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A Look Back: The Original Griffith Institute

By Jolene Hawkins10-11-look-back

Looking back… did you hear that? What was that ghostly sound? Can you hear the kids singing… ‘School days, school days, dear ole rod-and-rule days?’ Could it be the old bell of the school of days gone by?

In 1909, there was a new school built to house the growing population of children, and the bell that had rung for 79 years was told there was no place for it in the new building. Well now, how were the children to know when school started? It was stored and now lost to time. Does anyone of you know what happened to it or where it is?

When the “new” school was open on Sept. 9, 1909, it boasted of having 25 students for the training class, to become a teacher, along with 130 high school students, 58 for the ninth grade, 40 in the seventh grade, 28 for the sixth grade, 27 for the fifth grade, 34 for the fourth, 35 for the third, 29 for the second and 34 in the first grade.

I wonder if they all went outside to watch the flag go up on the new pole that Kellogg & Wiley put up. Did they notice the gold-leafed ball on the top that T.B. Prior had made?

The old Griffith Institute had a frontage of 150 feet on Academy Street and 90 feet on Main Street. It was built of light-colored Kittanning brick, trimmed with buff Indiana limestone and the roof was slate. The foundation consisted of concrete, crushed stone, cleans sand and cement, the basement had rooms for the library, the gym was 72-by-54 feet and 18 feet high with an adjoining room fitted with shower baths and could sit 800 people, lockers, cloakroom, closets, lavatories and a boardroom.

The first floor consisted of 10 classrooms and a large assembly hall. The second floor had six classrooms, a study hall, lockers, closet and a lavatory. On the third floor were a physical, chemical and biological lavatory rooms, a lecture room and two good size rooms. There was a Frick Automatic Clock and Gong system, which was all operated from the principal’s office. And the cost of all of this was $75,000.

A large 12-horse power electric motor forces pure air taken directly from the outside, heated by eight furnaces into every room of the building. Now, this system met the requirements of the state, which was that 30 cubic feet of air per minute be supplied to each pupil throughout the building.

Is the ghost of William Schaper the janitor still roaming through the school to assist young children entering the building for the first time, guiding them to where they needed to go or helping to find a lost locket? I wonder how many “firsts” were there at the Academy… first loves, first dates, first friends, dreams, hopes, are all of those memories still there?

How about the kids that snuck up to the roof and danced the jitterbug there? Is that a basketball being bounced down the ghostly halls of the school? When Halloween comes around, will any of us find our car windows with soap writing on them? A little amount of air let out of our tires, from the students from the past?

And what of the memories of those that attended the grand old school Griffith Institute? Some stood around in 1973 when they watched the demolition of the old school, some say that the bulldozer went right up on the steps and down the hallway. The school was not ready to be torn down.

Carol Goodson tells us, “I went there for grades 1 through 4, then returned for 7th and 8th. I loved that place and can remember every detail of it… sometimes I am in it in my dreams… I can walk through it in my mind and see all of it. It broke my heart when I heard they tore it down.”

So on an early foggy morning, if you listen closely, you can still hear the old bell ringing that it is time to go to school… so walk faster, you might even hear kids laughter as they go. And perhaps, just maybe you will see the outline of the old school through the fog.

Does anyone have old photographs that they will share with us? We can scan them and return them back to you or while you wait. We love old photos, and you can share who they are so others can look and enjoy the digital photo book we make with them.

Come share your family stories, or childhood memories with us at the Lucy Bensley Center located at 23 North Buffalo St., Springville. We are open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Email us at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com or call us at 592-0094.

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