The High Schools of Scotia

Scotia High School, later junior high school, later seventh grade
Postcard of the Scotia High School, not even two years old when this postcard was sent in 1907.
Postcard of the Scotia High School, not even two years old when this postcard was sent in 1907.

A while back in a Facebook group, someone commented on the old postcard of the original Scotia High School on First Street, just about across from where Center Street comes in, which anyone of a certain vintage knows was later the junior high school, and, for an even certainer vintage, the seventh grade building.

But then someone stared hard at the picture of the high school, and a later picture of the seventh grade building – and said, “those don’t look the same.” That led to speculation that the old high school, which opened in 1905, was torn down, and then replaced by a new building in 1928, about when the high school moved to a new building on Sacandaga Road between Second and Third (a private Christian school today). But in fact, it turns out that what my generation knew as the seventh grade building was a highly renovated form of the old high school. So, here’s the story:

Today, “middle schools” are all the rage for dealing with children between elementary school and high school. In Hoxsie’s day, there was “junior high school,” which was specifically grades 7 and 8 – and because of the extreme overcrowding of the Scotia schools at their peak years, grades 7 and 8 were in separate buildings – both of which were formerly the high school. But there was a time when junior high wasn’t a thing.

(Well, for that matter, there was a time when high school wasn’t a thing. Scotia, like a lot of the suburban areas, didn’t have a high school until 1905. Albany had a high school in 1873, and Schenectady’s Union Classical Institute could be said to be a high school at about the same time.)

“The junior high school system was introduced into the Scotia schools two years ago [1918] and has proved very successful.” But that system didn’t involve separate buildings. A 1922 Gazette article reports that “The graduation exercises of the Mohawk junior high school of Scotia will be held Saturday night [Jan. 21, 1922] in the Scotia high school auditorium. A class of 25 pupils will receive their diplomas at this time. This class is one of the largest January classes in the history of the school.” It should be noted that the Mohawk School in question was the one on Mohawk Avenue, later the Colonial Ice Cream factory, still later the parking lot for the Scotia Baptist Church.

A report from the Schenectady City School District in 1964 explains the goals of the junior high system:

“The purpose of the Junior High system was twofold: 1. To postpone for a year, the natural point of cleavage between the grades and the high school which was so tempting to potential drop-outs; and 2. To offer instruction better suited to this eager, highly suggestive, quickly developing, but uncertain, age group. The new grade divisions seemed to offer a more natural split between the preadolescent and the adolescent years. The enriched curriculum with teachers who specialized in particular subjects seemed to offer a more flexible introduction to career possibilities. By uncovering individual potential and by offering a greater selection of courses related to college, trade or vocation, the junior high school attempted to relate each child’s schooling more directly to his needs for the future.”

Hence the additional sentence in the Gazette article on the Scotia junior high graduation: “It is expected that the registration of the high school department will be greatly increased with the coming admission.” There was at the time no particular certainty that anyone would move on from elementary or junior high to high school.

Along about this time, the Glenville school district was looking ahead to a time when a new high school might be needed, and in May 1922 voted on sites for a new building. “At a meeting in December [1921] the new school proposition was discussed and it was found that the taxpayers of the village did not feel inclined toward the building of a new high school, but that they were in favor of securing a site now when one is obtainable rather than waiting until a later date when it would be necessary to buy buildings to be torn down and replaced by a high school. The three sites are as follows: On Mohawk avenue opposite Hawk street, fronting on Glen avenue; another on Sacandaga road between Second and Third streets, and a third on Lark street between Jay and Swan streets.” In the end, the Sacandaga Road location was chosen.

The construction of a new high school wasn’t that far off, however – the schools were becoming overcrowded to the point that some grades were being held only part time. In 1923, there were 5200 residents in the school district, and 25 per cent of those were school pupils. “Scotia without a doubt leads villages and cities throughout the state with the largest percentage of pupils in the schools,” wrote the Gazette. Mohawk School had 594 students, Lincoln 324, and 310 were in the high school, while registrations were mushrooming. “The schools are at the present time greatly congested and it has necessitated the placing of a number of grades on a part time schedule. The three lower grades in both the Mohawk and Lincoln schools are on part time, and the entering class of the high school has also been placed on part time. In some of the grades the registration is so heavy that one teacher was unable to teach the grade and it has forced the school authorities to place two teachers in charge of one grade. The kindergartens in both the Mohawk and Lincoln schools are also greatly taxed.”

