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Archive for February 10th, 2022

normalNormal Avenue runs between Hudson Street and Hampshire Street on the West Side of Buffalo.  The street  was originally named 13th Street.  It is one of the original streets laid out in Black Rock by Peter Porter.   Last post, we talked about General Hayes, who was important to the University of Buffalo.  Today, we’re gonna talk about Buff State!  What does Buff State have to do with Normal Ave?  Read on!

In 1871, the Buffalo Normal School opened in a Victorian building at Jersey and 13th Streets (now Normal).   A Normal School is a school for teachers.  The Normal School movement was an effort to standardize what students were learning and improve schools.  The first State Normal School was in Massachusetts in the 1830s.  A bill to establish a State Normal School began circulation in Albany in early 1844.  The bill was signed into law later that year by Governor Bouck.  Beginning with the Albany Normal School, Normal Schools began to be established throughout New York State.  Albany was followed by Oswego, Potsdam, and Cortland.  By 1930, there were two New York State Colleges for Teachers and nine State Normal Schools throughout New York State.

Buffalo and Erie County looked towards establishing a Normal School here in 1866.  The State opted to move forward with the schools at Brockport and Fredonia first.  Buffalo continued to fight for a Normal School. the Buffalo Normal School was approved by the State Legislature in April 1867.  The City was responsible for providing a site and building for the school.  The State provided $12,000 ($226,055 in 2022 dollars) per year to run the school.  Jesse Ketchum provided a 5-acre lot to the City for educational purposes.  The lot was valued at $20,000 ($376759 in 2022 dollars).  The Board of Supervisors approved $45,000 ($847,708 in 2022 dollars) to erect a building and appointed Oliver G. Steele, Albert T Chester, Dennis Bowen to the Normal School Building Committee.

normal school 1872

1872 Atlas of Buffalo showing Blocks 105 with the State Normal School and Block 88 with the Black Rock Burying Ground.

The City and County debated the site for the school.  Because Mr. Ketchum died in September 1867 before the deed was finalized, there was some back and forth regarding the site.  The site donated by Jesse Ketchum was known as Block 105.   Across Jersey Street was Block 88 – bounded by Jersey, Rogers (now Richmond), Porter and 14th Street.  Block 88 was the site of the Black Rock Burying Grounds.  The Black Rock Burial Grounds had been established by William A. Bird on behalf of the Village of Black Rock in 1818.   This burial ground was used for the residents of Black Rock, as well as for paupers who died at the Poor House, which was located to the west of the property, near where D’Youville College is today.  When Forest Lawn Cemetery opened in 1850, the Black Rock Burial Ground was discontinued and  many of the bodies were moved to Forest Lawn by their friends and family. In October 1864, the City of Buffalo had donated the Black Rock Burying Grounds property to the Charity Foundation of the Protestant Episcopal Church with the agreement that the Charity Foundation would move the remains.   The Charity Foundation is the organization that ran the Episcopal Church Home for aged women and for orphans, which opened in 1866 on Rhode Island Street.  At the time, the Charity Foundation was interested in Block 105.  The Charity Foundation argued that the Block 105 site was better suited for them, as the existing buildings there could be used by the Charity Foundation, whereas they were useless to the school.  The Normal School ended up moving forward with their original plans on Block 105.  Beginning in 1875, the Charity Foundation began selling off Block 88 for residential development.

Construction of the Normal School began and a Ceremony was held to lay the cornerstone of the Normal School in April 1869.  More than 3,000 people came out to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone.  A large parade marched from St. James Hall (at Main and Eagle Street downtown) to the West Side, led by city and county officials.  A poem by Mary Ripley was read at the ceremony.

Normal school building_0

Original 1871 State Normal School. Source: Buffalo State College

The building was inspected by the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of New York and the State Comptroller in August of 1870.  They approved the building and the City then transferred the property to the State to establish the school.  The first local Board of Managers of the school were appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and included:  John B. Skinner, Francis H. Root, Grover Cleveland, William H Greene, Albert H. Tracy, Thomas F. Rochester, Joseph Warren, Allan Potter, Henry Lapp.  The first Principal of the School was Henry B. Buckham, coming from Vermont.  The Buffalo Normal School opened on September 13, 1871.

