NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Hickory College, the little school with the big name

ANN MARIE LINNABERY / CONTRIBUTORHickory College School House at the St. Jude Shrine, 975 Ridge Road, Lewiston.

About a mile east of the village of Lewiston, on the north side of Ridge Road (Route 104), right in front of the St. Jude Shrine, is a small stone building that belies its lengthy history. Lewiston District School #2, or Hickory Grove School as it was known at its inception, has stood on that spot since the 1840s.

On Jan. 18, 1842, a special meeting of the inhabitants School District #13 met to vote on a proposed new school. It was “unanimously resolved that a Tax of $380 be raised with the addition of five per cent for collectors fees to be raised for the building Said School house.” The building would be 24-by-30-feet and be built of stone to compliment similar structures in the area. It replaced a log school that stood across the road. The property would be leased from the Miller family whose farm would thereafter be known as the Hickory Grove School House Farm.

Although now officially District School #2, the school was commonly called Hickory Grove in honor of the hickory trees that surrounded it, but not long after it began to be known as Hickory College to compete with the “Academy” in the village.

How much the first teacher was paid is not listed, but monies were expended for fuel, a library and a privy (contract going to the lowest bidder for the latter). The teacher’s wages tended to fluctuate, perhaps due to the current economic conditions of the time. In December 1850, it was “Resolved that we raise $60 for teachers’ wages” (for the year). Five years later, it was decided that the rate would be $16 a month but did not mention board. The following year, the pay was reduced to $10 a month but included board. In 1870, the school board only approved “$48.00 to pay teachers’ wages.” One former student later remembered that the pupils had to bring their own desk and some supplies.

Throughout its existence, Hickory College was also used as a community center for religious, social and political gatherings as well as a voting place for local elections. The little stone school house saw many changes during its existence including the building of the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad (Hojack) in 1876. The tracks crossed Ridge Road and climbed the Niagara Escarpment just a few yards east of school.

Anna Hayward Merritt, one of Lockport’s most well-known and respected women, lived on the farm where the tracks met the Ridge Road (the Railroad Farm) and attended Hickory College school as a child in the 1870s.

Despite its impressive name and solid architecture, over the years Hickory College school reportedly fell into neglect and by the 1920s it was showing its 80 years of use. In 1924, a new young teacher arrived at the school full of enthusiasm but dismayed at what she found.

Edith Breckon later wrote that, “I shall never forget that first day. The despair of that humble building with no lights, no pictures, no bright walls; why a less attractive one a person could scarcely imagine.”

It wasn’t long before Mrs. Breckon, with the help of the students, transformed the classroom into a bright, cheerful place. The walls were painted, “dainty white curtains” were added to the windows, pictures were hung, modern lighting was installed and a new heating system replaced the old pot-bellied stove.

The attitude of the children reflected these changes and by the 1940s, Hickory College school was cited for excellence in one-room school houses by Columbia University. By this time however, the days of one-room school houses were numbered and although many parents fought to keep Hickory College opened, in June 1955, it was voted to close the school and send the 20 students to the new Lewiston-Porter Elementary School on Creek Road.

For over 100 years Lewiston children had attended Hickory College school.

The building was put up for sale and in 1959 it became Hickory College Church of Christ. They used the school for worship services until 1967, when a new chapel was built on the property.

Today the school is on the grounds of the St. Jude Shrine.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

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