Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dedication of Pelham's New High School in 1911, Now Known as Siwanoy Elementary School

Not long after the turn of the Twentieth Century, the population of the Town of Pelham began to explode.  In 1900, the population of the Town was 1,571.  In 1905, the population had reached 1,841.  By 1910, the population had grown to 2,998 -- nearly doubling over a ten-year period.  With the expanded population came expanded needs for young scholars in the Town.

Pelham, however, did not have its own high school.  The Pelham public school system offered only eight grades of study.  It sent its young scholars who wished to continue their education to the high schools of other communities such as Mount Vernon and New Rochelle.  The time was ripe.  The need was great.  The citizens of Pelham and their Board of Education stepped up and created the "Pelham High School, and Siwanoy Grammar School."  The school building they built we know today as Siwanoy Elementary School located at 489 Siwanoy Place in the Village of Pelham Manor.  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog sets forth a brief history of the efforts to develop, design and open the new high school.  I have included as "research notes" at the end of this posting transcriptions of various articles used as sources in preparing this posting.  

Undated Post Card View of Pelham High School
with Notation:  "Pelham High School, Pelham, N.Y."

As the population of the Town of Pelham burgeoned in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, the Board of Education realized that an additional public school facility capable of housing high school classes was needed.  On August 11, 1908, the Board of Education passed a resolution calling for a November 13 vote by taxpayers on a proposition to purchase one of three possible sites and to issue bonds to pay for the land and erection of a high school building.

Pelham taxpayers approved the proposition and authorized their Board of Education to purchase the site on which the school no stands and to issue $70,000.00 in bonds ($20,000.00 to pay for the land and $50,000.00 for the building).  The Board promptly acquired the land and began working toward construction of the building overseen principally by Board member James F. Secor who served as chairman of the Board's "Building Committee."

With the guidance of Mr. Secor and his committee, the Board engaged the architectural firm of York & Sawyer to design the structure.  Edward York (1863-1928) and Philip Sawyer (1868-1949) both trained with the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White and established their own firm in 1898.  They were known as specialists in the design of banks and hospitals.  

Among the many structures they designed were the New-York Historical Society, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (33 Liberty Street in the Financial District), the U.S. Department of Commerce in Federal Triangle (Washington, D.C.), the Brick Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, the Pershing Square Building, 860 Park Avenue, Rockefeller Hall of Vassar College, American Security and Trust Building in Washington, D.C., the Law Quadrangle at the University of Michigan, the U.S. Assay Office Building in the Manhattan Financial District, the Bowery Savings Bank on E. 42nd Street in Manhattan, and many, many other well-known buildings.  

By the summer of 1909, the School Board chose, and contracted with, general contractors.  The Board chose Smith Brothers, the lowest bidders.  Smith Brothers was located in the Village of North Pelham.  Yet, at the time, the firm was widely-respected and certainly a very experienced firm, quite capable of handling a project of this size, much less one far larger.   

The site chosen for the new school building was centrally located to serve young scholars from all three villages:  the Village of Pelham Manor, the Village of Pelham and the Village of North Pelham.  Only a few homes were situated near the site at the time of construction.

The initial work proceeded quickly.  The School Board became so confident of success that, only weeks later, on October 23, 1909, the Board of Education celebrated with the entire Town of Pelham and laid the cornerstone of the building "with appropriate exercises."  Officials left a time capsule for future Pelhamites.  According to one report:

"[i]n a copper box which rests, securely cemented, in a massive stone in the foundation of this building are placed records concerning this school house and the other interests of our town which will show to our descendants unto as many generations as this structure shall stand that they have reason for pride in their forbears and that the fathers and mothers of this time made wise provision for the teeming thousands who shall follow us."

"Pelham High School and Siwanoy Grammar School (Pelham Manor)"
Source:  Interesting Articles on the Schools in Pelham Town,
The Pelham Sun, Dec. 20, 1913, p. 5, col. 2.

Undated Photograph Showing Pelham High School
in About 1916.

One year later, in October, 1910, the School District was feeling the pain of growing school population.  It decided that the building was so near completion that it could be "opened informally" in an effort to ease apparent (to this author) over crowding.  Raised wooden sidewalks extended to the streets surrounding the school.   When opened, the new high school building, known as "Pelham High School and Siwanoy Grammar School," consisted of only the current central portion of the structure that stands today.   

According to a brief history of the school:

"Accounts of the first term's enrollment for the high school varies from one or two students up to 28.  They were assigned to desks in the assembly hall and were taught by the new principal, Mr. Carmichael, who was later aided by new teachers.  In planning for the new high school, a space to teach domestic science was highly anticipated.  ' . . . One would be rash to deny the importance of this study in food values and food preparation being given to every girl aboe the 7th grade,' said Supervising Principal Harry w. Rockwell."

Source:  Siwanoy School, available at http://siwanoy.pelhamschools.org/www/siwanoy_pelhamschools/site/hosting/angela/History%20of%20Siwanoy.pdf (visited Mar. 10, 2014).

