In 1837, with a cumbersome title and three hundred students, the Black River Literary and Religious Institute opened its wooden doors. A private school with a Presbyterian flavor, the Institute was the sturdy result of an ambitious undertaking: "The campus was at the corner of State and Mechanic Streets and was occupied by three buildings, a women's dormitory facing the downtown side of the main school building at the corner, and men's dormitory building on the Mechanic Street side. The main school building, where classes were held was a two story brick structure 40 by 75 feet." According to one 1843 English visitor, The Black River Institute was "an excellent establishment." A local historian calls the school "strong and efficient. It did notable work in higher education."
Some of that notable work was coeducational. At the Institute, boys and girls attended in almost equal numbers. When one auditor remarked that the "two sexes were receiving lessons together on light, refraction and reflection," the Rector reassured that he should have no qualms; the presence of the young ladies has a humanizing effect on the young men.' (Not always perhaps: The 1853-1854 catalog enjoined that "no student shall throw water, or anything offensive from a window or door of the Institution...All written communications between students in the male and those in the female department, are strictly prohibited.")
By 1846, the trustees had mercifully amended the name of the school to the Jefferson County Institute. But even with this attempt at modernization, even with its fine faculty and its Atwood's Falling Machine, its Magic Lantern and "several models of the eye," the Institute gradually outlived its purpose. In 1865, responding to a newer social imperative, the school transferred all its property, "including appartus, library and all appurtenances" to Watertown's new public high school.
The student lists given here have been compiled from institute catalobs owned as noted by the Jefferson County Historical Society, The Boston Public Library, and the New York Public Library. Family researchers and historians welcome such early compilations because the precede and augment the comprehensive census records that began in 1850.
One cautionary note: Students might not necessarily be children. According to the English visitor, "The are generally young people, though all ages may be found receiving instruction, from seven to forty years of age, and once a father and son were being taught at the same time!"
Return to Black River Institute List of Students Page
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