Vacant School Building was later owned by Smith-Corona Typewriter Company

Groton High School, Groton New York
Date added: March 28, 2024 Categories:
Looking east-northeast (1991)

Constructed in 1919-20, Groton High School is associated with the village's greatest period of growth and prosperity during the 20th century.

The High School is an early example of the work of the regionally prominent Cortland architect Carl W. Clark. The Groton High School was the first of over fifty-five central New York schools designed and executed by Clark and one of only two in Tompkins County (the others are primarily in Cortland, Onondaga, and Chenango counties). It exhibits a highly articulated Neo-Classical form that is unique in Groton although typical of school buildings of the period. The orientation and plan of the school, as well as its fireproof construction, also reflect current thinking and legislative mandates concerning school design and building. Although the Groton High School has not been used for educational purposes since 1975, nor occupied since 1984, the building is remarkably intact. Deterioration and neglect have damaged the interior surfaces (ceilings, floors, and walls) to a much greater extent.

Carl Wesley Clark (1893-1985) was chosen as the architect of the new school building, his first school design in a long career distinguished by the design and construction of dozens of educational facilities. Clark gained his early experience working for a general contractor in New York City and attending night school at Cooper Union. His skill as a draftsman was learned while working for the architectural firm of Willauer, Shape & Brady and during two years of training at the University of Pennsylvania's College of Architecture. By 1914, when Clark was only 21 years old, he opened his own office in Cortland, New York. Clark or his firm would eventually design over fifty-five school buildings in central New York, including the State University College at Cortland (1949-1966) and the Onondaga Community College (1966-1978). The Groton High School was one of only two educational buildings designed by Clark located in Tompkins County (the other is the Dryden High School, 1965).

Meeting minimum health and safety standards had been mandated in New York state school buildings since the mid-1890s, but stricter requirements were imposed on school districts throughout the nation as a result of the 1908 Collingwood, Ohio school house fire that killed 170 students. The Groton High School adhered to the state's health and safety, especially fire safety, requirements of 1919, specifically by the inclusion of dual staircases, wide hallways, non-combustible construction materials (brick, gypsum block and cast stone), two exits from every classroom, the most up-to-date furnace and boiler equipment, fire stops between floors (the stamped metal ceilings throughout the building), in addition to adequate light, space, and ventilation per child. The Groton Journal and Courier reported at length on the many beneficial features of the design, especially as it related to health and safety issues: "There are provided in each corridor hose racks and standpipes, and in addition, there is to be a modern fire alarm system. The heating and ventilation is to receive special attention. A system of warmed air circulated through ducts to each room by means of a blower is to be used. A mixture of fresh air tempered to the required degree will thus be forced into each room." Not only was the population explosion accompanying the village's industrial expansion making the construction of a new high school necessary, but, especially after 1908, the state's emphasis on new school construction to avoid unsafe conditions made relieving the overcrowded conditions of the Union School imperative.

One of the most dominant trends of the nineteenth century in educational programming and curricular development came as a result of the large influx of immigrants and the increasing industrialization and urbanization of the country. The focus of secondary schools shifted away from the study of classics and the graduation of a select number of scholars to the preparation of all children to enter the workforce and, equally important, the inculcation of the American values of citizenship and democracy. By the turn of the century, this change had dramatically influenced school buildings in two ways: the inclusion of single-purpose rooms (laboratories, manual arts and domestic science rooms, assembly halls, and gymnasia) became the standard, and the expanded use of the school building during non-school hours solidified the notion of the school as a civic institution.

