Ilion Superintendent - Dr. Earl P. Watkin

Superintendent

Dr. Earl P. Watkin

Ilion Central School District

Tenure 1923 - 1954
By Aileen Carney Sweeney
February 2014

 

At 1:30 pm, on February 17, 1954, Dr. Earl P. Watkin died unexpectedly, while at work, in his Ilion Superintendent school office. He was 63 years old. At the time of his death, Dr. Watkin had just been designated recipient of the llion Good Citizenship Award and was to be honored at a dinner scheduled for the next Sunday night.

Earl P. Watkin was born Feb. 4, 1891 in Florence, a son of Henry and Ida Perry Watkin. He graduated from Camden High School in 1908. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1912. He later earned his Master's Degree from Hamilton and Columbia University and his doctorate in education at New York University. Prior to World War I, he served as a teacher at Union Springs, North Troy and Clinton schools. During the war, he served in the Army Signal Corps. He returned to Clinton, NY after the war.

Dr. Earl P. Watkin Newspaper Death NoticeDr. Watkin
Utica Observer Newspaper Death Notice

 

He was Principal of Clinton High school and was the Superintendent of Schools in Waterford, NY for three years. He married Mary Ellen Morgan, in 1921, in Massena, NY. Mary Ellen taught music in the Clinton schools. Their only child, Dr. Donald Morgan Watkin, was born in Ilion on June 17, 1922. The Watkins made their home, in Ilion, on John Street.

 

Dr. Earl P. Watkin Ilion Superintendent

In 1923, Dr. Watkin was appointed Ilion Superintendent of Schools. He served as Ilion's Superintendent until 1954. He held the position for the longest term, over 30 years, of any Ilion School Superintendents.

At his death, Dr. Watkin was president of the New York State Teachers' Association and was a past President of the Schoolmaster's Association. He was also a member of the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of School Superintendents, and the Hamilton College Alumni Association. He had also served as Chairman of the Ilion-Frankfort Chapter of the American Red Cross. He was a vestryman at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Ilion. His funeral was held at St. Augustine's Church on Saturday, February 21, 1954.

 

Dr. Watkin began his tenure at Ilion under very, very tumultuous conditions. On Saturday, February 24, 1923, district residents voted down a major building proposal for the district. The School Board hired the firm of Fuller & Robinson, architects of Albany, to draw up plans for additions to the West Hill School and the High School. The architects also drew up plans for a new elementary school to be built at Hunts Field. The Hunts Field land was already owned by the district. The proposal also called for the abandonment of the Morgan Street School. At the time, West Hill housed the kindergarten through the fourth grades. The district was facing overcrowding in all its buildings. The Annunciation parochial grammar school had not yet been built.

1914 Ilion High School
1911 West Hill School

 

1914 Ilion High School
1914 Ilion High School

The new plan provided for also housing the fifth and sixth grades. The plans for the High School included a three-story addition across the East end. The planned additions to the high school would have facilitated reducing overcrowding at the Morgan and North Street Schools. Seventh and Eighth grade students were to be relocated from Morgan Street to the high school. The moving of North Street seventh grade students would have allowed North Street School to offer full day kindergarten classes that at the time were only half-time sessions.

 

Superintendent, H.M. Schwarz, submitted his resignation letter to the School Board on May 1, 1923. On that same day, another special election was held to vote on a revised building proposition. The new plan eliminated the construction of a new elementary school at Hunts Field. The new proposal still helped ease the overcrowded conditions by expanding the High School and West Hill School. Once again, district voters rejected the second plan.

Morgan Street School
Morgan Street School

 

The same evening that the second proposal was defeated the entire Board of Education resigned. The members, who resigned, on May 1, 1923, were Dr. H.H. Redway, Eva Tucker, R.D. LeRoy, Nathan Chase, and George M. Carney. The resignation letter was offered by George Carney and seconded by D.J. LeRoy, and was approved by the entire board.