The Normal School had three departments:  Normal, Collegiate and Scientific.  The Normal Department was set up for the education of teachers and had three courses of study:  Elementary, Advance English and Classical.  Students had a three year program of study.  Students were required to sign a pledge that they intend to devote a reasonable time to teaching following their education.  The first year was devoted to elementary study, the second year to more advanced English course.  The first term of the third year, the students took Philosophy of Education, School Economy and Methods of Teaching.  The second term involved teaching in the School for Practice.  The School for Practice was established with a class of 20 pupils from each of the 10 grades of the public schools set up within the Normal School.  During the term, Normal School students were given experience as temporary teachers in each grade of children.  Permanent teachers in these classrooms served as teaching critics and helped the Normal School students learn to teach.  Tuition into the Normal Department of the school was free if the pledge was signed.  Without the pledge, tuition was $60 per year.  Graduates of the school received a diploma which gave them a license to teach in New York State.

The Collegiate Department was organized to allow Normal School students to pursue an extended course of study and receive a typical four year degree, similar to other Colleges.  This was one of the first Normal Schools to offer such a department.  The four year program included:  the study of Language, English, Mathematics, History, Philosophy, Elocution, Drawing, and Composition.

The Scientific Department was established to prepare students for employment as a practical Chemist, Engineer, Surveyor, etc.  The courses were taken over three years and consisted of:  higher Mathematics, History or Language, Practical work, Surveying, Mechanics, Field Engineering, Civil Engineering, Architecture, Drawing, and Laboratory work in Chemistry.  Tuition for the Collegiate and Scientific Departments was $60 ($1,130 in 2022 dollars) per term.

At the time, each Normal School was entitled to twice as many pupils as it had Assemblymen.  Candidates had to receive a recommendation from a County Commissioner of Schools or a City Superintendent in order to apply for admission.

The school opened with 86 students – 75 women and 11 men, and 15 faculty members.  There were 195 children taught in the School of Practice.  They were all located in the three-story building at Jersey and 13th Streets.  There was some talk about creating a boarding hall as part of the Normal School, however I don’t believe it was ever built.  Students who required boarding typically found it with private families near the school.  The first school year was divided into two terms of 20 weeks each – one starting September 13th and the second beginning February 14th.

1894

1894 Map of the State Normal School. The Science Annex can be seen behind the school. The other building on the site was the Principal’s Residence, located at 110 14th Street. York Street is at the top of this image, Jersey at the bottom, with Porter running diagonally across the bottom left.

In 1888, the Buffalo Normal School was renamed the State Normal and Training School.   Because of growing enrollment, a science building was added behind the school and connected via a 2nd floor bridge.

In the early 1890s, residents of the street wanted the name changed.  A petition was distributed and signed by the majority of the taxpayers on the street.  There were originally many street named after numbers in this area.  Thirteenth was one of the streets in the area that hadn’t yet been changed:  Six Street had become Front Avenue,  Ninth Street had become Prospect Avenue, Tenth Street had become Faro Avenue, Eleventh Street had become West Avenue and Twelfth Street became Plymouth Avenue.  The Taxpayers suggested Normal Avenue for the name, in honor of the Normal School.  At the time, some people took offense with the name, writing editorials stating that if a street was “normal” would that imply that other streets were abnormal?

On January 16, 1894, the matter of the street name was taken up by the City of Buffalo Committee on Streets.  The City Assessors had found that the petition was not signed by the majority of owners with property fronting on the street and therefore the name was not able to be changed.  By February, 6 1894, the Board of Public Works was again looking at changing the street name.  The name was officially changed in August 1894.  The residents reportedly were happy to feel that they no longer lived on unlucky 13th street!

1915

1915 Map showing the Buffalo State Normal School. This building is still standing today. Again, York Street is at the top of this map, with Jersey Street on the bottom and Porter Avenue running diagonally across the lower left. Note the small building along the York Street side of the site, this was the same Principal’s Residence shown on the earlier map. The house was moved during the construction of the 1914 structure. The residence was demolished when the school was expanded in the 1950s.

By 1901, the school enrolled 828 students.  As the school continued to grow, they began making plans to build an expanded school.  In 1914, the school moved into the larger facility that is there today.   The building was designed to be similar in style to Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

New Normal complete

1914 Buffalo State Normal School. The original 1871 Building had been in front of this building, where the lawn is now.  Source: Buffalo State College

When the 1914 building was constructed, it was anticipated it would meet the school’s needs until the 1960s.  The school grew more quickly than anticipated.  By 1920, the school had outgrown their Lower West Side Facility and began plans to move up to Elmwood Avenue.  They planned to move to property the State owned that was affiliated with the State Insane Asylum.  In 1928, the school became the State Teacher’s College at Buffalo.

rockwell hall

Rockwell Hall, 1300 Elmwood Avenue..