Clark's design for the Groton High School, a relatively small village school in a rural setting, illustrates how universally adopted these changes had become by 1919. Indeed, Clark was quoted in the Groton Journal and Courier, referring to the community center aspect of his plan: "a school building is not necessarily a "factory of learning" alone, but should be made a center for community uplift, both moral and physical." Specifically, his plans set aside the entire first floor of the high school for a War Memorial Room, game rooms for community use, and a large, two-story gymnasium/auditorium on the east side of the first floor. Up above, the second and third floors were devoted to classrooms, administrative offices, and laboratories, accommodating approximately 500 students. The floor plans of the building were arranged so the gymnasium could be used by students during the weekdays, or completely closed off from the rest of the building for evening and weekend use by the public. Access to the building facilitated this division of space: the public entrance was located on the first floor in the center of the Main Street (west) facade, while separate "boy" and "girl" entrances were located at the second-floor level on Church Street (the east facade). The natural grade of the site, sloping from east to west, allowed this system of separate entrances and uses to occur without incurring extra construction costs.

Clark's design for the exterior was straightforwardly Neo-Classical: a front entrance flanked by engaged Doric columns and topped by a segmentally arched entablature; a series of six massive columns setting off the front facade; and a high watertable unifying the building horizontally. The Neo-Classical and Collegiate Gothic styles were popular for schools during this period, their simplified massing and symmetrical plans lending themselves to the new requirements and demands placed on educational structures. Clark's later school designs were simpler and plainer; his second school design was the Marathon High School (Cortland County) in 1925, which has a more streamlined classical entrance and lacks the grand scale and architectural detailing apparent in the Groton High School.

By May 1919, Clark's plans were on public view in the office of Benn Conger, Groton industrialist and philanthropist, to be considered before the public vote on June 20th, 1919. The choice of the site at Main and Elm streets, known as the Kelsey Estate, provoked heated debate in Groton. The Journal and Courier reported that a small but vocal segment of the voters felt that the site was too small for the children, without adequate space for athletic instruction or play. Countering the critics was Benn Conger, who stressed the natural advantages of the site and the cost savings on fuel by creating one heating plant to serve the new high school and the adjacent Union (elementary) School. The voters approved the Main Street site by a vote of 140 to 40.

Groundbreaking entailed the demolition of a popular memorial that had been erected on the site in 1917 for "those Groton men who entered the service." It had been paid for by popular subscription and was locally known as the Groton Honor Roll Board. It was to perpetuate the memory of Groton's veterans that the War Memorial Room was dedicated in the new school.

Soon after the public vote on the school's site, the Board of Education purchased the property and let the contract to bid preparatory to the groundbreaking. The land was bought for $3,500 and construction costs were set at $116,500 based on the bid accepted from McHale Construction Company of Syracuse. The subcontract for electrical work was given to the David-Brown Electric Company of Ithaca. Construction began on August 4th, 1919. Despite problems laying proper foundations, construction was completed in 1920 and the first graduation was held in 1921.

At the time the Groton High School was constructed in 1919-20, the village of Groton was in the throes of a development boom unprecedented in magnitude in its previous 122-year history. Groton was founded in 1797 by Ebenezer Williams, by trade a wagon-maker but also the surveyor of what became the village. The earliest period of growth centered on Main Street; indeed, throughout Groton's history, Main Street has been the focus of each period of development. The Owasco Inlet, which flows north-south, was the reason for the establishment of a settlement and the site of the village's earliest mills, smiths and factories. Main Street parallels the Inlet and connects Groton to the nearby villages of Freeville to the south (also in Tompkins County), and Moravia, to the north (in Cayuga County). East-west traffic is primarily served by Cortland Street, which intersects Main Street at the north end of the village and connects the village to the city of Cortland, 10 miles east. This intersection is home to the earliest buildings in Groton; still standing (although severely altered) is the Groton Hotel, a hostelry dating to the early nineteenth century.

By the mid 1800s, Groton village had taken the shape it essentially has today, with the development of two residential streets (Church and Williams) parallel to Main Street and intersecting Cortland Street, and in the center of the village, another residential-industrial street bisecting Main Street (known as Spring Street west of Main and Elm Street east of Main). These streets define the limits of development in Groton, and by 1866, when the Tompkins County Atlas was published, this definition is refined to the point that streets have specific uses: Main Street is the commercial core, with some residences and industry interspersed among the retail establishments; William Street and much of Cortland Street are strictly residential; Church Street contains not only residences but also three churches (near the intersection with Cortland Street) and the Groton Academy (at the intersection with Elm Street); Spring and Elm Streets are industrial near the intersection with Main Street but residential further east and west.

