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Posts Tagged ‘Emerson Vocational School’

emerson placeEmerson Place is a small one-block street that runs between Michigan Avenue and Masten Avenue in the Masten Park neighborhood on the East Side.  The Street is named for Henry P. Emerson, superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools.  The Emerson neighborhood and Emerson School of Hospitality are also named after Henry Emerson.  In Addition to the Emerson School on Chippewa, the Buffalo schools are about to start classes in a new location on West Huron, where the former CW Miller Livery was converted into classroom space and a new gymnasium was built on a parking lot.  The new school will be The Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management, formerly known as Emerson Annex.  The school expansion project was one of Mark Croce’s projects.  Mark passed away earlier this month.  He was a friend of this blog and I always enjoyed talking with him about the history of his buildings.  Since there’s no Croce Street, I write this post in memory of Mark, as well as in celebration of the new space for the students!

emerson

Henry Pendexter Emerson was born in Lynn Field, Massachusetts in 1847. He was the son of Oliver and Eliza (Weston) Emerson and is a relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He attended Phillips Andover Academy. in Massachusetts. He received his A.B. Degree in 1871 and A.M. in 1874. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation, he started teaching Greek and Latin at Potsdam Normal School.

Mr. Emerson came to Buffalo in 1874 to teach at Old Central (located on Niagara Square). After nine years, he became principal of the school. While he was principal, he obtained $60,000 in appropriations to enlarge the school. This was a very large appropriation at the time.

At the time, the superintendent of schools was a political office. Dr. Emerson ran for it in 1892 on the Republican ticket. He was elected for six successive four-year terms. After the office ceased to be an elected office, he was appointed to continue as superintendent by Mayor Louis Fuhrman. In 1919, Dr. Emerson retired.

Dr. Emerson married Mary Estey of Middleton, Massachusetts in 1874. They lived on Allen Street at the site of what is now the Allendale Theatre (Theatre of Youth) and later at 122 College Street in Buffalo.  The family returned to Middleton every summer and kept a home there on a lake. After retirement, they moved to Middleton full time. They returned to Buffalo every winter for more than a decade to reunite with his fellow teachers and friends.

While Dr. Emerson was superintendent, he was considered an education reformer. He often said, “Better schools make a Better Buffalo”.  Buffalo’s rapid growth had caused school problems at the time.  The population had more than doubled between 1870 and 1900 (from 117,714 to 255,000 people).  Schools were crowded and the quickest growing immigrant populations lived in areas where there were often no schools.  In 1900, almost 3/4ths of the school population was foreign-born or the children of foreign-born.  City services – such as garbage pickup, water supply, sewer, trolley service, etc had difficulty keeping up with the growth, and schools were no exception.  Classrooms at the time could be jammed with as many as 100 students assigned to a single teacher.  The schools were poorly ventilated and poorly lit, with inadequate seating.  Students learned by rote, reciting text together, and passed each grade with a written test, if they passed at all.  In 1890, 76% of children were in 1st and 2nd grade.  There was no school board, school policy was set by the City Council.  As superintendent, Dr. Emerson appointed and supervised the 700 teachers.  Many of the teachers at the time were poorly educated young women from politically connected families.  An October 1892 article in Forum, described the school system of Buffalo as an example of how not to run a public school system.

Dr. Emerson introduced free textbooks for public schools, the first local kindergartens and the first evening classes. He also introduced the first courses in home economics and industrial arts, from which Buffalo’s vocational schools developed. While he was superintendent, four public high schools were built – Lafayette, Masten, South Park and Technical. The Masten High School building is now City Honors. Technical High School was located at Cedar Street and Clinton Avenue (now school administration offices and storage). Technical High School merged with Hutchinson and Central High Schools and is now Hutchinson Central Technical High School (typically called Hutch Tech these days). Lafayette High School and South Park High School are also both still in operation, though Lafayette is now Lafayette International High School.

Dr. Emerson provided free medical and dental exams for students, as well as special classes for the physically and mentally handicapped.  He also introduced non-academic subjects such as music and art.  Dr. Emerson also founded the first local teacher training school. He published two books while he was here – a Latin textbook, “Latin in High Schools” in 1891 and an English grammar textbook “A Course in English For Schools” in 1905. The books were widely used in schools across the country for many years.

Dr. Emerson was president of three educators’ organizations – the Council of School Superintendents of New York State, the State Teachers’ Association, and the National Education Association. He was loyal to his students and encouraged them to finish high school and if possible, college. At the time, it was typical for many students to go into the world of work after they completed 5th or 8th grade, as opposed to completing high school.  For many, it was more important for the students to earn money to help the families than to go on to higher education.  In 1915, the number of students who reached 9th grade was five times more than in the 1890s.  Class sizes were smaller and teachers had better training.