In 1931, the Elmwood Avenue campus opened, the centerpiece of the building being the Main Building at 1300 Elmwood Avenue (now Rockwell Hall).  The building contained the college’s library, cafeteria, administrative and faculty offices and an auditorium.  Rockwell Hall has a similar style reminiscent of Independence Hall and the original 1914 State Normal School.  The State architects must have liked the Federal Style!  Today, Rockwell Hall is still one of the most prominent buildings on the campus, home to classrooms, computer labs, dance studios, and performance spaces.

In 1945, the school became the New York State College for Teachers at Buffalo.  In 1950, they became SUNY, New York State College for Teachers and in 1951 the State University College for Teachers at Buffalo.  In 1960, they became the State University College of Education at Buffalo.  In 1961, they became State University College at Buffalo, known colloquially as Buff State.  A lot of names for a school that’s only had two locations!

In 1951, the Main Building was renamed Rockwell Hall in honor of Harry Westcott Rockwell, principal of the Buffalo State Normal School beginning in 1919.  He served as the first President of the New York State College for Teachers at Buffalo in 1926.  Rockwell helped guide the school through their move from the Lower West Side to Elmwood Avenue and worked to get the college State approval as a teacher’s college, becoming the first state-operated college to offer a Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education. Under Mr. Rockwell’s guidance, the school grew from 275 students on a 3.5 acre campus to 2,022 students on a 55 acre campus.  Rockwell retired in 1951 after issuing 10,000 diplomas and awarding more than 5,000 degrees over 32 years at the college.

GroverClevelandHSBuffaloNY

The 1914 Normal School Building. The original 1871 building was on the lawn in front of the school.

After the Normal School moved uptown, the building on Normal Avenue became Grover Cleveland High School in 1931.  The school was named after Grover Cleveland, who had served on the Board of Managers of the Normal School when it first opened in 1871!  The school was renovated in 1959 when an addition was built on the north end for additional classrooms, a swimming pool and a gymnasium.  In 2011, the final class of Grover Cleveland High School graduated.  The building was renovated from 2011 to 2013, when it was reopened as the International Preparatory School at Grover Cleveland High School.  In 2017, Architectural Digest named the school the Most Beautiful Public High School in New York State.

The next time you drive down Normal Ave or pass by Buff State, think of the State Normal School and quest for education of teachers here in Buffalo…and all of the teachers that have influenced students of Buffalo over the years.  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:

  • “Wanted – A Name.”  Buffalo Evening News.  July 13, 1891, p5.
  • Buffalo Courier.  July 14, 1891, p4.
  • Minutes.  Corporation Proceedings, Board of Alderman, Buffalo.  Monday January 15, 1894.
  • “The Name Will Remain.”  Buffalo Enquirer.  January 16, 1894, p2.
  • “All Around Town.”  Buffalo Courier.  August 15, 1894, p5.
  • Lee, Richard J.  “The Campus School at SUNY Buffalo State, 1871 -1991”.  A Selection of Works on the History of Buffalo State College. Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State.  https://digitalcommons.buffalostate.edu/buffstate-history/5
  • Buffalo State College – Our History.  https://suny.buffalostate.edu/history
  • “Normal School.”  Buffalo Daily Gazette June 8, 1844, p1.
  • “Normal Schools – A Proposition for Buffalo”.  Buffalo Morning Express.  January 7, 1867, p4.
  • “A Normal School in Buffalo.”  Buffalo Courier.  April 26, 1867, p8.
  • “The Normal School Question Decided.”  Buffalo Commercial.  June 27, 1867, p3.
  • “The Normal School”.  Buffalo Courier.  July 9, 1867, p8.
  • “The Church Foundation and the Normal School”.  Buffalo Commercial.  April 21, 1868, p1.
  • “The State Normal School and College”.  Buffalo Courier.  July 26, 1871, p2.
  • Waldek, Stefanie.  “The Most Beautiful Public High School in Every State In America”.  Architectural Digest.  September 12, 2017.
  • The President Harry W. Rockwell Digital Collection.  Digital Commons at Buffalo State. https://digitalcommons.buffalostate.edu/rockwell_buffalostate/  (online January 2022)
  • “Notice”.  Buffalo Weekly Express. October 25, 1864, p4.
  • “Proposed Change in the Location of the Normal School”.  Buffalo Express.  April 2, 1868, p2.
  • Smith, Henry Perry.  History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County.  D. Mason & Company, 1884.

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