History of Port Byron Schools
(As paraphrased from the Port Byron Canal Days document "Our Schools," 2004)
The history of Port Byron schools reaches far back into the 1800s. In those early days, one-room school houses dotted the landscape. These schools, like the Hayden School in Throop and the Montezuma School, typically housed grades one through eight. The rooms were divided according to grade level and gender. Some students walked as many as two miles each way to attend school from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
The school year was divided into two terms. During the summer term, older students stayed at home to help run the household and farms; the younger students were taught by female teachers. Throughout the winter term, men taught as it was believed that it was easier for them to handle the older, rowdier boys.
After the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, Port Byron became a thriving town. The need arose for a new school with more classrooms and better equipment. The one room schools were consolidated into a single union school. In 1857, a charter was drawn up to establish an academy in Port Byron.
When the Free School and Academy opened in 1858, there were only six teachers on the faculty. Many of the students who lived outside the school district (residents in Montezuma, Throop, Spring Lake, Conquest and in other neighboring towns) walked up to five miles to attend classes each day. Forty years later in 1898, the Free School and Academy was destroyed by fire.
The following year, 1899, the new high school was built on the same site. Over the years, several important community leaders served as principals. In 1921 Arthur A. Gates took over as principal and served through 1959. In 1935 the Port Byron High School was destroyed by fire. As a result, a new and centralized school needed to be built. This change closed 23 smaller schools. The new Port Byron Central High School was built in 1937 on Church Street. With the centralizing of the district, transportation became an issue. The school soon owned a fleet of eight buses to transport students.
Enrollment continued to increase and in 1953, a new elementary school was built on Maple Avenue. The school was named after Arthur A. Gates. By the 1970s, enrollment was still increasing and two portable classrooms were placed by the elementary school. Both the elementary and high schools faced over-crowding. The Middle School was added to Maple Avenue in 1977 and named after Leslie B. Lehn. In 1991 it was renamed the L.L. Annex and enabled the school to provide for grades five through eight.
The High School on Church Street was replaced with a more modern school on Maple Avenue in 1990. All three schools were now on one campus. A year later the high school was dedicated and named in honor of Dana L. West. When enrollment leveled out in 2008, the three schools were changed to two schools and became the A.A. Gates Elementary School and the Dana L. West Jr.-Sr. High School.