Birth of The Union Free School

In 1936 the late G. Herbert Swick gave a speech at the dedication of the new Wilson High School. His talk described some little known facts regarding the history of the schools in Wilson, including the following.

Diversity of Applicants

When the old Collegiate Institute was started in 1845, it was decided that circulars would be sent out to advertise the new school-and they proved very successful. When the doors opened in the fall of 1846, 339 applicants had applied for admission. Over 60% of those applicants were non-residents! Applications came from Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Canada. Moral standards were very high at the school, and all pupils were required to attend church every Sunday and to be in their rooms at 7:30 p.m. except on Friday evenings which were reserved for social activities.

Free School Meets Objections

As other schools were built, attendance dropped off in Wilson, and by 1869, tuition money was inadequate to maintain the school and it became necessary to apply to the State for aid. A proposal was made to unite four districts to form a Wilson Union Free School, but it met with great objections-especially from the outlying districts. In fact, feelings ran so high many people would not trade with merchants that advocated “such an asinine project that would allow persons to be taxed to support a free school”.

One Additional Vote

When it came time to vote, it resulted in a tie, so one enterprising gentleman, Reuben F. Wilson, asked Elder Garfield (who loved to talk) to get up and make a speech in favor of the free school. While Garfield rambled on and on, Mr. Wilson hitched up his horse and buggy and raced to the harbor and asked Captain Bunn to get off his boat and accompany him back to the school. Captain Bunn voted “yes” and the Wilson Union Free School was born.