St. Lawrence Academy

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This low-key monument is located outback of the apartment building I live in (it’s low to the ground. Wink, wink, see what I did there). I walk by it occasionally on my way to the local library. It’s located on Union Street in Potsdam. If you’re in the area, you should check it out!

As you can see this monument, was laid in 1916 celebrating SUNY Potsdam/ the Potsdam Normal School’s 100th birthday. Last week, SUNY Potsdam celebrated its 200th birthday, which is really awesome.

What’s interesting is that this monument has been placed in the location of the original St. Lawrence Academy. The Academy is the precursor of SUNY Potsdam. So what happened to the original building?

It’s history-research adventure time!

Today’s adventure has been brought to you by NYS Historic Newspapers. But seriously, this website is amazing and a wonderful resource for people interested in researching Northern New York. A link can be found in the “Resources” page.

Using newspapers, I discovered that the original St. Lawrence Academy was built-in 1810 by Benjamin Raymond, one of the first settlers of Potsdam. The building was used as a meeting place for the locals. From 1816 to about 1825, the building was used for the St. Lawrence Academy. It had grown too small for the growing number of students the Academy was attracting.

The building was described as a one-room wooden building, 24×36 feet and it had a vestibule, a cupola, and a belfry. The close-up of the plaque shows the original Academy building.

After 1825, the building was no longer in use. So it was bought by Anthony Elderkin, another early settler of Potsdam. Mr. Elderkin moved the building to Main Street (65 Main Street to be specific). It was called the “Red House Lot” after it was moved.

On that note, can you imagine moving a building in the 1820’s. It doesn’t sound easy or fun!

The building was remodeled into a residence for Mr. Elderkin. It passed on to his son and then the building had a series of owners, the last being Joseph Ross. In 1949, the building was demolished, along with two others, to make way on Main Street for new science buildings for Clarkson College.

This is the general location of what the “Red House Lot” would have been located on Main Street. Today the area is home to part of Clarkson University’s campus.

The old St. Lawrence Academy building had a very interesting history, especially with it being moved and being used for such a long time. Sadly though it was demolished, which isn’t uncommon when it comes to researching old buildings. On an uplifting ending because of the St. Lawrence Academy we have SUNY Potsdam, which is one of the oldest colleges in the SUNY system, if not the oldest.


“Bronze Plaque Marks Site First School House, Church,” Courier Freeman, Sept. 4, 1958, pg. 1.

“Stone of Old School,” Commercial Advertiser, March 28, 1916, pg. 1.