It was during the 1860s that the corner of Main and Cortland streets was solidified as the center of commerce in Groton. The Groton Hotel was already extant at the southeast corner but the southwest corner saw the construction of two substantial three-story brick structures during this period: the Conger Block (groceries and dry goods) and the Bank Building (home of the First National Bank of Groton and the drug store). This corner was the heart of the village for many years despite the large industrial complexes erected further to the south on Main Street.

No discussion of Groton's 20th-century growth and prosperity are complete without mention of the village's industrial history; indeed, industry was Groton's reason for being since its founding until almost recently. In 1876 the Groton Carriage Company was incorporated from several smaller companies operating in the village since 1850. A factory consisting of several wood frame buildings was constructed at the northwest corner of Main and Springs streets. The sleighs, cutters, and carriages manufactured by this company were sold nationwide and worldwide. In 1901, when the Groton Journal and Courier noted that its "outlook for business is most excellent", the Carriage Company constructed a three-story brick building at the southwest corner of Main and Spring, the first time any business in Groton attempted to compete with the commercial blocks at the village's core. The newspaper also advertised the coming of the automobile in 1901, which was to signal the end of the Carriage Company's business. The company and its factory closed in 1908.

The Groton Iron Bridge Company, like the Carriage Company, was known worldwide and was also formed by the merger of several earlier local industries, which had been established in the late 1840s. The manufacture of iron bridges actually began in 1877. The factory's buildings spanned Main Street, south of Spring and Elm. In 1899, the Groton Iron Bridge Company was purchased with 22 other bridge companies by J.P. Morgan of Pittsburgh, to form the American Bridge Company. In Groton, the shop continued to be operated for one year, then it was closed and its machinery dismantled. In 1902, local interests repurchased the plant and acquired new equipment, and successfully operated the business under the name of the Groton Bridge Company until 1914, when some of the company's buildings were rented out to other businesses. In 1920, the remaining equipment was sold to American Bridge, and the company, again, disbanded.

In 1889, four Groton entrepreneurs bought the rights to the Crandall typewriter and moved its plant from Syracuse to Groton. Its factory was located on South Main Street and was in operation until the company was sold and moved to Chicago. In 1909, one of the former partners in the Crandall Machine Company, Benn Conger, bought the manufacturing rights to a small "folding visible writing typewriter" made by the Rose Typewriter Company of New York City. The machinery was moved to Groton and the name of the firm was changed to the Standard Typewriter Company. Production began in the buildings recently vacated by the Groton Carriage Company. From the outset, Standard was a busy firm, and one, moreover, able to weather the changing tides of fashion and fortune. In 1909, Standard patented its newest model of typewriter, the "Corona", and it was based on its overwhelming success that the name of the firm was changed again and expansion was planned. In 1913, the business saw a 100 percent increase in sales; by then it had completely taken over the Carriage Company's facilities, with the executive offices in the three-story brick building at the southwest corner of Main and Spring Streets. In 1916, plans were made to construct a modern factory on the site of the old carriage works and within the year a three-story concrete and glass structure, totaling almost 100,000 square feet, had been erected. The regionally prominent Ithaca architectural firm of Gibb and Waltz designed the Corona factory and a firm from Pittsburgh won the contract to build it. The new factory dominated an entire village block and proclaimed its modernity by its materials, plan, and design. While Groton's other long-standing industries had become obsolete or absorbed into larger concerns, the Corona Company prospered, dominating and overtaking the heights reached by the carriage works and bridge company.

