The casual visitor strolling through the main halls of the Dana Lyon Elementary School in Bath, New York is transported to an earlier day, for the aura of the Twenties and Thirties is unmistakable. Those who venture beyond these corridors, however, and find themselves in the annex at the north end of the structure will see a beautiful old hardwood stairway, with spindled handrails and worn steps suggestive of an even earlier era. Subtly different from the rest of the building, the annex “feels” much older than the other parts of the school, as indeed it is.
If the slanting old floors and high ceilings could speak, they might tell us much about Haverling’s past. In lieu of such a revelation, we can catch a glimpse into the district’s history through the efforts of Haverling’s Ms. Nancy Vaughan, American Studies teacher. Some years ago Ms. Vaughan, with the help of local historian James Hope, compiled a report on the history of the Bath School District, at the request of then Superintendent Howard Rock. In more recent years, Miss Anne Bartz, Dana Lyon Elementary School Principal, updated the original report for Superintendent Peter Robbins. It reveals much about how the school system we have come to know originated.
The very first school in Bath, a log building erected in 1800, was located at the northwest corner of Pulteney Square, where the AFGWU building now stands. At the rear of this lot stood the first jail. The log school made way for the county’s new stone jail in 1811, and teacher and students moved to an existing frame structure on the east side of Pulteney Square. When this building burned, a new school was provided on East Steuben Street near the site of the present convenient store parking lot. The two-story frame structure (25’ x 30’) was dubbed “Old Academy” when it opened in 1813. Unfortunately, it too burned in the spring of 1824. “The Red School House” was built on the same East Steuben Street site, but years later, in 1849, it met the same fate as the building it replaced.
Besides “The Red School House”, a separate school used almost exclusively by black children stood at the present site of the Bath Grange Hall. This was in existence from 1824 through 1867 and, ironically, was called “The Old White School House”.
Even without the vicissitudes described above, Bath children probably did not fare well educationally, for in the early 1800’s, schooling in the United States was neither consistent in quality nor freely available to all. It was not until the 1830’s that Americans organized state systems of public schools. Secondary education continued to be less than uniform in quality into the second half of the century. Children of well-to-do families routinely acquired preparation for college at exclusive private academies. In 1874, in the landmark Kalamazoo case in Michigan, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that general taxes could be levied to support public high schools and by 1900 these schools were the norm for the large majority of the students.
Education in the village of Bath might have improved as slowly as in many other rural areas, had it not been for the foresight and generosity of a relatively uneducated farmer named Adam Haverling. He saw the need for a truly superior school that would serve all the people of the community, so in 1842 he deeded one and one-half acres of land on the eastern side of Liberty Street to the trustees of the local school district for the construction of an “academy or seminary” for the people of Bath. In addition, he deeded his 170 acre farm to the district, specifying that the proceeds from its sale were to be used for a school, to be named “Haverling Academy”. It was to be constructed of brick, with large classrooms, comfortable and light. Any funds remaining after construction were to be invested in real estate in Steuben County, the interest income to be used to pay the salaries of “fit and proper” teachers, to purchase books and instructional equipment, and to reduce tuition fees for the students.
Oddly, the trustees—John Magee, Reuben Robie, and John W. Fowler—did not act on this bequest. In 1845, angered by their inaction, Haverling approached a Mr. John Poppino of Hammondsport with his idea of building a superior school. Poppino gladly entered into an agreement with Haverling. When Bath citizens learned of the matter, they begged Haverling to give Bath another chance. Ultimately, an offended Poppino agreed on a payment of $950 from Haverling to release the latter from a property option that had been part of the arrangements for the Hammondsport school. Thus the name “Haverling” belongs to Bath, rather than to Hammondsport.
Bath’s new school, the “Haverling Union Free School”, was built on the present site of the Dana Lyon Elementary School at a cost of $2,180.66. It opened in the fall of 1848, and Adam Haverling lived to see it in operation for eleven years. He died in 1859 at the age of 84, leaving the bulk of his property to assist with the school’s finances. His will was contested by his son, on the grounds of insanity.
