Silk Screen Art Building:

History of the West Main Street school-house, No. 18

518 762-6425




JUNE 2, 1980

1 School Street, Johnstown

Courtesy of John Rockwell and Dave Sponenberg


This school house not only still stands, but as you can see is still used today.  This article is part of the collection on the Johnstowns' schools held at the Johnstown Historical Society, 17 North William Street, Johnstown, N. Y.

This article was typed by Laura Stewart.  Laura has transcribed many of Fulton's pages and has a deep interest of the history and area of Johnstown.  She is searching for information on NOLAN families, who worked and resided in Johnstown. Their main occupations were as masons and construction workers; in fact, they built several of the brick houses in Johnstown.



"From the 3 r's to gymnastics to T-shirts."  If the history of the building located at 1 School Street could be told in one sentence, this phrase would serve the purpose.  From the time a building is completed, it undergoes several changes throughout its lifetime.  The building that is presently occupied by the Silk Screen Art Company is one such building.

An 1810 census report described Johnstown as a small village comprised of about 120 houses, the County Building, two churches, and an academy 1.  This academy was located on South Market Street 2.  With a growing population there soon was need for another school in the village of Johnstown.  In 1856, the government of Johnstown established a second school on West Main Street.  Both of these schools were low, wooden schools and were painted yellow.  At this time all schools were painted yellow; traditional "little red schoolhouses" came later 3.   A wood-burning stove was used to heat this schoolhouse 4.  A fire in 1858 destroyed the wooden school known as Public School Number 18, the West Main Street school.   In 1860 the school was replaced by a two-story brick building, the building which stands now 5.

In 1869 the State Board of Regents reorganized the Johnstown Schools.  Johnstown was divided into an upper and lower district 6.  The upper district, also known as District 2, was the area from Market Street east.  District 4, the lower district, was everything east of West Main Street.  The District 2 school was in back of the present Conroy Glove Shop on South Market Street. Snyder School District 4 was the name of the lower district school 7.   The District 4 School was named after William S. Snyder.  Snyder started as a teacher and then served as principal.  In 1873 he became superintendent of schools 8.   The 4-room school building was an elementary school that concentrated in teaching the basics.  Although there were not eighteen schools in the city, the West Main Street school continued to be known as Number 18 until 1906 9.  With the early 1900's came the need for bigger schools.  In 1910 the high school and other elementary schools were built in the city of Johnstown 10.

The building was then used by the city for various purposes until 1909.  The city used it mainly for storage 11.  At this time, Mayor Frank Beebe and other electors of the city of Johnstown voted on a land trade.  Archibald McMartin and his wife, Josephine, owned a lot number 74, the Union Hall lot.  The city was looking for land where a Soldiers and Sailors monument could be erected.  The city then decided to give McMartin the West Main Street lot in exchange for the triangular Union Hall plot 12.   Mr. McMartin remodeled the building that stood on the West Main Street lot.  It was then used as a glove factory until 1912 13.

On January 15, 1909, an indenture (written contract or agreement ) was signed between McMartin and his wife and Harry and Jessie Veghte.  The Veghtes bought an undivided one half part of the West Main Street school lot.  The other undivided half part of this property was conveyed to David and Allison Hayes on November 11, 1913 14.

On April 13, 1914, a fire broke out in the southwest corner of the former schoolhouse.  The fire was raging when firemen arrived at the scene.  The first floor interior of the brick building was practically gutted. Although thick smoke made firefighting difficult, the fire was kept from the second floor.  At the time of the fire, the building was owned by both Veghte and Hayes. Frank Heddon was renting the building for the purpose of storing leather scraps 15.

The total property changed hands again in 1914. The Hayes Party and the Veghte party sold the entire property to the Slovak Gymnastic Union Sokol, Assembly 99 of the city of Johnstown 16.  This indenture was signed on December 16, 1914.  The land was the same as the premises described in the deed dated August 31, 1908 17.

The Sokols used the old West Main Street school as their hall. The had to make many changes in the building after they purchased it. Outside, the added a storm porch. This can still be seen on the West Main Street side of the building. The cupola on the roof of the building was removed because it wasn't architecturally safe. The building was also changed internally. A stage was built on the first floor. Hardwood floors were put in to provide a gym as well as dance hall.