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The Former Emerson Vocational School on Sycamore Street (now Harvey Austin School)

In addition to the street, Emerson Vocational High School is named after Dr. Emerson. The school had originally opened as Peckham Boys Vocational School in 1911, at the corner of Peckham and Townsend Streets. Peckham Vocational School was the first vocational school in Buffalo to have its own facilities. The school focused on upholstery, tailoring, cabinetmaking, machine shop, welding, drafting, painting, baking and culinary arts. The school was located at the corner of Sycamore Street and Koons Avenue from 1926 to 2002. It was named in Dr. Emerson’s honor in 1937. Emerson school became co-ed in 1975. In 2002, Emerson school moved to Chippewa Street and became Emerson School of Hospitality. The school at Sycamore and Koons was remodeled and became Harvey Austin Elementary School.  Emerson School operates Emerson Commons, also on Chippewa, a cafeteria-style restaurant operated by students.

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The former CW Miller Livery before renovations into classroom space for Emerson School (Source:  Buffalo Business First)

In addition to the Emerson School of Hospitality on Chippewa, Buffalo’s schools will be expanding its footprint very soon.  The Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management will be in the renovated former CW Miller Livery on Huron.  Construction of an adjacent gymnasium building is being completed in what was a parking lot.  Students are expected to move in next week (January 2020).  The CW Miller Livery has had a fascinating history of its own – it was built as a “palace for horses” and was considered to be one of the finest stables in the United States.  It uses a unique construction as the floors were suspended from steel trusses at the top of the building.  It provided stalls for approximately 250 horses when it was built.  C.W. Miller was a businessman who had made his fortune providing horse transportation to Buffalonians.  After WWI, the livery was converted to a parking garage for cars.  The building was vacant for several decades before being renovated into the expansion of the school by a development team and the Buffalo Public Schools.

Dr. Emerson also donated Emerson Lodge to Camp Rotary, a camp near his home in Massachusetts that allowed poor boys an opportunity to enjoy outdoor life.  While Camp Rotary still exists, I was unable to determine if the lodge is still standing.

While at college, Henry met Frank Fosdick, who became a lifelong friend. They promised to name their children after each other. Frank Fosdick served as principal of Masten High School from 1914 until 1926. Masten High School was renamed Fosdick-Masten High School in Frank Fosdick’s honor in 1927.  Dr. Emerson had no children himself, but Mr. Fosdick kept his promise and named his first son Henry Emerson Fosdick.  Henry Emerson Fosdick was a prominent pastor, serving at First Presbyterian Church in the West Village, Manhattan and the historic, inter-denominational Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, Manhattan.  He was featured in a Time Magazine cover store on October 6, 1930.

Dr. Emerson died in 1930. He is buried in Oakdale Cemetery in Middleton, Massachusetts.

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Emerson Row Houses

Emerson Place is also known for its rowhouses.  It’s one of the only remaining sets of rowhouses left in Buffalo (it was never a common housing style here).  The rowhouses on Emerson were built in 1893 by Benjamine B. Rice.  Benjamin Rice was a real estate developer who developed several streets in the Masten Park neighborhood.  The Emerson rowhouses consist of two seven-unit row houses.  They became a City of Buffalo Local Landmark in 1981 and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So the next time you grab lunch at Emerson Commons or are driving through Masten Park, think of Dr. Emerson and his attempts to reform our schools.

To learn about more streets, check out the Street Index.   Be sure to subscribe to the blog so that new posts are sent directly to you – you can do so on the right hand side of the home page.  You can also like my blog page on facebook at facebook.com/buffalostreets.

Sources:

  1.  Smith, Katherine H.  “Emerson Place Memorial to Long-Time School Head”.  Buffalo Courier Express.  November 16, 1941, sec6 p3.
  2. “Emerson High School Students Take Part in Funeral Services”.  Buffalo Courier Express.  April 23, 1937. p12.
  3. Motter, HL, editor.  International Who’s Who:  Who’s Who in the World:  A biographical dictionary of the world’s notable living men and women.  William G. Hewitt Press, Brooklyn NY, 1912.
  4. Seller, Maxine.   “The Education of Immigrant Children in Buffalo”,  April 1976.  Found in Institutional Life:  Family, Schools, Race and Religion. Shumsky, Neil Larry, editor.  .  Garland Publishing, Inc, New York.  1996.
  5. LaChiusa, Chuck.  “C.W. Miller Livery Stable”  Buffalo as an Architectural Museum.  https://buffaloah.com/a/whur/75/75.html (online January 2020)
  6. Buffalo City Directories
  7. Emerson Place Row.  Building Structure Inventory Form.  Accessed from NYS Office of Parks and Recreation via cris.parks.ny.gob (online January 2020)

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Sanborn Map depicting Polonia Park in 1925

While researching Curtiss Street, I noticed that there was Polonia Park marked on some of the maps.  I have a great interest in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood and the area around the Central Terminal in particular, and I had never heard of this before.  I got sidetracked from my street researching and ended up finding out some interesting stuff which I would like to share with you all.  I know it’s not a street history, but hopefully you all will enjoy these tidbits of information as much as I do.

