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Archive for September, 2021

collegestreetCollege Street runs one-third of a mile between North Street and Cottage Street in the Allentown neighborhood of Buffalo.  The street was laid out in September 1836.  But was there a college in Allentown?  Well, almost.

The University of Western New York was chartered on April 8, 1836.  It was also referred to as “Western University”.  The college was founded  to serve Western New York.  At the time, there was no chartered college in operation in the area. There was a significant amount of speculation in Buffalo in 1836.  The Erie Canal’s opening in 1825 had turned Buffalo into a stepping stone between East and West.   Wealthy industrialists began to settle in Buffalo as businesses in freight, transportation and banking began to thrive.  Many in Buffalo quickly made money and then just as quickly lost it. Between 1834 and 1836, construction projects completed in Buffalo totaled $3Million (about $88 Million today).  Buffalo was still an infant city.  Only 1/5 of a mile of street was paved, only one mile of sewer existed on three streets, and there were no street lamps.  Water service was only from wells and a single water salesman who filled his tank in the lake and went door to door selling water.

Many large-scale projects were proposed, such as a large 100-foot tall marble statue of Commodore Perry above Shelton Square.  For reference, McKinley Monument in front of City Hall is about 96 feet tall.  The memorial was estimated to cost $75,000 (about $2.2 Million today).  Another proposed project was a great Exchange Building with a 220-foot dome on Main Street to occupy the entire block of Clarendon Square (between North and South Division).

The University was another such large scale proposed project, associated with the Genesee Synod of the Presbyterian Church.  The Synod at the time had sought to establish a college within its boundaries, which included a nine county area.  Buffalo was selected for its location due to the city’s location for trade because of the Canal and the Great Lakes.  Buffalo was also accessible to students from the Midwest to the East Coast and Mid Atlantic States, so the founders felt it was a strategic place for a university.

The Executive Committee of the College consisted of H.B. Potter, Hiram Pratt, Reuben B. Heacock, John C. Lord, and Asa T. Hopkins.  Other Board Members included Norris Bull, John Barnard, Gilbert Crawford, Charles E. Furman, Abel Caldwell, Erastus J. Gillet, Ezra Scovel, Tyron Edwards, Asa Johnson, Herman Halsey, Conway P. Wing, Eli S. Hunter, Timothy Stillman, Samuel H. Gridley, Robert W. Hill, William Williams, Samuel Wilkeson, Alanson Palmer, Joseph Dart, Pierre A Barker, Guy H. Goodrich, Jabez Goodell, Ebenezer Johnson, Ebenezer Walden, Peter B. Porter, John B. Skinner, Allen Ayrault, and Elial T. Foot.  The board was a real who’s who of Buffalo at the time, and many of these folks have been covered here on the blog.  The leader of the group was Reverend Asa Hopkins, who graduated from Yale University and was a minister at First Presbyterian Church.  In 1826, First Presbyterian Church took out an $8,000 loan  to build their original church at the corner of Main Street and Church Street.  By 1836, the loan had been paid off and the church looked towards other endeavors.

The Board of the University acquired a Building at the corner of Virginia Street and St. Louis Place.  The building had originally been built in 1828 by the Buffalo High School Association as the site for the Buffalo High School.  The name was changed to the Buffalo Literary and Scientific Academy in 1830.  The Academy was actually a military academy, and students would march down Main Street for drills.  The Academy provided the only secondary education in the city at the time.  It ended up being too expensive for most students and had difficulty securing faculty to teach.  When the University of Western New York group was established, they acquired the property.  Fun fact, in 1848, the building at Virginia Street and St. Louis Place became the first home of Sister’s Hospital.  The building still stands.

Judge Walden donated land bounded by Delaware, Allen, College and North Street to the Board for a permanent college.  College Street was laid out on the western boundary of their land.  Some sources indicate that the entire area was meant for the school.  Some sources indicate that the eastern boundary of their land was Franklin Street. Some sources indicate only 9 acres of land were owned by the group.  I was unable to verify precisely how much property the group owned, or if they ever even officially owned the land.  If anyone lives in the area and has copies of their title searches that go back that far, I’d love to see if the University is listed to try to figure it out!  At the time, the main streets of Allentown were Main, Delaware, Cottage, Allen and North Street.  It is possible that they did own the entire area, since Mariner, Elmwood, Park and Irving were not yet constructed.  If they did own the entire area, the University would have taken up almost 1/3 of Allentown!  College Street was added in September 1836 in honor of the University.  Plans for the University included impressive buildings along North Street, they desired to have a campus that would rival that of Harvard or Yale!

