On January 14, 1858, the Dansville Seminary was incorporated by the New York State Regents, under the sponsorship of the East Genesee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Classes began in September in a rented building, and later moved to the second story of the District No. 2 school building on Ossian and Spruce, while plans were made to construct a permanent edifice on the hillside. Over 200 pupils enrolled the first year; and for nearly 30 years, though troubled by periods of financial instability, the Seminary would be an important educational institution for the Dansville area.
On September 24, Ex-President Millard Fillmore paid his first visit to Dansville since his 1814 apprenticeship to Benjamin Hungerford. With his old friend William Scott, he visited the site in West Sparta where he had spent those several memorable months; the old carding mill was long gone, and the spot was overgrown with bushes. He also gave a speech for the students at the Seminary. A few months previously, the village had dedicated the newly-completed, three-story brick building on East Hill, behind the street which would, for a number of years, be called Seminary Street (now Health Street; the building itself later housed the King’s Daughters Home).
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great poet and essayist, visited Dansville in January 1865, to give a speech before the Gentlemen’s Lyceum of the Dansville Seminary.
Dansville, in 1877, was a village with an educational system that was showing its age. Although there were 1344 school-age children in the area, the average attendance in the town’s six school districts totaled a measly 269. Talk of unifying the districts had begun, but nothing would come of it right away. In addition, the Dansville Seminary was in a perpetual state of near financial collapse. One of the Seminary’s newest teachers, Dr. Julian B. Hubbell, had come to Dansville in 1876 to help his brother-in-law, Samuel H. Goodyear, run the Seminary. In time, his destiny would be linked with that of another village newcomer…Clara Barton.
Not quite dead in 1880, but close to it, was the Dansville Seminary. The once-distinguished school was on its last legs, owing largely to a depletion of state funds and the withdrawal of patronage by the Methodist Episcopal Conference. In April a village meeting was held to attempt to save it from financial ruin. Clara Barton was among those who spoke on behalf of the Seminary, which was spared, at least temporarily, from dissolution.
By 1883 the old Seminary was now defunct; but the Seminary building became home to the new Union Free School. Late in 1882, the two village school districts had been combined, and the old brick District No. 2 school building on Ossian and Spruce was abandoned. Plans for a brand-new school-house were being considered.
Involved with the creation of the Dansville Seminary: Clara Barton, Asa Othello Bunnell, Charles Shepard (husband of Nathanial Rochester granddaughter, Katherine Rochester Coleman),…