Demolition of the Talcott Street School rekindles fond memories

Demolition of the Talcott Street School rekindles fond memoriesPictured is a front view of the administration building and former Talcott Street School site, demolition of which occurred on Jan. 12. The administration offices are now located in a new building located within the OA complex. (Photo contributed by Jim Raftis, Sr.)
Demolition of the Talcott Street School rekindles fond memories

Pictured is the Talcott Street School, circa 1960’s. The Talcott Street School was demolished on Jan. 12. Destroyed in the Flood of 2011, the work was funded by FEMA, and demolition included asbestos abatement. (Provided Photo)

Demolition of the former administration building and Talcott Street School located at 36 Talcott St. in Owego, N.Y., which some former students fondly remember as “the heart of The Flats,” occurred on Thursday, Jan. 12. It took a crew only several hours to tear down the structure, which was followed by cleanup work during subsequent days.

A previous Owego Pennysaver story indicated that All Around Excavating of Johnson City won the $126,249 bid to demolish the building, which was destroyed in the Flood of 2011. Funded by FEMA, demolition work included asbestos abatement.

Demolition of the Talcott Street School rekindles fond memories

Pictured is demolition work at the former Talcott Street School site on Jan. 12.  (Photo contributed by Jim Raftis, Sr.)

Information received from Owego Apalachin (OA) District officials and Bernie Dolan, from Simmons Recovery Consultants, explained that the building was declared to be “substantially damaged,” therefore it needed to be demolished. In addition, “The property is owned by the school district and there are no current plans to build there. In order to do that, the parcel would need to meet local flood plain requirements, which it is not able to do.”

The administration offices are now located in a new building located within the OA complex.  

A book, “Through the Years at Talcott Street School,” published by the then PTA and school, with imprinted years on the book cover, 1953-1965, chronicles memories of the beloved school. Dedicated to Mrs. Gertrude Sawyer, principal of Talcott Street School, who contributed 35 years of her life in teaching and administrative roles, the book features teachers, staff and student photos, and includes another notable mention, former Superintendent of Schools, Sheldon E. Guile, for whom the road leading to the OA complex is named for.

The first Talcott Street School, a two-story wooden structure, welcomed students in 1894. To call students into school, a large bell in the belfry was rung. In the early days, rooms were heated with coal stoves, and a designated room for “singing days” housed an old organ. Teachers wore many hats, which included acting as guidance counselor and truant officer, and also tended the fire, wound the key-wound clock, and taught every subject along with gym, art and music.

According to the Tioga County Historical Society (TCHS), the Talcott Street School was staffed for grades one through four in 1888 and 1889, with one teacher for each grade level. One of the earliest teachers was Minnie B. Wade, who taught third grade, and whose family bequest enabled the TCHS to build its museum located at 110 Front St., which opened in 1960.

In 1911, the old wooden school was torn down and a brick building was erected in its place in 1912 on the same site. According to “Through the Years,” mornings started with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, and on special occasions, students marched to the Old Owego Free Academy on Main Street for assemblies. One such assembly featured guest speaker Helen Keller. A news story dated May 1926 indicates that Keller came to Owego with her teacher and companion, Anne Sullivan, and visited multiple locations.

The first addition to the Talcott Street School was built in 1947 and a gym was added in 1957. In addition, TCHS shared that “The Flats” community center, which was located across from 36 Talcott St., was used as an emergency school at various times during the 1940’s and 1950’s.  

Marie Ward, of Owego, recalls playing tag, kickball and “fox and geese” outside on nice days. She remembers, too, when students kicked balls on top of the new gym roof, and chuckled as she described how several times the balls had to be retrieved by a teacher; it wasn’t long before the students were told to stop.

Ward’s parents, uncles and aunts, along with herself and three siblings attended the Talcott Street School, as did her great-aunt, Pauline, part of the class of 1894.

The school, viewed as a landmark by many, will forever hold sentimental memories, and one of the most difficult, as Ward described, is, “So many generations of families attended the school, it’s hard to see it gone.”

A favorite teacher, Mrs. Lawrence, started the “Tattler,” a successful school newspaper published by sixth graders that cost a nickel back in September 1957. Each “Tattler” was about 15 pages and as many as 250 copies were sold each time, the money of which was used to purchase an item for the school.

Another student who attended the school, Diane Szlucha, shared that she hoped something productive would have been done with the property, and explained, “But progress must be made and it’s better than it standing there empty.”

As Jim Raftis, Sr. shared, “Once a Flat Rat, always a Flat Rat,” and a similar feeling is shared by many who grew up in the area. The Talcott Street School was also a place to go and play after school and on weekends, and whereby for some it became more than just a school. 

A sentiment from 1965-66 which refers to students transferring to the George Street school still rings true today, “We are certain that the same spirit we experienced in the old building (Talcott Street School) will exist in our new school.”

Laughter and echoes of children’s voices on Talcott Street may long be gone now, yet the spirit continues.

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