The trial was bizarre by modern standards. One doctor held that Mr. Haverling’s rather large skull indicated permanent injury to the brain from a fall in 1840. A blacksmith testified that in 1858 he met Mr. Haverling near the school and heard him talking with the children playing at recess. The schoolyard was empty at the time. One witness testified that Haverling always claimed to know whether it would be a good corn year or a good grass year. But an opposing witness queried whether the contesting witness knew that Constant Cook, Ira Davenport and Abram Brundage all consulted Haverling every spring on that very matter.
After much testimony, District Attorney Harlow Hakes, acting Surrogate, held that the will was valid, and the people of Bath have benefited from this legacy ever since.
Sadly, Haverling’s bequest was soon needed, for in 1866, the Haverling Union Free School met the fate of several of its predecessors. It too was destroyed by fire and was replaced by a new structure known as Old Haverling Academy, built on the same site at a cost estimated at $25,000. It opened in 1868.
As time went on, the need for more space led to the construction of a separate primary building, adjacent to the main building. It opened in 1901. This structure was later attached to the present elementary building; hence its current label, “the annex”. It has been in use for ninety-eight years. Living in today’s world, in which nearly everything is disposable, four Haverling classes of each grade have the good fortune to be educated in rooms that have seen generations of children come and go. These rooms have since been placed on the historical register.
But there is more to the story. Overcrowding of “Old Haverling Academy” became so serious that at one point, two houses west of the present tennis courts were used to hold classes. Finally, in the fall of 1922, the people of Bath voted on a proposition: (1) remodel Old Haverling Academy, or (2) build a new school. The latter option prevailed. In 1923 the present edifice, the Dana Lyon Elementary School, was opened. The cost, $225,000, included the purchase of a lot in front of the building. Part of the funding was covered by the sale of Adam Haverling’s property.
The Haverling Union Free School District and surrounding areas (Cameron, Wheeler, Urbana, Thurston, Howard and Avoca) centralized in 1950 to create the present District No. 2.
In 1954, a new junior-senior high school was constructed on the newly acquired property behind Judge Domineck Gabrielli’s cobblestone house on West Washington Boulevard. The property was bordered by Lyon Street on the north and Robie Street on the east. The new structure soon filled to capacity due to the town’s rapidly growing population; new additions and major renovations occurred in 1963.
The year 1960 brought the building of another school to house grades kindergarten through three on the property adjacent to Haverling Junior Senior High School and bordering the still sparsely populated Maple Heights on the west. This expansion was due, in part, to a change in special education law and the beginning of preschool public education. The Dana Lyon Elementary School, so named in 1978, contained grades four through six for several years.
Haverling Superintendent Peter Robbins and Board of Education presented a nearly $37,000,000 building referendum to the public in January, 1999. This was after nearly a decade of school and community planning with consultive services from the architectural firm of Thomas Associates in Ithaca, NY. This vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the major project. A few years prior, a proposal to purchase a parcel of the original Adam Haverling property for the construction of a new school away from the existing junior-senior high school existing site was soundly defeated.
The new plan included a large addition to the junior-senior high school to house grades 9-12, as well as a new wing added to the Vernon Wightman Primary School. Under Superintendent Marion Tunney, the Dana L. Lyon School was vacated in 2001 and the students were relocated to the former junior-senior high school in a reconfigured grade 4-5 and grades 6-8 setting. The 2002-2003 school year brought spacious and technologically advanced learning environments for all the youth of Bath. In the spring of 2003, the old Haverling Academy was sold to Laverne Billings and partners. An alumnas of Haverling, Mr. Billings plans a new life for the landmark structure.
“Why do they call it Haverling?” Concerning such inquiries about the Bath Central School District from youngsters and newcomers, and judging from the record, we can see why a brief response may not do justice to the man whom the citizens of Bath owe so much. We can confidently say that our youth will continue to be adeptly accommodated in attempting to meet all the educational and societal changes of the 21st Century.
Information courtesy of Anne Bartz.