York & Sawyer received professional fees for their architectural work of $2,762.03.  That would, very roughly, be the equivalent of $65,000.00 in today's dollars.  

The general contractor, Smith Brothers, received $42,062.70.  That would be the massive amount of nearly $994,000 in today's dollars.  

The HVAC experts were Osborn, Ray & Company.  They were paid $7,069.00 for "heating and ventilating" work.  That would, very roughly, be the equivalent of $167,000 in today's dollars.  

The total cost of the land and the completion of the building was calculated as $74,893.73.  That would, very roughly, be the equivalent of $1,800,000.00 in today's dollars.  The final cost of the construction of the building, however, was about $1,900.00 over the original $50,000.00 authorized by taxpayers.  (That would, very roughly, be the equivalent of being about $45,000.00 over the original $1,181,000 authorized by taxpayers, in today's dollars -- about a 3.8% cost overrun.)  

On Friday, February 17, 1911, the community unveiled its new high school in dedication exercises led by the chairman of the Board of Education, Robert A. Holmes.  Despite poor weather, a large crowd showed up for the ceremonies.  

By 1918, it was apparent that the explosive growth of the local population required an even larger central high school.  Indeed: 

"[b]y 1918, combined enrollment in all of the grammar schools was up to 1,000 students and 167 were enrolled in the high school.  A separate high school building became necessary.  In the next ten years, two wings were added to Siwanoy to accommodate the further increase in grammar school students."

Source:  Siwanoy School, available at http://siwanoy.pelhamschools.org/www/siwanoy_pelhamschools/site/hosting/angela/History%20of%20Siwanoy.pdf (visited Mar. 10, 2014).

Once again, the Board of Education as well as the Town of Pelham and her citizens rose to the occasion.  After years of work, on May 6, 1922, "Memorial High School" opened a short distance away from Siwanoy.  The building commemorated those who fought and died during World War I and the ideals for which they fought.  The new high school was described as "the last word in school buildings" and was the biggest high school with the largest recreational field in Westchester County.  The original Pelham Memorial High School structure, since updated and expanded on numerous occasions, cost $373,000.00 to build (the equivalent of roughly  $5.2 million in today's dollars).

*     *     *     *

Research Notes Regarding Opening of New High school in 1911


The dedication exercises of the new school in the town will take place at 8 o'clock on Friday evening, February 17.  A large attendance is expected and the ceremonies as scheduled promise to be of the greatest interest to all interested in educational matters.

The chairman of the Board of Education, Mr. Robert A. Holmes, will be in command of the proceedings and the celebrated tenor singer, Willis E. Bacheller, formerly a member of the local School Board, is expected to add to the enjoyment of the occasion by rendering several appropriate songs.  

The Rev. Dr. Leary, of Pelham Manor, will deliver the address of the evening, while the Revs. Francis McNichol and H.H. Brown are expected to be present and take an active part in the ceremonies.  

Mr. James F. Secor, who is chairman of the Building Committee of the Board of Education, and upon whom has devolved the actual work of supervising the construction of the magnificent new school building, will render a report on behalf of the committee.  

The Grand Army of the Republic is to be represented by Mr. John T. Logan, who will present a flag to the school on behalf of the Grand Army.  

Of course, the school children from all the schools of the town will be in attendance and the occasion will doubtless bring out a very large number of the parents and citizens generally of the town.

The Board of Education is looking forward to Friday night with a great deal of pleasure, anticipating one of the most enjoyable and profitable educational meetings ever held in our town."  

Source:  Dedication of New School, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 1, No. 45, Feb. 11, 1911, p. 1, col. 1.  


Although the weather was uninviting, the townspeople betook themselves in large numbers to the new High School building in Pelham last night to witness the dedication of the same.  

The main assembly room was beautifully decorated.  After a prayer by Rev. H.H. Brown, the school children sang a song with praise worthy precision and earnestness.  

The chairman of the building committee, Mr. James F. Secor, then read the report of that committee as follows:

Your Committee have to report that on August 11, 1908, a resolution was passed by the Board calling a special meeting of the District to be held on November 13th, 1908, to vote on a proposition to purchase one of three sites to be submitted and to issue bonds to pay for the land and erection of a High School building.  

At that meeting the present site was decided upon and the Board was instructed to purchase the same and to issue $70,000 in bonds, $20,000 to pay for the land and $50,000 for the building.  

These instructions the Board carried out by purchasing the land at a cost of $20,000 and issuing and selling the $70,000 of bonds.  They then proceeded to arrange for the construction of the building. . . .

The problem of moving the Pelham school to the new site was seriously considered, and the Committee and Board taking into account the cost to remedy, and repair and adopt to the new part, concluded it would be to the best interest of the District to leave the building at its present site, as in a few years it will probably be required as an additional school.  It is now being used as a gymnasium for the scholars of the District.  By this action, the District has a property that would cost at least $25,000 to replace, that can be utilized at any time it may seem necessary.  

The contracts were let in the early summer of 1909 to Messrs. Smith Brothers after competitive bids had been received, they being the lowest bidders for the general work, and to Messrs. Osborn, Ray & Company for the heating and ventilating work, they being the lowest bidders.