 In March 1923 there was a vote of the school district to authorize bonds for a new high school, at a cost of $270,000. That could be around $4 million in modern money, depending on how you like your discount rate. Not surprisingly, the board was back a few months later, with the school under construction, needing another $70,000 to complete and outfit the school. That was voted down in September, and brought back again just weeks later in November. “The outcome of tonight’s meeting is being debated, but it is understood that sentiment has been growing in the affirmative for the past few weeks, for should the bond issue fail at tonight’s meeting the new high school could not be occupied.  This announcement of the board has brought many to the point of realization that the bond issue should receive their support.”

The Gazette article reporting this noted that completing it later with another contractor would cause an increase in the total costs. “An example of this can be readily seen in the building of the Mohawk school. When the building was first considered a gymnasium for the school was talked by the board of education and others interested. The taxpayers voted the elimination of a gymnasium at that time, but at a later date when the building was completed the gymnasium proposition was again discussed. The gymnasium could have been built at a cost of about $5,000 when the plans were drawn up, but to remodel the building later it was estimated that the cost would exceed $20,000.” Interestingly, this is again the old Mohawk School they were talking about – interesting because when the new Mohawk School on Ten Broeck Street was built, it was also built without a gymnasium that had to later be added on to the building.

Scotia High School, later junior high school, later seventh grade
Scotia High School, later junior high school, later seventh grade

The bond appears to have been approved (though it was noted that the board could have just included that sum in the annual budget), and the new high school was finally completed around May 1925. A report on the test of the new school’s ventilation system made the newspaper, when the state’s director of school buildings and grounds wrote a laudatory letter. “The report of the inspector comments favorably on your school building. He says that you have one of the finest high schools in this part of the state. It contains an ample and beautiful auditorium, a fine gymnasium, a complete homemaking suite, a shop for manual training and complete laboratories, commercial rooms and a large library with reading room and supply room. The quality and completeness of the equipment, the report states, deserves special mention. I congratulate your board and the people of your district in solving your problem so well.”

So that left them with a twenty-year-old building over on First Street. As someone who spent time in both those buildings nearly fifty years later, I can say that the Sacandaga Road building was solid and still seemed modern-ish in the 1970s; there had been some recent renovations that cut the size of the auditorium and built in a new library, but the rest of the building was still in good shape. The First Street building, housing only the seventh grade, was a rickety fire trap with warped, creaking wooden floors, a big dark central hall/cloakroom on the second floor, a terrifying fire escape and no school yard whatsoever (when gym was held outdoors, we walked over to the Sacandaga Road building, which then housed the eighth grade). There was a substantial difference in building techniques in those brief twenty years.

It seems that the junior high school moved into the First Street building pretty promptly, perhaps in the fall of 1925, but the building was pretty quickly found to be inadequate to the explosion in population. In 1927 the superintendent of village schools, Basil W. Conrad, reported that the school district census had grown from 4,812 in 1923 to 6,716 in 1927, and the school age proportion of that population was increasing. There would be more than 420 high school students in 1927. “Next month every available room and seat will be taken and some one class will have to be using a room in the basement of the junior high school. Next September we will need more rooms or go on part time with some of the grades. An alternative is to place the senior and junior high schools on part time in the new building and use the junior high school building for fifth and sixth grades.”

Scotia Junior High School Building on First Street in 1928.
Scotia Junior High School Building on First Street in 1928.

That led to a proposition to enlarge and remodel the junior high school on First. It would be a substantial remodeling: “The $150,000 will repair and remodel the present building, build additions to the front and rear, and install new heating, ventilating, lighting, fire alarm and electric wiring equipment. The rear addition will be a combined gymnasium-auditorium seating 500. New toilets and showers will be installed in the basement of the present building. The addition on the front will provide eight new class rooms and a fireproof stairway to replace the dangerous one in the old building. The present third floor will be utilized for classrooms, a library and a laboratory. We will have in the basement a large room for manual training and a similar one for domestic science. When completed it will give Scotia a 22-room building with a seating capacity of 710 pupils. Four hundred and fifty seats will be added to the number we can take care of now, and should take care of our growth for the next three to five years. We will place the seventh, eighth and ninth grades together here as a junior high school under the 6-3-3- plan. There will be room for the fourth, fifth and sixth grades made up of pupils in the vicinity of Lincoln School and now attending Mohawk.”

So the reason the high school and the later junior high school looked different: they added an entire new front section on the old high school building. The work moved pretty quickly. The school closed February 27, 1928, and reopened October 29, with a dedication held Dec. 12, 1928. The addition gave them plenty of space. “In addition to the regular junior high school grades, the seventh, eighth and ninth, there will be five additional grades, the kindergarten, grade 1B, 5B, 5A and 6B. In the basement of the building are manual training shops for work in wood and metals, a general science laboratory, shower rooms and the boiler rooms. The first floor contains five class rooms, a home economics room, a gymnasium and the principal’s office. On the second floor there are seven class rooms and a teachers’ rest room, while the third floor is occupied by five class rooms, a library, a book room and a room for special ungraded class work.”

