While some publications say Utica Academy is the city's oldest school, there's evidence one operated in the 1700s.

Utica is entrenched in a rich, vibrant history - but the waters are a little murky when it comes to the history of its early education systems.

For example, when beseeching ye old gods of Google to tell me the name of Utica's oldest school, I came up with nothing.

But, after some digging, I learned the first classroom to operate on city grounds opened in 1797.

Edward Gooch Collection/Getty Images

Utica was incorporated as a U.S. city in 1798.

What we know about Utica's first school

According to an excerpt from the Observer Dispatch, the first classroom operated on Main Street between First and Second Streets in 1797. That was back when the city was still called Old Fort Schuyler.

It was a private, boys-only school that was run by schoolmaster Joseph Dana, who was highly regarded as an exemplary teacher. However, he was also described as being strict and a stickler for good behavior.

And while Dana was viewed as a highly respected pedagogue, his classroom wasn't seen as favorably.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Reports of his classroom make it seem like it was the worst place to get an education, with students forced to sit on uncomfortable backless benches in gloomy surroundings with a wood burning stove serving as their only source of heat.


Eventually, the school closed after 1800 and Dana found gainful employment in Westmoreland. It is unknown why his classroom closed, but it is said it was due to trouble at his Utica institution that were beyond his control.

The last record of Dana says he became an army sergeant during the War of 1812.

Where is the school now?

Records say the classroom operated on Main Street, midway between First and Second Streets.

Courtesy Google Maps
Courtesy Google Maps

It appears the building is no longer standing, but its memory lives on in a Bagg's Square mural that chronicled Utica's history.

You can view the 76-foot mural at the Children’s Museum, located at 311 Main Street.

That said, next time you hear a local historian say the now-closed Utica Academy, turned Utica Free Academy, was the first school to open in the city back in 1805 -- you can put on your academic hat and take them to school.

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