The Board selected Rev. Justin Edwards to be Chancellor of the University and President of the College.  He was to be granted a salary of $2,000 ($58,800 in today’s dollars) a year.  He declined the post.  A number of other high ranking educators from along the East Coast were named to the faculty- however, none of them ever arrived in Buffalo.  Endowments of $15,000 each were granted by many of the who’s who of Buffalo to fund professors:

  • William Williams, the “Williams’ Professorship of Moral and Mental Philosophy”
  • Samuel Wilkeson, the “Wilkeson Professorship of Law”
  • Alanson Palmer, the “Alanson Professorship of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy”
  • Hiram Pratt and Orlando Allen, the “Pratt and Allen Professorship of Theology”
  • Joseph Dart and George Palmer, the “Dart and Palmer Professorship of English Literature and Belles Lettres”
  • Perrie A Barker, the “Barker Professorship of Languages”
  • Guy H. Goodrich, the “Goodrich Professorship of Chemistry and Mineralogy”
  • HB Porter and John C. Lord, “the Porter and Lord Professorship of Oriental Literature and Hebrew Language”

While many sources indicate that no classes were held for the University, newspaper accounts from the time indicate that there was at least one year of classes, and 20 students were enrolled.  Tuition was set for Freshmen and Sophomore years at $8.00 per term or $24.00 annually.  Boarding was not to exceed $70.00 annually, with rooming at $10.50, utilities at $10.00 and washing at $12.00.  Tuition and board all together cost of $126.50 ($3,721 in 2021 dollars) annually.  Students were expected to furnish their own bed and bedding, towels and furniture except for bedstead (a bed frame) and stove.

The second year was set to begin on Wednesday, Sept 13, 1837. I am unsure if classes were held that second year at all, I do not believe they were.  A Professor Hadderman was referenced in newspaper articles prior to the term starting, it may be that they taught all the classes.  Candidates for the Freshman Class were examined in: Virgil, Cicero’s Select Orations, the Greek Reader, Latin and Greek Grammar, Arithmetic, English Grammar and Geography prior to acceptance.

Wonder what a curriculum looked like in 1836?  Freshman were required to be 14 years old and they studied:

  • Folsom’s Livy
  • Adam’s Roman Antiquities
  • Horace
  • Graeca Majors (the historical parts)
  • Algebra
  • Legendre’s Geometry.

Sophomores studied:

  • Graeca Majors (vol 1 finished)
  • Horace (finished)
  • Cicero de Oratore
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Mensuration (the measure of geometric magnitudes, lengths, areas and volumes)
  • Navigation
  • Surveying
  • Conic Sections, Spherical Geometry and Trigonometry
  • Rhetoric

Students attended prayer in the College Chapel every morning and evening, and attended three recitations daily except on Wednesday and Saturday, when there were only two.  Students were also required to attend public worship services on the Sabbath, at a church directed by their parent or guardian.  There were three terms in a year, separated by vacations – two weeks starting on the third Wednesday in December, four weeks starting at the second Wednesday in April, and six weeks starting on the first Wednesday in August.

The school was a victim of the financial panic of 1837.  The Panic of 1837 began in New York City in May of that year.  The Panic was detrimental to many places across the United States and resulted in a major depression for the following six years; many people lost their fortunes.  In 1851, it was reported that the “splendid effort to found the University of Western New York made in 1836 failed in  consequence of the pecuniary embarrassments.”

Buffalo was particularly hard hit by the Panic of 1837.  Benjamin Rathbun, Buffalo’s master builder had created a empire, operating quarries, brick factories and machine shops.  He built as many as 100 buildings in a single year.  He owned many major businesses in town as well, including the Eagle Tavern, several grocery and dry good stores, and his own bank.  To fund his empire, he overextended himself.  He was found to have used approximately $1.5 Million ($44 Million in 2021 dollars) in forged notes.  He was arrested and sentenced to five years hard labor in Auburn prison.  It was estimated that approximately 10% of Buffalo’s population was on his payroll – about 2,000 people, and around 5,000 people if you include their families who were dependent on that income.  The empire began to fall in August 1836.  The demise of Benjamin Rathbun’s empire coupled with the Panic of 1837 meant that much of the city became impoverished.  Real estate values dropped – lots were often worth less than 1/10th or even 1/20th of their value.