On October 23rd, 1909, the work had advanced so far that the cornerstone was laid with appropriate exercises.  In October, 1910, the building being so near completion, the school was opened informally.  

The cost of the building and land is as follows:

Purchase of present site $20,000.00
General contract Messrs Smith Bros $42,062.70
Heating and ventilating, Osborn, Ray & Company 7,069.00
Architects fees, Messrs York & Sawyer 2,762.03

Total cost of building 54,893.73

Total cost of land and building . . . . $74,893.73

You will see that the cost of the building is some $1,900 over the $50,000 originally authorized, but by the subsequent action of a District meeting, the Board was authorized to complete this building and build an addition to the North Pelham school.  The details of this will appear in the yearly report in August next.

In the death of one of our members, Mr. Walter A. Seymour, the committee suffered a great loss.  Mr. Seymour was a conscientious worker and a most valued associate and the Committee deeply regrets that he could not have been spared to see with them the completion of the building.  

With this brief report of our work, Mr. President, the Building Committee takes great pleasure in stating to the Board that the Pelham High School is now completed and we hereby place in your hands the key to the building.  

President Holmes' Acceptance.

The President of the Board of Education, Mr. Robert A. Holmes, in his address of acceptance said:

In the name of the Board of Education, representing the people of Union Free School District Number One, Town of Pelham.  I accept this building and dedicate it to the cause of learning, to the advancement of civilization and to the furtherance of the best interests of this community.  I accept it as a splendid evidence of the enlightened public spirit of this town whose citizens, in providing for it have cheerfully laid upon themselves an obligation which cannot but require some measure of self sacrifice.  In a copper box which rests, securely cemented, in a massive stone in the foundation of this building are placed records concerning this school house and the other interests of our town which will show to our descendants 

(Continued on third page)

(Continued from first page)

unto as many generations as this structure shall stand that they have reason for pride in their forbears and that the fathers and mothers of this time made wise provision for the teeming thousands who shall follow us.  

The chairman of the Building Committee has told you something of the more obvious features concerning the physical structure of this school, but the building of a schoolhouse was not all that was involved in this enterprise.  The consolidation of the two grammar schools in this portion of the town and the providing of high school facilities for our more advanced pupils assured for this district an institution where its children could be carried from earliest Kindergarten days through the primary and grammar grades into and through the high school classes and turned out prepared to enter college or university.  

I have said, advisedly, "carried through" [sic] and "turned out" because that seems to represent to an unfortunate extent the idea which prevails regarding the province of our public school system.  I sincerely trust that the policy of this institution may be to lead rather than to carry, to inspire rather than to force.  If our children could be so led and so inspired that there would be awakened in them a wise curiosity and a trained desire for knowledge the results, in my opinion, would vastly exceed those accomplished by packing the child's head full of undigested facts and figures and more or less unrelated and practically useless information.  The greatest question in the world is 'Why?' and we can require our children to ask this question and then train them that they may know where to seek for themselves the answer, we have solved the problem of the intellectual preparation for the battle of life.  Our duty, either as private citizens or as a Board of Education, must [illegible] to the intellectual welfare of the little ones whom God has placed in our charge.  One thought must surely extend to the physical and mental well being of the bodies and souls of these children and, if we would, we cannot do our whole duty of developing the intellectual side [illegible] we wholly neglect [illegible] the physical or mental.  

The problem [illegible] of the state law in providing for the safety [illegible] and health of those who shall [illegible] Not a single hitch has marred the progress of this building.  I [leave it to those of you who have had experience with lawyers to [illegible] 

May this building with its sturdy foundation, its firm walls, its honest construction, its safety and convenience of arrangement and its and its graces of architecture be typical of the manhood and womanhood which shall be built, strengthened, equipped and ornamented within its confines and sent forth from its doors to bear a worthy part in the great world, a part which shall reflect credit upon faithful work of faculty, Board of Education and the citizens of the town of Pelham.

Next in order on the program came a solo rendered by Mr. Freeman Wright, who was heartily applauded.  

Rev. L.G. Leary spoke upon the usefulness of school tuition and dwelt upon the idea that the object of the children in going to school was to learn to learn.

Flag Presented.

Mr. John T. Logan now arose and introduced Capt. England, Commander of W.S. Hancock, G.A.R.  The Captain in a speech full of humorous allusions as well as of serious patriotism, presented a flag to the school on behalf of his Post, but actually a present from Mr. Logan.

Principal J. F. Carmichael explained the classes in the High School and said that next year they hoped to have thirty scholars in the High School classes.

The children sang 'America,' whereupon Rev. Frances McNichol offered benediction and the ceremonies came to a close.  

The people hungered, however, for some time and made an inspection of the classrooms, halls, library, etc.

The consensus of opinion seemed to be that for a town of its size, Pelham certainly has fine and up to date schools."

Source:  Dedication of New High School, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 1, No. 46, Feb. 18, 1911, p. 1, col. 4 & p. 3, cols. 4-5. 

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home