"Resolved, That because the electors of the district have withdrawn their confidence in the Board of Education as shown in the rejection of the propositions recently presented for their decision, we, the undersigned, believing that it is for the best interests of the children of the district that another group of trustees be selected to fill the vacancies caused by our resignation, we do hereby resign and submit this resignation to the commissioner of education of the State of New York for his immediate action."

R.R. Redway
Mrs. A.H. Tucker,
N.A. Chase
G.M. Carney
R.R. LeRoy

 

By June 1, 1923, a new Board of Education was elected. The Board President was Dr. Henry J. Hunter. Other members were Rev. Lloyd R. Benson; Rector of St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, Mrs. Everett Mack; a former Ilion schoolteacher, J. T. Hillenbrand; purchasing agent for the Library Bureau and Herbert A. House. Mr. House has been a vocal opponent of the prior board's building proposals.

The Board of Education selected Earl Watkin, at its meeting on Monday, June 24, 1923, to be the next Superintendent of the Ilion School System, at an annual salary of $3,500. He was chosen from a field of 26 candidates for the position. Dr. Watkin would continue in this position until the day he died, February 17, 1954.

 

Highlights from Dr. Earl Watkin's Years as Ilion School Superintendent

1923 - 1954

1924 - Three building propositions were again presented to the voters on March 8, October 11 and in December. The March 8th proposal was defeated. The proposal for high school additions passed Oct 11 and the proposal for West Hill school building passed in December. The village bought the Morgan Street School site and a municipal hall was on the way to completion by 1926.

Ilion High School 1925 Wing Additions

Ilion High School 1925 Wing Additions
Illustration from 1936 Annual

Ilion High School 1925 Wing Additions

Ilion High School 1928 East Wing Addition
Gymnasium added

1925 - West Hill School Renovation - The addition of fourteen rooms and a gymnasium was completed. The additional room allowed for housing the fifth and sixth grades.

1926 - The High School, three-story, North and South wings were opened for the Junior High School.

1928 - The High School gymnasium (later known as the girls' gym and later as the Library/Media Center) was ready for use.

1929 - State Board of Education Building Survey of the Ilion and adjacent districts (South Ilion and East Frankfort School Districts) that were related to the village school system was completed. Recommendations included that District 7 (South Ilion District) and District 1 (Ilion village district) unite and a new building be erected on a site that would serve all the elementary pupils in the territory.

1929 - The Stock market crashed on October 29th and marked the beginning of The Great Depression.

1931 - Petitions were circulated, by Mrs. Arthur Beckwith, for the annexation of the portion of the East Frankfort School District that is located in the village of Ilion. The petitions were to be sent directly to the State Board of Education. A previous proposition was defeated by the East Frankfort section of the district.

1932 - Petitions were circulated protesting the move of third grade students from the High School to West Hill School. All buildings were overcrowded. Superintendent Watkin recommended the construction of a four-room school building, on Hunts Field, to ease the overcrowing situation. The school board favored building an eight-room structure to house students from the Old Forge and East Frankfort area. Those districts showed no desire to merge with Ilion.

1933 - The school district obtained, from the Ilion Cemetery Association, land to use for the athletic field and tennis courts. The new field and courts were located behind the High School building on the East side.

Ilion High School Kindergarten at High School 1936

Ilion High School housed Kindergarten and First Grades
Class of 1947 Kindergarten photograph

1936 - Parents protested the plan to move kindergarten and primary students from the High School to West Hill School and North Street School. The Board agreed to allow those children, who only attended half-day sessions, to stay at the high school. Other primary grades were moved to the grammar schools.

1936 - The Remington Arms donated pond-covered land, to the school, for use as a community/school, recreation athletic field. The deed provisions stated that the fill material, for the pond, be obtained from buildings that were being demolished on the Remington Arms property. A raceway, used by the Remington Arms, was located on this North side of the high school. [Note - This is the lower field which is adjacent to the Tow Path and was known in the 1960s and 1970s as The Girls Field]

1936 - New tennis courts and track were built at the high school by the WPA.

1936 - The Remington Rand strike began in May 25, 1936 and lasted until April 1937.

