Saturday, March 23, 2013



13 July, 1829. Approximately 1600 hours. Buffalo's new school building sits ready for it's first class of 55 young men, even now marching up Main Street, accompanied by the Buffalo Band,  officials, administrators and close to a thousand spectators, including proud families. It's not likely their formation was even close to West Point standards, but that would come in time.

The procession crosses Goodell Street arriving at the new academy building where a half-flight of stairs leads up to the first floor entry. As the parade enters the three-story brick building with its cupola and bell, some turn their heads to glimpse the sunlit river slightly over a mile off to their left. They enter and climb to the third floor in the July heat, filing into the lecture room. Once inside seats are taken and the opening ceremonies begin. In addition to the 500 or so fitted inside, an equal number gather outside. The edge is taken off the stifling air only by the feeble eddies stirred up by ladies' fans and whatever air moves in through open windows.

If 1943 reporter Walter McCausland was able to find the texts of the various speeches delivered on that day in 1829, he doesn't mention it. I'll spare you, as well. The assemblage was not as lucky - but entertainment wasn't easily come by anyway, so perhaps they didn't mind too much. The inaugural class probably didn't sleep too much that night. Tomorrow was another big day; classes began. Thoughts would not only be on the subjects older brothers had told them about, but on promised classes in "topography, construction of maps, navigation, fencing, ethicks, natural theology, evidences of Christianity, and metaphysicks." Parents most likely did not sleep much that night, either. Such a full educational menu came, as usual, at a price. The cost for a full 46-week academic year was $200, around $1,200 in our own time. (The average canal laborer made about 30¢ day). This did include classes and board, as well as washing and mending. Clothing and medical expenses were extra, as were fees for French, Spanish and Fencing. Five dollars was charged annually for fuel and the use of a bed; you could knock off a couple of bucks by not taking advantage of a bed. And, you were assured a small discount if you and your family were of the "lower classes".

The school apparently started off with a partial term (presumably with a price discount), but by late autumn the typical annual pattern emerged. Classes began in November. Christmas break isn't mentioned, perhaps they just had the day off; a week of exams were held in May, then it was back to the books (and fencing foils) until September exams. Six weeks off and then the cycle began all over again. McCausland tells us, "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. 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!"

The spectacle, however, was to last less than two decades. The academy would eventually become too expensive to run and sometime around 1846 the building would be taken over by the Sisters of Mercy and converted into a hospital.
© 2005  David Minor/Eagles Byte

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