Main Street" - just north of Goodell.

The academy was "beautifully situated upon an elevated site about three-fourths of a mile north of the Court House (which stood where the Public Library now stands) commanding a fine view of the lake and surrounding country." It was "within 20 minutes' walk of any part of the village, with good sidewalks the whole distance." (Nothing was said about the road, as yet unpaved.)

What a day it was for Buffalo when the academy first opened its doors, on Monday, July 13, 1829! From early afternoon a steady clatter of carriages resounded in Main Street. They came from the fine homes of Seneca, Swan and Eagle Streets, carrying the ladies to the opening exercises.

Before each little shop stood proprietor, clerks and customers, watching the procession. At the Farmer's Hotel a half-dozen Seneca braves lounged in the sun, imperturbably smoking their pipes, apparently oblivious of the general air of suspense. Their quiet immobility was in scornful contrast to the excited chatter of a group of young people on the broad lawn of Maj. Andrews' home across the street.

Down by the Eagle Hotel, below Court Street, all was excitement and confusion. Fashionably dressed ladies buzzed in animated conversation with brilliantly uniformed members of Capt. Randall's company of artillery, Capt. Jordan's rifleman, and Capt. Wilgus' light infantry. Handsome, dashing Capt. McKay marshaled a group of 55 teen-age boys and their younger brothers, the cadets of the new academy. Members of the Buffalo Band warmed up with tentative horn-toots and drum-taps, as a group of grinning, tanned, muscular canalers watched and listened with delight.

Now the bell in the tower of First Church chimes three, and Col. Burt gives the word: "Fall in"! The band strikes up; the soldiers take their places. Behind them line up the new cadets, eager to demonstrate the results of a week of intensive preliminary drilling under Capt. McKay.

Next come the teachers and trustees of the academy, the "Council of Supervision and Advice" and the "Board of Visitor's." They are followed by the clergy - Dr. William Shelton of St. Paul's, Rev. Sylvester Eaton of First Church, Rev. William Hosmer of First Unitarian, and others. And here are the civil authorities of the village and county, with a group of general citizens. Ladies had been invited to join the procession, but the day was too windy for voluminous skirts and dainty parasols, so many went direct to the academy by carriage.

With cheers and waving of handkerchiefs the brilliant parade moves north. Above Court Street they pass the little frame house of the Widow St. John, only dwelling to escape when the village was burned just 16 years before. Cadet Joshua Lovejoy's face grows grim as he passes, for just across the street stood his father's first home in Buffalo, and there his father's first wife had been struck down and killed by the Indian pillagers while defending her home.

Sad memories are brushed away as he hears his name called from the west sidewalk. There, in front of David Day's printing shop, are his sisters Sarah and Louise, with the Day girls, Catherine Bemis, Eugenia Ransom, Mary Wesley, and other friends. He smiles, then tries to look stern and military. In the rear ranks with the senior class, another cadet thinks not of the past, but of the future. He is Orasmus H. Marshall, pondering whether he shall follow his father in medicine, Capt. Partridge in military service, or Dyre Tillinghast in the law. He thinks maybe it will be law.

And so up the road they march, passing Judge Townsend's mansion just below Tupper Street, the Plough Inn beyond, where a group of farmers salute them., then Jabez Goodell's Breadwheel Tavern. Reaching the parade ground, they swing smartly to the left, catching through the trees and over the low land to the west a glimpse of the lake and river, whitecaps glinting in the sun.

On the third floor of the Academy Building the public lecture room is half-filled as they enter. Captain McKay, Captain Partridge and Rev. Mr. Eaton step to the platform. The military, the visiting notables and the cadets are seated, and the ceremonies begin. Fully 500 people are in the room; and the Buffalo Journal reports that at least as many more could not gain admittance.

Thus brilliantly opened the Western Literary and Scientifick Academy, Buffalo's first effective high school. Next day classes began. Added to the usual courses were such subjects as "topography, construction of maps, navigation, fencing, ethicks, natural theology, evidences of Christianity, and metaphysicks." Not bad, for a village of 8000 people!

Necessarily, education so comprehensive cost money. Rates were high for the time. Senior students paid "for board, washing, mending and Academickal charges, including all expenses except for clothing and medical attendance, per academick year, $200," with slight reductions for members of the lower classes. French, Spanish and Fencing cost $4 each, per quarter. There was an annual $5 charge "for fuel and use of bed"; for fuel alone, $3.