It was this period of unprecedented growth that created the need for a larger school, one devoted solely to secondary education. Until this time, all of Groton's school age children had been educated in the Union School (demolished in 1955), which stood on a plateau at the northwest corner of Elm and Church streets, above (to the east of) the site of the proposed new High School. The Union School was an outgrowth of the original Groton Academy, a tuition-based preparatory school established in 1838. The Academy was also located at the corner of Elm and Church streets. In 1872 a union free school district was established to tax for both primary and secondary education and, as a result, the Union Free (secondary) School was merged with the Academy and the two occupied the Academy's building. This structure was destroyed by fire in 1883 and a large, two-story brick building, known as the Union School and containing grades 1-12, was built in its place. In 1899 there were 300 pupils attending classes at the Union School; in 1919 the Groton High School was constructed to hold 500 students in grades 7-12.

In 1916, when the Corona Company built its factory on Main Street and the Lehigh Valley Railroad Station was enlarged, the Groton Board of Education petitioned the State Department of Public Education to approve the construction of a new high school building for the village. The order was granted, then rescinded until 1919, owing to World War I. In the spring of that year, Albany reinstated the order and the Board of Education immediately began seeking an architect to prepare plans for the structure. At that same time, the Board gained state approval for the proposed site at the northeast corner of Main and Elm streets, just west of the Union School.

The population explosion experienced by Groton in the nineteen teens continued at a steady pace throughout the first half of the century. In 1926, the Corona Company merged with L.C. Smith & Bros. of Syracuse to form Smith-Corona. Factories were located in Cortland, Syracuse, and Toronto, as well as Groton. And in 1929 corporate headquarters were moved to New York City. Production cut backs occurred during the Depression, but World War II brought full recovery to the company. The Groton plant was enlarged in 1944 and again in 1946, when the demand for business equipment and office machines returned greater than before. The American Legion had built its own hall in the village in 1935-37, vacating the War Memorial Room and making it available for much needed classroom space. By the end of the war much of the first floor of the building had been taken over for school related activities.

By the early 1950s plans were resurrected for a new high school to be built on the south side the village, as proposed by the Main Street site's critics in 1919. In May, 1951, the voters approved a plan to repair and modernize the high school at a cost of $90,000. At that time, however, the Journal and Courier also reported that the Board of Education intended constructing a new high school in the near future and planned to convert the Main Street building to an elementary school. These repairs were delayed until 1953-54, when the new high school was completed on N.Y.S. Route 38 and the work on the high school was expanded to include its conversion to an elementary school. The old Union School at Elm and Church streets was demolished soon after it was vacated in 1954.

The architectural firm overseeing the repairs and conversion was Sargent, Webster, Crenshaw & Folley of Syracuse. The work was extensive, with a large portion of it related to updating the infrastructure and the remainder concerning the needs of elementary instruction. Changes to the infrastructure included the installation of a low pressure steam heating system fueled by oil instead of the original coal; removing the smoke stacks projecting from the roof; installing insulation in the roof and metal weatherstripping on all the windows; placing vents under the second floor windows on the front facade; replacing the electrical service, wiring, and fixtures; installing a second staircase from the basement to the first floor at the north end of the building; and replacing all the toilets. To accommodate the elementary students, the basement cafeteria and kitchen were expanded and updated; kindergarten rooms replaced what had once been game rooms on the first floor; the large study halls on the second and third floors became two separate classrooms each; and on the east side of the third floor a classroom and two laboratories were re-divided into two equal sized classrooms.

The last senior class graduated from the Groton High School in spring, 1954. The conversion and renovation was completed that summer and the building opened as the elementary school in fall, 1954. Eight years later, in 1962, the school board began discussions concerning the continued viability of the former High School as the elementary school versus building a new school on Elm Street. Again, the increasing population of school age children was a determining factor in their discussions since by the early 1960s at least two houses on Church Street had to be rented for additional kindergarten space. At that time, Smith-Corona expressed interest in expanding its facilities across Main Street and to many within Groton the option of selling the building and securing firmer roots for the largest industry in the village while constructing a more modern elementary facility suited to current needs, the sensible course to follow.

