The earliest mention of schools in the old Town of Northampton is found in McIntosh’s History of Gates where it is reported that one Peter Sheffer was elected school commissioner in the year 1798. The first school committee, according to this author, was formed in 1799 and consisted of Chapman Hawley, Joseph Morgan and Josiah Fish. This would indicate that there must have been a school of some sort at that very early date, even though there were probably not more than a dozen families living west of the Genesee River.
The earliest record of an established school in the Town of Gates belongs to that of District Number 11 School, which stood in the vicinity of Buffalo and Elmgrove roads, just preceding School District Number 5, which stood for 132 years at the same location.
In 1826, District Number 9 was built on Chili Avenue and served students in the area for more than 100 years until the Washington Irving School was erected near the site in 1931. By 1827, area residents felt the need for yet another school and District Number 11 was built on what is now Spencerport Road. In 1925, voters approved a proposal to build a new, bigger school on the site. The Warren Harding School went on to serve district students up until 1981-82, after which it was sold. It is the site of what is currently Northstar Christian Academy.
Just prior to 1837, District Number 4 School was built on Buffalo Road near Howard Road. Eventually the Thomas Edison School would be built on the site, continuing to serve area pupils through the 1979-80 school year. This building now houses what is known as Hope Hall.
Until 1956, the Gates Chili Central School District consisted of four independent Union Free School Districts. Those districts operated in the Thomas Edison, Warren Harding, Washington Irving and Florence Brasser (1937) schools. Each had its own Board of Education, levied its own taxes and provided instruction for students in grades K-8. At the time, due to a lack of a high school, students in grades 9-12 were educated on a contract basis by either the Spencerport Central School District or Rochester City School District. Rapid growth in Gates and Chili and in all surrounding school districts contributed to a vote to centralize in 1956. That May, district voters approved the purchase of an 86-acre site on the east side of Wegman Road for a construction of a junior-senior high school. Work began the following year and the school opened for grades 7-10 in September 1958. Consecutive classes were added to produce the first graduating class in 1961.
In 1961, district enrollment reached 3,358. With enrollment increasing by more than 500 students per year, construction on a second new building began in 1963, to be used as a middle school housing students in grades 6-8. This measure temporarily relieved overcrowding in the elementary schools and the senior high. Enrollment continued to skyrocket, doubling in size in the decade since the inception of the centralized district. The district proposed another bond issue in 1965 to build the Paul Road and Walt Disney elementary schools. By the time those schools opened their doors to students in 1967, enrollment was at nearly 6,000. Further relief from increasing numbers came with both the completion of a seventh elementary school, Neil Armstrong, and a sizeable addition to the junior high in 1969. Elementary enrollment reached a peak of more than 4,000 in 1970, while the district reached an overall peak of 7,677 students in 1974.
By the mid-1970s, however, enrollment began a gradual decline. By 1980, elementary enrollment had decreased to 2,195 students in grades K-5, leading to the closing of Thomas Edison School. District enrollment projections showed a trend for further decline and Warren Harding School was closed as well prior to the 1982-83 school year, when enrollment in K-5 reached 1,786. Following the 1985-86 academic year, a third school, Washington Irving, closed its door to students. While the Harding and Edison Schools were sold, Irving was retained and housed some district offices, continuing education programs, as well as the YMCA and other community groups. Washington Irving reopened as an elementary school in 1992; however, with another decline in enrollment Irving was closed after the 2007-08 school year.
Today, the Gates Chili Central School District closely resembles what it was shortly after centralization; four elementary schools serving students in grades UPK-5, a middle school serving students in grade 6-8, and a high school serving students in grades 9-12. The district’s current enrollment is approximately 3,700.
The History of the Gates Chili School District by the Gates Historical Society
Special thanks to former Assistant Superintendent for Administration/Personnel John Brondon for his work on the History of Gates Chili.