1936 May - Two propositions to buy property adjacent to the south side of the high school were presented to the voters. The first parcel was for land immediately to the East of the high school for a cost of $4,000. The second proposition was to buy the Weber property South of the high school to Philip Street, for $2,000. Dr. Watkin proposed that the land would be invaluable in the event another school building and improved athletic field are needed. In addition, a south driveway was proposed if the land were purchased.

1937 - The School Board assumed financial and athletic scheduling responsibility for the Physical Education program in the district. Dr. Watkin recommended that Varsity Basketball be approved at the high school if Ralph Bemis coached the team. Students circulated petitions for varsity teams.

1938 - The 'temporary' road from Philip Street to the high school was completed.

1941 - World War II - December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor was attacked.

1942 - First Air Raid Drill was held at the High School.

1943 - Sample War News from August - Ilion graduate's parents received word that their son, Jack Chesebrough, was alive. He was last heard from in a letter written, by him, in February 1942. He was an Army Air Force corporal and was taken prisoner by the Japanese during the Battle of Bataan. He survived the Japanese Bataan Death March along with Ilion graduate, John F. "Jack" Fischer, Class of 1938.

1944 - Sample War News - Area teachers reported for duty with the US Army. Included on the list were E. Vincent Mack, high school science teacher, Byron Greenfield, Principal of East Frankfort School and Robert Piearce, East Frankfort physical education teacher.

1945 - Sample War News -Ilion Class of 1943 graduate, Nelson Pardee, and future Ilion resident, Myles Sinnott, were German POWs and survived the German "Black March" across Germany. They were liberated in April 1945.

1947 - Grammar school overcrowding led the district to open a kindergarten and first grade at the high school again.

1948 - The Board proposed selling Hunts Field and the Old Forge Road District school building. The Old Forge District had been annexed to the village school system. The Board also proposed buying the Frank Whitney property which was south of Brook St. and east of the golf course and down off the hill. The price was $12,000. [Note - The land that was east of the golf course, from Old Forge Road to Brook Street, now known as Forge Hill Drive and Forge Hill Estates was owned by Walter Davis, Plant Manager of the Remington Arms and was not included in the proposal.]

Ilion Old Forge School District

Ilion Old Forge School District Proposal to Sell 1948

Ilion High School

1947 Ilion High School front, west side

1950 - Korean War begins.

1950 - A Coal Shortage, due to a strike, threatened to close Grammar Schools in February.

1951 - North Street School gymnasium was expanded.

1951 - The high school was expanded with the addition of 10 rooms including a music room and cafeteria. The back stage was also remodeled.

1953-54 - East Frankfort Union Free School District joins the Ilion District No. 1.

1954 - February 17th - Dr. Earl Perry Watkin dies in his Superintendent Office at the high school. He was 63 years old.

1960s to Present - The Ilion Teachers Association raised funds, sometimes by holding Faculty Basketball Games, for the Earl P. Watkin Memorial Fund Scholarship which was annually awarded to the Class Valedictorian.

1970s to Present - An oil portrait of Dr. Watkin has been on display, along with other Superintendents, in the High School Burton T. Seymour Auditorium entrance hall.

Dr. Earl Perry Watkin

Dr. Earl Perry Watkin
Ilion Superintendent

 

Dr. Earl and Mary Watkin's son, Dr. Donald Morgan Watkin, graduated from Ilion High school, in 1939. He was only sixteen years old when he was named the Ilion High 1939 Class Valedictorian.

Donald Watkin also attended Hamilton College and graduated in 1943. While at Hamilton, Donald joined his father's fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, made the Dean's List for four years and graduated with honors, in biology, in 1943.

Donald Watkin entered Harvard Medical School under the U.S. Navy's V-12 program. He earned his M.D. degree in 1946. He was a physician and medical researcher and administrator of the employee health division of the Federal Aviation Administration. Dr. Donald Watkin died in Washington, of complications of diabetes, on October 29, 2007.

IHS Valedictorian 1939 Donald Watkin

1939 IHS Valedictorian
Donald Watkin

 

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References Cited

 


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