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A LOOK BACK: Griffith Institute is Born, 1868

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By Derek M. Otto

With the recent opening of the Springville Griffith Institute’s 2016-2017 school year, a look back 150 years would find school a much different place.

Founded in 1827 and opened for classes in 1830, the Springville Academy was the first high school in Erie County.    It was a financial boom for Springville in the early days— not only did it create jobs for teachers, it also brought in many students from across western New York.  These students boarded with local residents.

As the Civil War ended and other academies appeared in western New York, the Springville Academy was at a crossroads.  In 1868, with the help of C.C. Severance, long time board of trustee and president of the board, the academy approached Archibald Griffith of East Concord.   Griffith would give an initial $10,000 to the Academy and after his death, even more money.

The Springville Academy changed its name to Griffith Institute in honor of the endowment.  The money would help construct the new academy building and offer free tuition to students and teachers.    

Just to get an idea of how far the money went, the average income in 1860s was $600 a month.  According to the advertisement in the newspaper, the tuition for the spring term 1868 was $6.50 for basic English classes, higher-level classes were $7.50, and the mathematics and language classes ran $8.50.  The cost of boarding in the residences in Springville was $3 a week.  Because of this, most people could not afford an education after grade school.

In 1868, Griffith Institute had 125 students; in 1869, there were 200 students in attendance. The Griffith endowment and new and expanded building resulted in a great increase of students.

Looking back, another aspect of school life in 1868 Springville would be the by-laws that students had to live under.  In our age of texting, school choice and debates about transgender bathrooms, these rules would be quite strenuous. Here are a few from 1868 catalog:

3: Students will not be permitted to attend balls, or other public amusements or parties of pleasure, without the written permission of the parents or guardians, previously presented to the principal.

9.  No student will be permitted to take lessons outside of the institution, without the permission of the principal.

10.  Students will punctually rise at 5 o’clock in the morning and retire at 9 ½  o’clock in the evening.

11. A strict observance of study hours and the Sabbath and attendance at Church at least once on that day at such places as parents’ desire will be required.

13. No student is allowed for pleasure to visit, walk, or ride with or otherwise entertain another of the opposite sex without permission of the principal.

It would seem odd today that the governing body at the time was the Genesee Conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church.  The principals in the 1860s were also Methodist ministers.  It was common practice.  Academies in Aurora, Perry and Geneseo were also run by the Genesee Conference.  Surviving today is Houghton College, still operated by the Wesleyan Church.   

SGI has certainly changed in the nearly 150 years since the Griffith endowment. As we continue to grow and evolve, here’s to another successful school year!

Cover Photo: The photo shows the 1868 Griffith Institute building in forward half.  The later rear addition behind the bell tower was added in 1885.   The building stood where the St. Al’s Hall parking lot currently is on the corner of Franklin and Academy Streets.

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