The school authorities announced that "the object of their most earnest endeavors would be to implant sound moral principles and rear upon them habits of industry, manliness and perseverance. To this end, the mid of the student will be directed to the diligent study of the great principles of the Christian religion, and the frequent contemplation of the power, wisdom and benevolence of the Great First Cause. But sectarianism will form no part of our system of moral disciplines. The Physical Exercises of the Student shall be such as are best calculated to develope his physical powers and preserve his health, such as the drill, pedestrian excursions, &c."

And they meant "pedestrian excursions!" The Buffalo Journal of May 9, 1830, said: "This morning a detachment of about 60 of the oldest of the Cadets, with Mr. McKay, their Principal, at their head, leave town for an excursion during the short vacation that will precede the re-opening of the Academy. They depart on foot, with arms, and we understand will visit the Falls, Lewiston, and probably Fort Niagara, before their return."

The school term of 46 weeks began in November. There was a "publick examination" in May, lasting one week. Classes were resumed immediately and continued until September, when another examination was followed by a vacation of six weeks.

Of the examination in September, 1830, the Buffalo Journal said: "Never have exercises of the kind given more satisfaction to the parents, or greater evidence of solid and useful acquirements. Those who laboured to established and raise up the Institution now reap a rich reward in the valuable character and solid reputation it has earned and received amid the numerous Seminaries of learning with which the nation is blessed."

Captain McKay was a teacher, as well as principal. His instruction in "Mathematicks, Natural Philosophy and Ethicks" helped shape the lives of many of Buffalo's early leaders. "Chymistry and Mineralogy" were taught by William Mather, M.D. and "Fencing and Tacticks" by Deming N. Welch. Kendrick Metcalf taught Latin, Greek and English during the first year.

Closely connected with the school, and a member of its board of visitors, was the famous Benjamin Silliman of Yale. An able scientist and a popular speaker, he was easily the most influential man in his field during the first half of the nineteenth century. He founded and for many years edited the American Journal of Science.

Four future mayors of the city were active in the Academy. Dr. Ebenezer Johnson was treasurer, Josiah Trowbridge was president; Ebenezer Walden and Sheldon Thompson were members of the board of visitors. Other members of this board were Dr. Shelton of St. Paul's, Rev. Mr. Eaton, Captain Partridge, Professor Silliman, William B. Rochester, General Peter B. Porter, his brother Augustus Porter, David Evans, nephew of Joseph Ellicott, William Peacock, active in development of the Erie Canal, Judge Townsend, Stephen G. Austin, Albert H. Tracy, Bela D. Coe, Dr. Bryant Burwell, Major James Kirby, Colonel James Warren, and Major Benjamin Barton. General Heman B. Potter, Dr. John E. Marshall, Joseph Stocking, Dr. Johnson, and Dyre Tillinghast formed the council of supervision and advice.

Every Sunday those cadets whose parents had not designated another place of worship paraded with their instructors from the Academy to First Presbyterian Church, which occupied the site on which now stands the Erie County Savings Bank. [Ed. Note: This bank, now long gone, occupied a triangle of land surrounded by Church, Niagara and Franklin streets.] What a spectacle they presented, as they marched down Main Street in military order, resplendent in stiffly starched white duck trousers (dark blue in Winter) and blue coats sprinkled plentifully with globe-shaped silver buttons! [Ed. Note: It is interesting to speculate how many of these coats were made by my great great grandfather, John Kraus, whose tailor shop stood from 1834 on, conveniently just across Main Street from the Academy.]

For several years the school met with considerable success. Oliver G. Steele, speaking to the Historical Society in 1863, said: "It was the great pet of the city. It was, however, too expensive for the time, failing to reach the great body of our people; and changes of teachers and policy soon brought its career to a close."

Samuel M. Welch, in "Recollections of Buffalo," wrote: "I think the last principal of the military high school was Silas Kingsley, who abandoned the parade and bell buttons. Not long after, for want of patronage, it collapsed."

The corporation was dissolved by the Legislature in 1846, and General Potter was appointed trustee. Soon afterwards the building was acquired by the Sisters of Charity and became the first Sisters Hospital. It stands today, the central part of the Pearl Block, on the west side of Pearl Place, back of St. Louis Church, a little-known reminder of Buffalo's pioneering venture in education. [Ed. Note: The Pearl Block still (2001) stands at 14-18 St. Louis Place. There is a later addition on the north side, #20, probably made by Sister's Hospital.]

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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