SINCLAIRVILLE - A cornerstone was placed in the middle of what used to be Harper's Farm on Aug. 13, 1939, to establish the beginning of a centralized school district bringing together 31 rural one-room schools.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of that monumental event, which is still very vivid in the minds of Cassadaga residents who had the opportunity to witness the event all those years ago.
Walter Waite recalls his uncle Walter Fredrickson placing a sign on top of the hill indicating the future site of the Cassadaga Valley Central School. Waite was a 6-year-old boy starting first grade when the cornerstone ceremony took place, and it was a profound moment for him.
"In January 1939 I was with my uncle when he placed the sign on the future site of the school," Waite said. "It meant a lot to me."
Waite's whole family was part of this historical moment, as well as many others who watched a time capsule placed within the cornerstone on that special day.
"I was at the laying of the cornerstone," Waite added. "I was standing next to my mother. My uncle was involved in laying of the stone."
In 1991 a small copper box was placed in the cornerstone as part of the ceremony to dedicate the new school, and this box held information about the 31 rural schools combined.
The school opened its doors in the fall of 1940 and welcomed seventh- through 12th-grade students.
"My uncle was the first treasurer of the school, and his son played the piano at the dedication of the school," Waite said.
The committee purchased the land from Robert Harper and a few others on the hill the school now sits on.
Harper's dairy farm consisted of 94.95 acres of land, and offered an ideal place for the surrounding communities to all have one central high school.
"They had to tear the house and farm buildings down to clear the land, which was very time consuming," Waite said.
This is more than just a remembrance of a cornerstone being placed in the middle of several towns and villages; it is about unifying an entire community to have a place to call home.
"I always tell everyone the school really is a 'castle on the hill' and we should honor it as a castle on the hill," Waite said. "I am very proud to think I graduated there."
Cassadaga Valley has not only served as a place of learning, but was also used to train pilots during World War II, and the clock tower was used to keep an eye on the sky for enemy aircraft. For many who were among the first to experience the centralization of several area schools, the cornerstone was a significant beginning of their success.
President Carl Perry added they take the school for granted these days.
"A lot of times we think of the school as an institution," he said. "It really is a beautiful building."
Perry noted every year when someone is asked to come back to the school they called home to give a commencement speech they ask about the library, fireplace and woodwork.
"They take a lot of memories away from the school," he said. "Seventy-five years ago they established a family, and gave the family a place to call home."
Board member William Carlson remarked on the history that has stood for 75 years.
"Look how well it has stood up," he said. "Students have been going here for (nearly) 75 years. We learn a little from our history, and we hope the history we make will be good."
Perry spoke with Waite about the history of this memorable event and about the building he holds so dear to his heart.
"The president of the school came to speak with me," Waite said. "I really appreciate that."