An entire page of the Gazette was dedicated to congratulating the community on the newly renovated junior high school building on Nov. 3, 1928, so if you ever wondered who supplied everything that went into the building, this advertising page provides the answers. Higgins and Gilgore, 59 Mohawk Ave., provided the hardware. The Readsboro Chair Company of Readsboro, Vermont, provided wooden folding chairs that we swear were still there nearly 50 years later. Remington Noiseless Typewriters were used exclusively, provided by Remington Rand Business Service of Barrett Street in Schenectady. Adson J. Haight Agency, 135 Mohawk, provided insurance. The concrete walks were done by H.E. Aussiker of 119 Mohawk Ave. Contractors included the John McDermott Co., James Moloney Sons, G.E. Van Vorst, P. Micco & Co., and G.F. Sauter.

Undated photo of the Scotia Seventh Grade building near the end of its life.
Undated photo of the Scotia Seventh Grade building near the end of its life.

Those school buildings did the trick for a number of years. In 1950, the Scotia-Glenville Central School District was formed, uniting the Union Free School District 2 of Scotia with nine school districts of Rectors, Hoffmans, Beukendaal, Center Glenville, Thomas Corners, Johnson Road, West Glenville, Upper Sacandaga, and Washout Road. That centralization led soon to the construction of new elementary schools: Glendaal, Glen-Worden, and the new Lincoln. (All this courtesy of a Scotia-Glenville Journal article from Nov. 20, 1969.) They also acquired a site on Sacandaga Road, outside the village, for construction of a new high school. An authorization went before voters in June 1953 for a new high school and, separately, a swimming pool, which failed to meet the two-thirds approval needed (because of a level of debt exceeding 10 percent of assessed value of the district). It was revoted a month later, and failed again. Mohawk School was reconstructed (this was when the gymnasium was added and the classrooms heavily renovated); in 1953-54 its pupils went to the old Lincoln School and Thomas Corners until Easter time of 1954. In April 1954, there was another vote on a high school, and it failed yet again. Then State law changed so that the debt limit was against the true value, rather than the assessed value, of properties in the district, tripling the debt limit and requiring only a majority vote for approval. Oddly, but with precedent from other districts, the Board decided to then proceed based on there having been majority support in the July 1953 vote. That led to court action at the end of 1954 that delayed construction all through 1955, until a favorable court ruling finally let the school construction proceed. However, in that time, construction costs were rapidly rising, causing the district to have to before voters for an additional appropriation at the end of 1956. Grades 9 through 12 moved into the new building for the 1958-59 school year. The building would be expanded just a few years later, in 1963. Also in 1958-59, the seventh grade, with 279 students, took the old high school on First Street to itself, and the eighth grade, with 264, took the old new high school. (It should be noted that the grounds of the high school fields weren’t entirely vacant when it was built; there were homes there that were purchased and demolished over some period of time). So it remained until the early 1970s, when plans for a new junior high school building near the high school were brought up. That building, on Prestige Parkway (but really, at the end of Wren Street, if you were a walker), opened as an 8-9 building in the 1974-75 school year. The seventh grade moved into the previous eighth grade building and it wasn’t long before the old old high school was sold off and demolished to make parking for St. Joseph’s church. In another couple of years, the 9th grade was moved into the high school building, 7th joined 8th in the new junior high building, and the old new high school, which last housed the seventh grade, was eventually sold for use as a private Christian school.

Following our original posting, we found these two photographs of the demolition of the old high school / seventh grade building, published in the Scotia-Glenville Journal on Jan. 28, 1976:

Comments

  1. Molly of Molly's Canopy

    Greetings! Pleased to find your blog. I spent my early childhood in Altamont, N.Y., so I’m interested in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area and its history. I’ve bookmarked your blog and hope to stop back. If you have time, please stop by my blog where I did a series on my Altamont childhood in 2017. Happy blogging!

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  2. Henry Mueller

    Taught in both the First Street and Sacandaga Road buildings (7th and 8th grade) 1968-1974. I remember the slate blackboards and wooden chalk trays in my classroom on First Street. When the Girls Room flooded on the third floor, the water flowed over the blackboards and filled the trays in my classroom on the second floor (I would teach about the Erie Canal whenever that happened). Thanks for the photos and some fond memories; I hope some of my former students had a chance to see the article as well.

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      Carl Johnson

      I definitely remember you, Mr. Mueller. I shared this to a couple of groups on Facebook and definitely got some responses from other Scotians, your students likely among them!

    2. Sharon Bowers Cernik

      I remember your classes, and think of you frequently. Loved that old building! Tried to post more, but was too wordy, so it deleted my attempted comments.

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