Schools of Dunkirk

This is an overview of the development of the Dunkirk Public School System.*

The first actual school in the village was located in a house on the north side of West Third Street close to Center Street ( Central Avenue). One source refers to Mary Ann Drake being the first teacher for the village, but there are no records of exact dates of her service.

1827-1857 – The “Brick” School was built by Walter Smith. It was located on East Third Street near Center (Central Ave) and consisted of two floors and a cupola with a bell. In “New York State History and Antiquities,” by Barber and Howe and published in 1842, there is a woodcut engraving of the Dunkirk harbor an village showing the then three main buildings–the Loder House (corner of Central and West Third), and the Presbyterian Church and school house on East Third. The grade school occupied the ground floor. According to a contemporary account the usual system of teaching was “monitorial” whereby the teacher instructed the older and brighter children by rote and those few in turn instructed the younger children “The Buckwheat System of Notation” was followed in teaching singing. It closed in 1857.

The early school system was the “Free School of Dunkirk,” with no school tax but rather a “rate bill,” an assessment made of each family depending on number of children attending the school.

1835 – Until this year, any Dunkirk students wishing a secondary level education would have to attend the Fredonia Academy (that opened in 1826 and until the start of the Dunkirk Academy the only institution of higher learning in the county). There had been certain “select schools” in existence the village students might attend beyond elementary level (one occupied the present site of the Wright apartments on Central Avenue but was for boys only). The Dunkirk Academy came to be due to the efforts of certain prominent Dunkirk citizens, including Dr. Ezra Williams, Ernest Mullett, James Van Buren, George A. French, David MacDonald, Horace Pemberton, William Mellen, Walter Chester, and Charles Williams. Ezra Williams, French, and Stillman were elected trustees and they worked to achieve an Act of Incorporation, granted on May 1st, 1835, from the State Legislature. Mr. Albert Clarke was the principal, the year was divided into three terms (two of 15 weeks and the third of 16 weeks), and tuition cost $5.00 per student “For classical studies and the French language.” Classes were held on the second floor of the East Third Street school house.

1857 – Number 1 School was built on East Fourth Street and referred to as the Union Free School. It held the first kindergarten in the city. It closed in 1966.

1866 – Number 2 School was built at 113 Deer Street. It closed in 1939 and the building was sold to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

1869 – Number 3 School was built on Maple Avenue at a cost of $7586, and its replacement was built on East Seventh Street in 1950 at a cost of $550,000.

1869 – Number 4 School was built at 752 Center Street ( Central Avenue). A one story building, it burned in 1883 and was replaced by a two story building. In 1891 the pupils of School Number 9 came to School 4 and School 9 was closed. In 1953 a new building hosting School 4 and costing $550,000 was built.

1869 – Number 5 School was built on Second Street between Mullett and Trout 9now Temple) Streets. In 1953 a new building was built on Brigham Road costing $550,000.

1872 – Number 6 School rented a building on Fifth and Elk Streets (now Park Ave.). In 1915 a three story building costing $50,000 was built to house School 6.

1875 – Number 7 School was built on Roberts Road, and in 1921 a new Number 7 School was built on Lake Shore Drive East to replace the old building.

1975 – Number 8 School started on West Lake Road. It closed in 1939.

1875 – Number 9 School was built on Center Street (Central Avenue) near the city line. It ceased functioning in 1891.

1879 – Number 10 School, a two story brick building, was built at 9-11 East Lake Road. In 1966 the Industrial Education program moved to the newly built high school. The old No. 10/Industrial High School was renovated to hold the school garage and board of education offices.

1881 – The Academy, Dunkirk’s first public secondary school building, was built on Eagle Street at a cost of $7,000. The entire block was called Academy Square.** The new principal of the school was 29-year old John W. Babcock, who would become school district superintendent the following year.

1896 – Due to a rapid increase in population and new demands for space in the “old” secondary school, a “newer” Academy was built on the Eagle Street site and attached to it. The “addition,” which cost $62, 219, was actually larger than the original Academy building, and was able to be built as an “addition” due to a state law empowering school boards to build additions to existing buildings when “necessary” and without approval from district voters. This “trickery” on the part of the board occurred after district voters voted down the building of a new Academy building.

1908 – A Junior High School was added at the back of the Academy on Swan Street.

1926 – A new building was added on Fifth Street, which became eventually the present Middle School.

1966 – A new Dunkirk High School was built on Sixth Street. The old “Academy” buildings were torn down. The 1926 building became the Middle School.

*Certain information for this page came from Out of the Wilderness, by Rev. Leslie F. Chard

** Of some interest is the fact that until 1872 the property on Eagle Street that had come to be known as Academy Square had been the site of an early burial ground. Bodies were buried at the site since 1824, including 40 Swiss immigrants who died from the explosion and sinking of the steam ship “Erie” in 1841. When it was decided to use the land as the site for the new secondary school, the bodies were removed and reburied at the old Dunkirk Cemetery (located at the western end of St. Mary’s Cemetery on Bennett Rd./Rt. 60.)

The  Dunkirk Academy soon after construction in 1881(left); on the right is the Academy after its “addition” in 1897.
School #10 at left; the new junior high school at right (1926), with the old red brick Dunkirk high School building visible at its left.