Saturday, February 23, 2013



The debate over the form Buffalo's new 1829 high school should take had been intense. In 1943 Buffalo reporter Walter McCausland would write, "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." McCausland will be our primary source for what follows.

In the end it was the proponents of military-style school that won out. They were headed by community leaders like state senator Samuel Wilkeson, who had been instrumental in building the city's harbor and bringing the Erie Canal to the city - who we last met in 1825, pouring Atlantic Ocean water into Lake Erie. There was former bookstore manager Roswell Willson Haskins, a Massachusetts transplant, now editor of the Buffalo Journal, Wilkeson's fellow promoter of Buffalo's waterfront and canal terminus. State assemblyman David Burt was on board as well. While seeking an administrator with a military background, they soon encountered Captain Alden Partridge, poster boy for military training in the schools - we can count him one of the godfathers of the ROTC.

Partridge, a military engineer, had been superintendent of West Point during the War of 1812, where he had written papers such as "Observations Relative to the Calculation of the Altitude of Mountains, etc, by the Use of the Barometer" and "Method of Determining the Initial Velocity of Projectiles". Having concluded that a practical education should contain military drill and discipline, down into the secondary and even the elementary level, he left the Point to preach the gospel. Despite the fact that he was almost universally praised (note the 'almost') for his theories all throughout his long life, he must have had an enemy or two. According to historian John Niven, writing in 1973, "He was fired as superintendent of West Point, for overbearing, and at the same time sloppy, administration and running the school as a "sort of aid society for hungry Partridges and impecunious friends."

If this is so, once away from the Point, he seems to have redeemed himself. Ten years ago, in 1819, he had settled in Norwich, Vermont, where he founded the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy (in 1834 it became Norwich University and a hundred and forty years after that would be the first military academy to admit women). Not only were standard scientific and liberal arts courses taught but Partridge added modern languages and agricultural studies. On the military side, Partridge would borrow muskets and artillery from the federal and Vermont governments and lead his 'troops' in field exercises. The youth (male, of course) of the 
U. S. would not be caught unprepared for war another time.

Now, in July 1829, the high school that Alden Partridge had masterminded is opening and nine-year-old Joshua Lovejoy and his 54 classmates march up Buffalo's Main Street to the new school, where dedication ceremonies will take place under the proud and watchful eyes of Alden Partridge and the school's new principal, Captain James McKay, Partridge's son-in-law. At least the latter wasn't quite a hungry Partridge.

© 2005 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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