MEDINA — Lee Whedon Memorial Library is the temporary home of a piece of local history.
A brief history of education in the area will explain the significance of the bell that is currently on display at the library, and which local historians consider to be a treasure.
The bell sat atop Medina Free Academy on Catherine Street, which from 1923 to 1991 was the site of Medina High School. When the academy building was razed in 1922, the bell was stored in the basement of Central School on South Academy Street. After fire destroyed Central School in 1967, contractor Carl Petronio Jr. was hired to clean up the rubble and discovered the bell. He removed it to storage and recently donated it to the Medina Historical Society.
Realizing the significance of the bell, former Medina Historical Society president Craig Lacey contacted Barnes Metal Finishing Company, which restored the bell to its former grandeur.
Lee Whedon Memorial Library director Catherine Cooper provided the history of education in the Medina area.
Foremost, she said, it should be noted that the Medina school district is the operator of the longest continuous free education program in Orleans County and the third longest in New York state, following New York City and Lockport.
Land settlement in the area dates back to 1810. Once early settlers had cleared the trees to build a shelter and began tilling the soil, their next priority was for the provision of education. Betsy Murdock taught the first local school in the summer of 1814. Her school was located in a barn on Ridge Road that still stands today.
With the development of the Erie Canal, a population began to grow in what became the village of Medina. The first purpose-built school was a log cabin erected in 1826.
When the village was incorporated in 1832, the population was between 700 and 800 people. School classes were held in the Presbyterian Church, then located on the corner of Cross Street (now Pearl Street) and West Street (now West Avenue). This is the current location of Kwik Fill.
In 1836, a single-story stone school was erected behind the current Walsh Hotel. This building was later expanded and became the arsenal for local militia and later a staging area for Civil War soldiers.
Secondary education was provided by private, fee-based academies such as those in Albion, Millville and Yates. Legislation passed in 1851 and 1853 significantly changed the educational system. An amended act of the New York State Legislature on April 10, 1850, allowed a school to combine the features of both a district and a high school. The Union School Act of 1853 allowed the municipality to tax inhabitants to fund a school and to form a board of education to govern it.
At that time, there were only two other high schools operating in New York state. One was in Lockport and the other in New York city. Medina was the first village in Orleans County and in Western New York to adopt this form of higher education and to provide secondary education free to the children of residents.
Medina Free Academy was built in 1851 of Medina sandstone. It was located on Catherine Street and was replaced by Medina High School in 1923; the high school was situated on land donated by Silas Burroughs.
The academy consisted of six rooms, employed six teachers and educated both primary and secondary students. Enrollment was between 300 and 400 students.
An 1892 enlargement of the original building doubled the size of the academy. It accommodated 19 teachers and vastly improved classroom conditions. In April 1895, the district was made a “Union Free District,” and a new high school, referred to as Central School, was built in 1896. The academy building then became the elementary school.
The academy building was razed in 1922 to make way for a larger high school. At that point, Central School reverted to an elementary school. That building was destroyed by fire in 1967, and it's where the bell was found.
Cooper said people now have a chance to ring the bell from noon to 1 p.m. each day for a donation of $1, which will benefit Medina Historical Society.
Medina superintendent of schools Mark Kruzynski said he is excited about the prospect of the bell being returned to the high school, adding that administrators have not yet decided on an appropriate place to site it.