The purchase was finalized on May 31st, 1962, and Smith-Corona converted the structure into office space and a model-making facility. It was Corona that installed a second floor in the two-story gym, using the new floor as a laboratory. It may have been Corona, or subsequent occupants, that paneled several of the first floor classrooms and used them for offices. The company occupied the building for six years, by which time the Tompkins-Cortland Community College (TC3) had been organized and temporary quarters were being sought for the institution until a permanent facility could be built. Smith-Corona sold the school jointly to Tompkins and Cortland counties on December 20th, 1968.

The former Groton High School became the first home of the Community College and was used by that institution for seven years. Smith-Corona had altered little of the 1953 plan, and TC3's need for classroom space allowed the building to be occupied without a major reorganization of space. TC3 converted the first floor of the former gym into its library and continued to use the upstairs for science laboratories.

When a new complex for TC3 was completed in Dryden in 1975, the property was sold to a private individual who never occupied the building. The building was sold again, on June 27th, 1979, to John and Cheryl Caveney, who intended to remodel the school into apartments and commercial space. They formed three apartments within the structure, one on the second floor and two on the third, and rented part of the first floor to a business that designed and manufactured high-level vacuum pumps, and another part of the first floor to a local religious group. The Caveneys replaced the deteriorated built-up roof over the former auditorium with a new built-up roof during this period. Since 1984 the building has stood vacant.

Building Description

The Groton High School is located at the northeast corner of Main and Elm Streets within a block of the Village of Groton's commercial core and on the western edge of its oldest residential neighborhood.

The Groton High School dominates the east side of Main Street due to the site's steep east-to-west slope and 50-foot wide front setback. Twenty-four steps and three landings join the front entrance to the sidewalk on Main Street. The front block of the building is three stories in height with a rear projection set back and reduced in height to two then one stories and forming a T-shaped footprint. To the north and south of the school on Main Street is a wood frame Greek Revival-style residence covered with artificial siding and a recently constructed Mobil station, respectively. The gas station is separated from the school parcel by Elm Street. The residence to the north has a small yard and is uniform in size, scale, and materials to the buildings north of it. Across Main Street (west of the school) is the small brick and glass SCM Club (1950s) which was associated with the Smith Corona factory (1916) to the south of the club. The factory was demolished in 1984 and the lot remains empty except when used for parking. Behind (to the east of) the school is a vacant lot used for parking (the proposed municipal parking lot) and the Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne-style houses situated on Church Street. The steep slope of the school site separates this single-family residential neighborhood to the east from the commercial and retail stores of Main Street. Constructed in 1919-1920, the Groton High School is the only building downtown erected for educational purposes and the only historic school left standing in the village.

The school, built from plans drawn by Cortland architect Carl W. Clark, exhibits a NeoClassical form with cast stone embellishments. The central core is seven bays (145 feet) long, three bays (62.5 feet) wide, and is oriented north-south. The front of the building faces west and the rear (east side) projects back toward a hillside. The structure is framed with steel infilled with gypsum aggregate block. The exterior is clad with reddish tan, pressed brick laid in common bond with alternating headers and stretchers every sixth range. The principal facade is symmetrical and displays cast stone NeoClassical embellishments, such as six monumental engaged Doric columns and a segmentally arched pediment over a central entrance, framed by engaged columns and a full entablature. Stressing horizontal lines are two belt courses, one above the first and one below the third stories, and a four-foot high concrete water table at ground level. These courses serve as regulating lines to define the floors and fenestration.

The mass of the west (front) facade is divided into three sections: the central section is the largest and is setback approximately three feet from two flanking pavilions on the north and south. The central section is defined by five bays which are accented not only by the columns and central pedimented entrance, but also by regularly spaced triple windows, concentric circle cast stone bosses above each column in the cornice, and brick panels with cast stone corner blocks set between the second and third stories. The triple windows of the second and third stories are double hung with wooden sash and each series has a set of long rectangular casements above a single pane. The windows sit on cast stone sills and there are no heads or surrounds. The double windows of the first story are framed by a cast stone belt course above and a raised concrete block basement below. The sash is similar to that of the upper-story windows but the openings have been boarded up.