Polonia Park was located on Curtiss Street prior to the Central Terminal’s construction.  The park was purchased by the City in 1913 at the same time as the land for Schiller Park, Willert Park, an extension to Riverside Park and an addition to Lanigan Park.

In June 1916, the Buffalo Live Wire (a publication published monthly by the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce) posted that “A well-prepared city plan is indispensable to the intelligent acquisition of park properties, and if we enjoyed the guidance of a city plan in our recent campaign for additional parks, we would not now be wondering why we purchased, at a cost of $60,000, Polonia Park, consisting of lands useful for neither park nor playground.”

The article did not elaborate on this, but my guess is that because the land had been part of the railroad corridor, it was ill-suited for parkland.  Railroads use a great deal of pesticides to keep foliage from blocking the tracks, as can be seen when abandoned railroad corridors are still free from most grasses and shrubs long after the trains stopped coming through.  The West Shore Railroad, which connected Buffalo to New York City formerly cut through this park, following approximately the path which Memorial Drive follows today.

Despite the reports that the land was not useful as a park, the park was used during the early 1920s, as there are reports in the newspapers of baseball scores for games played in Polonia Park.

August 24, 1924
Buffalo Morning Express

By March of 1925, the property was owned by the Buffalo Board of Education as the intended site of the Peckham Vocational School.   Peckham Vocational was located at the corner of Peckham and Townsend, however they originally started out in the Adam Mickiewicz Library on Fillmore while the original school was being constructed.   As this ad from the Buffalo Morning Express, August 29, 1922 shows, there were four vocational schools in Buffalo at the time.  This was the time when many students would go out in the world to work after they completed 8th grade.  Vocational schools were a way to continue your education, while also learning a useful trade.

Ad for Vocational Schools
Buffalo Morning Express, August 29, 1922

Peckham Students

Peckham Vocational was a source of pride for Buffalo’s polish community.  The residents of Polonia were concerned that the high schools located in Buffalo were overlooking their community, so the residents rallied successfully to open a school in their neighborhood.  Peckham Vocational opened in 1911.  Board of Education had plans to build a new school and was about to let the contract to build when the railroad approached them to purchase the property to build what at the time was being called the “Fillmore Station”.   In exchange for the Polonia Park property, the Board fo Education received the property at the corner of Sycamore Street and Koons Avenue.  Peckham Vocational School was renamed Emerson Vocational School in 1937, after the school’s superintendent.  The school operated at its Sycamore Street address for 62 years until 1999.  Since then, the building has been remodeled and renamed Harvey Austin Public School 97, and operates as an elementary school.

After I posted my post on Curtiss Street, Marty from Forgotten Buffalowas kind enough to share these pictures of another planned park in Polonia.  It was clear that the people who lived in this neighborhood wanted a park, since they used the land that the chamber of commerce called unsuitable for a park as a park, and then plans were development for this park around 1938.  For reference, this map north is towards the bottom.  This land is currently the residential neighborhood between the Central Terminal and Broadway.

New Park Design For Park North of Central Terminal

Sadly, this park was never built.  While the residents of Polonia had successfully rallied to get a school built in their neighborhood in 1911, it seems that they were unable to rally enough support to build a neighborhood park.  Perhaps because it would have involved tearing down houses?

Recent efforts have occurred at the Central Terminal to build an urban habitat in the vicinity of the former Polonia Park.  The Urban Habitat Restoration project is working to reclaim the land which was used as a parking lot during the height of the Central Terminal’s use as a train station.  This project is working to restore some of the landscape, using native plants and green sustainable methods.   For more on this project, check out the Central Terminal Website here.

Over the course of  the past 100 years, this piece of property has transformed from railroad corridor, to park, planned use as school, to use as a parking lot, and now is being restored back to natural landscape.  Not too shabby of a history for our little piece of land that was once known as Polonia Park.

 

Learn about the history of other streets in Buffalo by checking out the Street Index.

 

Sources:

  1. “Buffalo’s Towering Temple of Transportation”, Greg Jandura.  accessed online, July 25, 2012:  http://www.trainweb.org/wnyrhs/nyctermpt1.htm
  2. “Council Wants Action on New School Tract”  Buffalo Morning Express March 21, 1925, pg 11
  3. Buffalo Live Wire, Vol. VII, No. 6,  June 1916, published by the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce.
  4. “Again Central Secures Delay” Buffalo Express Dec 14, 1905
  5. http://www.buffaloschools.org/m/content.cfm?subpage=39590
  6. Bucki, Carl,  “Polish Vocational School Was The Source Of Community Pride”.  Am-Pol Eagle.  Access online: http://ampoleagle.com/polish-vocational-school-was-br-the-source-of-community-pride-p5222-147.htm
  7. Plans for park designed by Joseph Fronczak provided by Marty Biniasz.

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