Additionally in 1837, Buffalo was weary of the Patriot War happening in Canada. Many Buffalonians feared that Buffalo could be attacked.  With the Burning of Buffalo during the War of 1812 just 24 years prior, many Buffalonians feared attack.  As a result, the Pointsett Barracks were built, between North Street, Delaware Avenue, Main Street and Allen Street.  If the University property did go to Franklin Street, a portion of it would have been included in the Pointsett Barracks.  The land for the Pointsett Barracks was also provided to the Federal Government by Judge Walden.  The only standing reminder of the Barracks is our beloved Wilcox Mansion, aka the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site.

People were still eager to have a college in Buffalo.  Nine years after the University of Western New York closed, a group of physicians and a few laymen including Millard Fillmore, future President of the United States, met to establish a medical school.  While they were founding a medical school, they petitioned the Legislature for a general university charter rather than just a medical school charter.  This would allow for the future expansion of the institution beyond just a medical school, as we know occurred.  Julian Park, documenting the history of the University of Buffalo in 1917, notes that interestingly, the physicians were the ones who pushed for a full university charter instead of a medical school charter, not the laymen.

Pages from A_History_of_the_University_of_Buffalo

First Building of the University of Buffalo dedicated solely to education. Source: Julian Park, A History of the University of Buffalo.

The University of Buffalo came into being by a legislative act on May 11, 1846.  The Medical School opened in spring of 1847 with an enrollment of 63 students.  Like the University of Western New York, the University Council was made up of a whose who amongst Buffalo – the first council consisted of Millard Fillmore, George Clinton, Ira Blossom, Thomas Foote, Joseph Masten, Isaac Sherman, Gaius B Rich, William Bird, George Babock, Nathan Hall, James Wadsworth, Theodotus Burwell, John Shepard, Hiram Tucker, Orsamus Marshall, Orson Phelps , Elbridge Spaulding, James White, and James Putnam.  The first two terms were held in the Baptist church on Washington Street, before the University moved into a building built for them at the corner of Main and Virginia Street, just a block away from where the University of Western New York had held their classes!  For the first 40 years, UB operated solely as a medical school, but operated legally and officially as University at Buffalo.  Many of the subsequent departments and schools under the University umbrella were begun by the professionals of the city who wanted to help provide opportunities for training in their profession to the next generation of Buffalo.   Many of the first professors did so because of professional pride in passing down the trade, often while sacrificing their own finances.  In 1962, University of Buffalo joined the State University of New York (SUNY) system and became University at Buffalo.

So the next time you drive past or down College Street, take a moment to think about the University that never fulfilled its founder’s dreams.  Want to learn about other streets? Check out the Street Index. Don’t forget to subscribe to the page to be notified when new posts are made. You can do so by entering your email address in the box on the upper right-hand side of the home page. You can also follow the blog on facebook. If you enjoy the blog, please be sure to share it with your friends.

Sources:

  • “University of Western New York”.  Black Rock Advocate.  October, 13, 1836.
  • “University of Western New York”  Daily Commercial Advertiser.  July 28, 1837. p3.
  • “Education Convention.  The Advocate.  October 16, 1851, p2.
  • “An Act to Incorporate the University of Western New York.”  Passed April 8, 1836.  Chap 110, p 148.  Laws of the State of New York, of a General Nature Passed from 1828 to 1841.  T.H. Hyatt Publisher.  1841.
  • Fess, Margaret.  “Plans for University Here in 1836 Failed.  Buffalo Courier Express.  May 24, 1964. p30D.
  • Dreams and Realities.  Buffalo Courier Express. June 10, 1935. p6.
  • “University of Western New York”. Buffalo Daily Star.  August 27, 1836.  p1.
  • Park, Julian.  “A History of the University of Buffalo”.  Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society.  Buffalo: 1917.
  • Murphy, William F.  “Education in Buffalo, NY and the Panic of 1837”.  A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Department of Education, Canisius College.  June 1954.
  • Hosmer, George.  “Annual Address:  Physiognomy of Buffalo”.  Read before the Buffalo Historical Society, January 13, 1864.
  • Gordon, Thomas Francis.  “Gazetteer of the State of New York, Comprehending its Colonial History, General Geography, Geology and Internal Improvements; a Minute Description of its Several Counties, Towns and Villages.”  TK and PG Collins, Printers:  Philadelphia.  1836.

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