The north and south pavilions of the west facade are characterized by a series of four, three-over-one, double-hung windows on the second and third stories, interrupted by a long, rectangular brick panel similar in detail to those in the central core. Two smaller, paired windows are located in the first story, with a sash similar to that of the central core. A brick cornice separates the cast stone belt course above the third story and the cast stone eaves. The roof is flat and does not project above the side walls. The walls of the raised concrete block basement are smooth and without embellishment. Small, square windows in line with the windows of the floors above punctuate the walls of the central section and north pavilion; there are no openings in the west basement wall of the south pavilion.

The south elevation of the front block is built into the hillside and is characterized by three bays: the central bay projects approximately two feet from the face of the wall and has two series of double windows with three-over-three, double hung sash in the second and third stories. The east and west bays are unarticulated except for square, brick-bordered panels similar to, but much larger than, those on the west facade. Three irregularly shaped openings pierce the facade on the first floor and there are no openings at basement level.

The north elevation is similar to the south except for a boarded-up cellar doorway in the northwest corner of the block. The opening has no surround or decorative features.

The east (rear) elevation projects from the central core toward the hillside in three sections of diminishing size. Because of the slope of the land, the first floor is completely underground. The first projection is a three-bay wide, two-story extension of the school's main mass, with each bay on the west facade reflected in a series of four windows on the east. The cornice and eave detailing of the main block wraps around to encompass this projection as well. Double wooden doors with glass transoms above are located at the southeast and northeast corners of the main block and projection. The second projection contains what was once the original gymnasium and is a one-story extension covering the second floor. There are three bays of double windows on the north and south facades of this section, each with cast stone sills and brick heads. A brick belt course and a one-foot-high parapet wall define the area above the windows. A wide cast stone belt course surrounds the projection at floor level. The third projection is small, also one story in height, with a shorter parapet wall, cast stone corner details, and a single doorway in the south facade. A square window in the center of the east facade is the only other opening in this projection. A stairway with twelve steps leads up the hill toward the Church Street parking lot (former site of the Groton Union School).

Although alterations have been made to the school's interior, it retains some original features and the outline of the original floor plan. The exterior is reflected in the plan of the first and second stories with rooms positioned around a T-shaped system of halls. The long spine of the building is a double-loaded corridor that bisects the main block and the arms form narrower halls connecting the classrooms to the gymnasium at the rear (east side) of the building. The basement and third floor exist in the main block only and are long and narrow in plan. The basement consists of a series of interconnected rooms with a doorway to the sideyard on the north end and two staircases to the first floor, one at the northeast corner and one in the center of the east wall. The floor plan of the third story is the most intact, also with a double-loaded corridor bisecting it, like the floors below, and classrooms opening off it. Double staircases with their original cast iron railings and newel posts are located at the northeast and southeast corners of the main block and connect the first, second, and third floors. A wooden chair rail runs the length of the main corridor on all floors and hardwood tongue and groove flooring covers the classroom floors. Stamped metal ceilings, cove moldings, and cornices remain intact though in deteriorated condition in the classrooms and first-floor entryway. The entry also contains two three-by-four foot plaster of paris casts on either side of the hall depicting American historical scenes: George Washington crossing the Delaware River and pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock.

Groton High School, Groton New York Looking east (1991)
Looking east (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Looking east-northeast (1991)
Looking east-northeast (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Looking northeast (1991)
Looking northeast (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Looking north (1991)
Looking north (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Looking northwest (1991)
Looking northwest (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Looking west (1991)
Looking west (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Looking west (1991)
Looking west (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Lobby (1991)
Lobby (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Lobby (1991)
Lobby (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Lobby (1991)
Lobby (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Second floor, west classroom (1991)
Second floor, west classroom (1991)

Groton High School, Groton New York Second floor, southwest classroom (1991)
Second floor, southwest classroom (1991)