How Did My House Get Its Name?
By Harry C. Farrar
Many times a boy has asked the question, how did my house get its name? This morning I am going to answer these questions and tell you some of the highlights of the Institute from its inception.
Doctor Samuel Akerly who had been working with the deaf for a number of years saw the necessity for a school for the blind. So in 1831, after working hard for a few years, he was able to start the first class which comprised three boys. Until this time, blind children had no opportunities and were usually put in homes for the poor. At the beginning Doctor Akerly had two more interested persons to help him; they were Doctors Samuel Wood and John Russ. It is interesting to note at this point that the late Mr. Arnold Wood, until his death a member of the Board of Managers, was the fifth one of his family to serve this Institute. As far as I have read of the life of Doctor Samuel Wood he was a most diligent worker.
The class was first organized and housed with a woman who had a large home in Canal Street, and Doctor John Russ was the first teacher of a class for the blind in the United States. For some reason, which I have not been able to ascertain, the school moved to Mercer Street, then to Spring Street. I can imagine, however, that the reason might have been, the need for more space since this class was rapidly growing.
Doctor Akerly who was very well known as a physician in this city saw the necessity of raising money by public subscription, since there was no other way of obtaining it, so he called in some of his acquaintances and asked if they would volunteer to go to the merchants of the city and try to get a one hundred dollar donation from them. In a very short time one of these volunteers called on a merchant named James Boorman who said he had a large house in the country and would be glad to rent it to this small school for the sum of one peppercorn a year. The Board of Managers, however, voted to pay Mr. Boorman one hundred dollars a year rental. When the school moved to what was then called Strawberry Hill, Doctor Russ felt he could not go that distance into the country, but the Board knowing he was interested in teaching the blind, offered him a salary which he accepted. He remained in the new school one year, then returned to his medical practice. However, when he retired from practice, he resumed his work with the blind until the time of his death. I should like to mention at this point that Doctors Akerly, Wood, and Russ were known as the saints of the Institution, and Mr. Boorman, the first real benefactor of the Institution, was called the Angel.
Now I am going to skip over to Phelps house which was named after Anson G. Phelps who was the second chairman of the Board of Managers and certainly took a deep interest in the building of a great Institution. He was a man of highest esteem, strong character and sincere piety.
Fanny Crosby, after whom Crosby house was named, was a teacher in the Institution and wrote many hymns and much poetry which I feel sure will remain forever.
And now to Mr. William Bell Wait who became Principal of this school in 1863 and remained until 1905 after which he was Principal Emeritus until 1912. During these forty odd years, Mr. Wait accomplished many great things including the New York Point system of reading and of course all the machinery necessary to produce these dots, or points as they were then called. Mr. Wait was also very proud when, after many years of hard work, The University of the State of New York recognized our school and permitted the students to take the Regents examination for the first time in 1891. Wait House is where the women teachers now live on our campus.
Mr. Stephen Babcock, after whom Babcock House was named, was an interesting person who taught in this school for more than fifty years, during which time he invented the map which is still used to study geography of the world. It is also said of him that he placed strong emphasis on the use of mental arithmetic.
The house in which the chief engineer lives is known as Henry Tschudi house. Mr. Tschudi was a great musician and taught in this school for many years.
Mr. Everett B. Tewksberry was the next principal and one or two incidents occurred during his administration that I feel will interest you. Across the street from the "old school" the Pennsylvania Railroad was under construction and of course the system of blasting then was not as well done as it is today. We had panes of glass broken from the flying fragments of rock, and trees in the front yard were destroyed; one day a large piece of rock was hurled into the air and came down on the roof of the assembly hall and went through it, destroying the grand piano. I am not certain whether anybody was at the piano at the time or not; however, talking about this with Mr. Hough, I find he thinks there was someone at the piano at the time but who was not injured.
Mr. Van Cleve succeeded Mr. Tewksberry, and I am sure most of you know the great work he did in building this beautiful modern school. It might interest you to know that the "old school" was sold for nine hundred thousand dollars, so can you see how this property increased in value over a period of less than a century?
I should like to end this talk with the reading of a poem written by a member of our Alumni Association, "Can The Blind See," by Miss Theresa Woods, which may be found in the annual report of 1931.
Frampton, M. E. and Athearn, Clarence. The School Assembly as an Educational Force. New York: NYIEB, 1944. pages 23-25.
Mr. Farrar also wrote an article for a 1940 Pelham Progress on the caning program of NYIEB.