Theodore Roosevelt Junior High in Amsterdam was a melting pot where many students encountered different ethnic groups for the first time as they came to the realization that there was more to life than what was found in their elementary school neighborhoods.
The junior high, which included grades seven through nine, was built in 1924 on Guy Park Avenue east of Wall Street and dedicated the next year. The old high school behind it, constructed in 1904, was attached to the junior high when the new Wilbur H. Lynch High School was built in 1930 on Brandt Place on Market Hill.
Lynch Literacy Academy, named for a longtime school superintendent who also served a term as Amsterdam mayor, today is a middle school, educating grades six through eight.
The last class at Roosevelt Junior High moved up to high school in 1977. The junior high and its annex were then demolished for the Theodore Roosevelt Apartments and adjacent parking lot.
When the Guy Park Avenue junior high was dedicated, Theodore Roosevelt was well-remembered in Amsterdam. Roosevelt had visited the city numerous times. When he died in 1919, the city held a Roosevelt Day in which clergymen paid tribute to “the great statesman.”
Fritz Heil, who was principal for the junior high’s first 34 years, told students that when he was young, Roosevelt came to his town and Heil jumped up on the running board of the great man’s car and shook hands with him.
According to a 1957 edition of the school newspaper, The Broadcaster, Heil had dropped in on an eighth-grade English class to see how students were doing with this question, “What is grammar?” One student told Heil, “Grammar is the study of the language that a person speaks.” Heil was chagrined that some students spelled the word “gramer” or “grammer.”
Lynch Literacy Academy continues the school newspaper tradition today with an online publication called The Broadcaster.
When Heil retired in February 1960, the students gave him a money purse to pursue his many hobbies and the teachers presented him with a transistor radio. Heil was a woodworker and an outdoorsman, climbing all the Adirondack peaks and teaching horseback riding at a summer camp in Old Forge.
Heil presided over numerous elaborate moving up day ceremonies which featured music, student speeches, pomp and circumstance. Roosevelt Junior High even had its own song, sung to the tune of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
One educator remembered that Heil had written the words to the song. A school alumna though contended that a student named Barbara Casey wrote the lyrics as part of a school contest.
The verse went as follows, “Other students may think their school’s the best and serve it with loyal devotion. But the school that is dear to you and me is this school of ours with colors blue and silver.”
The chorus concludes, “So let us remember this day when we leave junior high school forever. And sing as we go on our way, Oh, junior high, we pledge to thee our best endeavor!”
Back in the days of Roosevelt Junior High, there were little eateries nearby such as Orsini’s on Wall Street where students bought French fries in little paper bags. Eddie Doyle’s confectionery store was close by along with Sam Soula’s card and magazine store and Bigler’s Tavern, where some teachers may have relaxed with liquid refreshment after their hormonally charged students left for home.
The junior high building had an auditorium and gymnasium that were used by the community for Sportsmen’s Shows, concerts, sporting events and other public gatherings.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].