October 1989

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The Early Years Recalled

Remembering Franklin Academy

A Program of the Prattsburgh Community Historical Society
September 11, 1989


Bill Treichler

What Manner of People Started Franklin Academy?

The Prattsburgh Community Historical Society presented a program commemorating the early years of the Franklin Academy in Prattsburgh at the Society's September 11, 1989, meeting held at the Prattsburgh Presbyterian Church.

There were several performances by members of the Society. The first drama was a reenactment of what might have been the discussion at a meeting on March 20, 1823, in Judge Van Valkenburgh's office. Present were the principal founders of Franklin Academy.

Represented in the scene were Robert Porter by Hugh Fullerton, Reverend Hotchkin by Fred Lewis, Van Valkenburgh by Eugene Poore, Jared Pratt by Valentine Pratt, Dr. Niles by Royce Sanford, and Stephen Prentiss by Charles Babcock. All of the men were dressed in dark frock coats for the performance. Off the stage in the audience was O'Malley, a fictitious personality representing the working people of the community dressed in working man's garb and played by Rob Litchfield.

The discussion among the "Founding Fathers" got around to the question of admitting females to the academy. Stephen Prentiss made a plea that young women, as well as men, be admitted to the proposed new academy, quite likely because his talented daughter Narcissa wished to go.

One other of the group said that he had voted in favor of admitting women but had since acquiesced to the majority. Mr. O'Malley badgered them for their stodginess, but the founders couldn't give in to allow women to come to the school. Only a few years later, in 1827, Franklin Academy did welcome women. Narcissa Prentiss entered Franklin Academy in 1828. That year there were 34 boys and 28 girls at the school.

Following this part of the program, Barbara Gifford sang "Annie Laurie", a song that was popular for many years in the time of the Franklin Academy.

Next on the stage were six women portraying some of the celebrated women of Prattsburgh. Clara Babcock represented Catherine Porter St. John, and told of her life and accomplishments. Mrs. St. John was a granddaughter of Robert Porter, the principal contributor to Franklin Academy. She was an 1848 graduate of the academy and went on to Mt. Holyoke College to graduate there in 1852. In 1860 she married Charles R. St. John. They bought the Porter Homestead in 1865 and raised a family of four children: Charles, Edward, Emma, and Robert. Mrs. St. John took an active interest in the Temperance School in Prattsburgh and was at one time president of the local Chautauqua Society.

Colleen Dean read a letter written in 1927 by Evaline Sherwood Edwards who had graduated from Franklin Academy with honors in 1862. Edwards moved to Evanston, Illinois, in 1880 and taught school for 35 years. In her letter of 1927 she suggested that an historical society be started in Prattsburgh. The Prattsburgh Community Historical Society was organized in 1987, sixty years later.

Marion Simonson recalled her years at Franklin Academy. She remembered that at the time of the disastrous fire in February 1923, students were attending classes in different buildings around the village within a few days after the fire. Mrs. Simonson graduated in 1925, the year the new building was completed.

Gertrude Smith told of Leona Bancroft's editing and publishing the Prattsburgh Advertiser, operating an ice cream store, and a print shop. Miss Bancroft was from a family of six children. When she was a student at the school in 1892 she already exhibited a talent for humor and poetry. She loved to hunt and fish, too. Mrs. Smith read Miss Bancroft's poem "The Old Town Clock" and another she wrote just for Gertrude when she graduated.

Janice McConnell Ogden read from her mother Carol McConnell's remembrances of her school days. Janice Van Amburg read the poem "Tapestry of Dreams" written by Florence Hotchkin who is still alive and 100 years old. Miss Hotchkin's great-great-grandfather was a brother of the Reverend Hotchkin, one of the very first men to preach in Steuben County.

Following the presentation of the ladies, Harlan Howe spoke of the Lyceum that was formed in Prattsburgh in April 1843. The Lyceum movement began in Mallory, Massachusetts, in 1826 and spread very rapidly throughout the country. By 1831 there were 900 towns with Lyceums. It was an independent system of adult education and self-improvement. Mr. Howe, whose grandfather was a member of the Young Men's Lyceum in Prattsburgh, read from the minutes of the meeting of March 25, 1844.

Lyceum meetings were held every week for an entire evening, and each year an exhibition was held. Papers were read on an amazing variety of subjects, and debates were staged. The members gained skill and poise in argument and public speaking which prepared them for careers in law, ministry and politics. At one time the Prattsburgh Lyceum had $500 subscribed toward a building, but by 1850 the Lyceum had disappeared in Prattsburgh. The movement died out just after the Civil War.

Paul Graves told about the fire of February 1923, that started where painters had been working in the back part of the church. Embers from the church ignited the academy building and it was lost, too.

William Garrison, who is president of the Prattsburgh Community Historical society, introduced each of the presentations and reminded the 100 or so people present that the Pilgrim's Thanksgiving Dinner will be held at Morning Glory Farm on Bean Station Road, Saturday, October 7. The Pilgrim's Dinner is a joint meeting of the Prattsburgh Community Historical Society and the Crooked Lake Historical Society.

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