The "99", as it was called, was an active social club. The building was used as a gathering place for various social and fraternal activities.  The small stage was used for plays that Sokol members acted out in the Slovak language.  The Colonial Little Theater also held their plays here until they bought their own building. The Sokols were also athletically minded. The first floor was used for gymnastics drills.  Both adults and children participated in these drills 18.  Drills were held on the high bar, horse, rings and on the floor. Often Sokol members performed these drills outside, on the front lawn, for people to watch. Sokol gymnasts competed against teams from other areas and also in a state competition 19.  Meets were held in Little Falls, Schenectady, and Binghamton.  There were teams for both men and women. Bigger meets were attended by Sokol teams in Chicago and even Europe.  The Sokol slogan, "A healthy mind in a healthy body" showed the emphasis they put on athletics and keeping shape. Inside the building there were also pool tables and places to play cards.  Whole families came each week for a variety of activities including chorus, drama, gymnastics and dances 20.

As times changed, so did peoples' interests.  The city was growing and there were a variety of other fraternal clubs being started. Much of the older generation that belonged to the "99" had died and the younger generation was losing interest 21.   There were other activities for children and students in the community.  The Sokol still exists as a club today.  The Sokols do not have a hall of their own, but have monthly meetings at the Moose Lodge in Johnstown.  It is a club similar to the Eagles but is for both men and women 22.  Dues are paid and the money is used for parties and a sick benefit for members families upon their death 23.

The Slovak Gymnastic Union Sokol occupied the building from 1914 until 1960. On April 3, 1960 the building was sold to Mr. David Sondberg for $3,500. Because of the buildings' age, several changes had to be made.  The ceilings were lowered for the purpose of saving heat. A column was added in the back of the building to provide additional support.  A freight elevator was installed to make it easy to haul things between floors 24.  Although the foundation was well constructed and a yard thick, small repairs had to be made on part of the brick foundation 25.  The structure was preciously heated by oil, but in recent years has been converted to gas heat. The Silk Screen office is located in a rather interesting place. I is higher than the rest of the floor, as many offices area, and is on what used to be the Sokol stage. When Mr. Sponenberg bought the building, he had the stage closed off to serve as what is now his office. Other minor repairs were also made in the front inside of the building that was damaged by the 1914 fire 26.

Silk Screen Art Company is presently owned by Mr. David Sponenberg. Silk Screen has occupied 1 School Street since 1960.  Though many think of this business as primarily a local one, Mr. Sponenberg said 99 per cent of their business is through the mail Silk Screen Art puts lettering on all kinds of garments. they area also engaged in making a variety of emblems.  Silk Screen Art employs about ten people who work with machinery and do the artwork necessary for many orders.

The site at 1 School Street has served as a school, a place for leather storage, the Sokol hall, and presently Silk Screen Art Incorporated. Though it appears as not much more than an older mill, this building has a long, interesting history.


1.  Robert Morris Palmer, Historical Fulton County, (pamphlet).

2.  Robert E. Bedford, "100 Years Ago", Patriot, June 11, 1975, 4.

3.  Julia Hertik, interviewed by Susan Pollak at 12 Briggs Street, March 28, 1980.

4.  Mr. Robert E. Bedford, interviewed by Susan Pollak at Bedford's Hardware Store, Main Street, April 2, 1980.

5.  Interview with Julia Hertik. This brick building cost $2,500.

6.  Joseph T. Newlin, Muskets to Missiles, 1958, 45.

7.  Interview with Julia Hertik.

8.  Interview with Mr. R. E. Bedford.

9.  Ibid., April 18, 1980.

10. Joseph T. Newlin, 45.

11. Interview with Mr. R. E. Bedford.

12. City Historian's Fire Record Book, (records since 1880) In the Deed's Office, book number 141, page 439, the property was described as follows: bounded on the north by lands formerly owned by Mr. Robec, on the west by lands owned by F. J. & G. Railroad company, on the south by West Main Street, on the east by School Street, and on land once called the West Main Street School lot.

13. Mr. R. E. Bedford's Fire Record Book.

14. Deed's Office, visited March 1, 1980. Deed Books used:
Book 448, page 335, deed dated March 10, 1960.
Book 141, page 439, deed dated December 16, 1914.
Book 124, page223, deed dated September 1, 1908.

(NOTE:  End of footnotes that I have.  Please consult the Johnstown Historical for remainder of footnotes from document.)

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Copyright , 2000 Susan D. Pollak & Johnstown Historical Society
Copyright , 2000 Laura Stewart
Copyright , 2000 Jeanette Shiel
All Rights Reserved.

Last updated Tuesday, 13-May-2008 13:10:14 PDT