The structure would be two stories. There were over 100 students enrolled in 1840, necessitating an unprecedented force of five teachers. In 1858 the school enrollment was 214 with most students coming from Utica and its environs, however, also from throughout the state and indeed throughout the country.
On March 27, 1865 the building burned and operations were suspended during its reconstruction. The school reopened in 1870. Over the years, it had a few name changes to include the Utica Female Seminary, Mrs. Piatt's School, and the Balliol School. Its last year of operation was 1907, after which the building became the city's YMCA.
Despite the origin of the Academy fire, it left the city in need of an upper school, and no time was wasted in the reconstruction of a building for Utica Free Academy. With the money voted on November 7, 1899, the old academy (on Academy Street) was remodeled and enlarged for a ward school. The building continued as an elementary school (Bleeker Street School) until 1967, remained for various school-district needs for several years and was later converted to an apartment complex, called Academy Square Apartments.
Kemble Street, is the most remembered UFA edifice. The Building was an imposing structure, standing in the center of a spacious lot. It was in the classic Corinthian style and the materials used were light colored brick, and lime stone. The mason had completed the work and the carpenters had little to do besides laying the floors when fire damaged the not-yet-completed, four-level structure on April 5, 1898, gutting the building and disintegrating its roof.
Reconstruction work began immediately, subsidized by a $50,000 insurance payment and an additional $40,000 taxpayer allocation. On September 11, 1899, the new Utica Free Academy opened its doors to students. The building that was thought by some, but not all, to be of sufficient size to last for generations without the need for modification, a wonderful educational enhancement for the city as it entered the 20th century.
On April 27, 1908, fire struck again, this time after the school had been occupied for almost a decade, and thus more severely than the last fire in 1898 given that in 1908 the building was completely furnished. Because of the earlier experience, there of course were allegations that the fire might have been voluntarily set, however that notion was quickly set aside. As reported in the Utica Saturday Globe in its May 2, 1908 edition: The origin of the fire has not been determined but was probably accidental and not as hinted at, incendiary. Subsequent reports in other local newspapers also attributed the fire to accidental causes, at least one blaming it on carelessness.
Plans were immediately put in motion to rebuild the school; this time with a fireproof attic since both the 1898 and 1908 fires erupted on that upper level. In the Academy reconstruction process, the space over the auditorium was expanded for classroom use so that the rebuilt school would be capable of accommodating up to 850 students, larger but not sufficiently large to handle the rapid population gains then existing. By 1912, stretched beyond its limits, it was necessary to reduce the numbers of freshman coming to the Academy each year. Additionally, the decision was made to hold double sessions with some students attending mornings and others in the afternoon, a less-than desirable but necessary solution.
The imposition of double sessions, of course, was only a temporary solution, and by 1917, the school was again enlarged, doubling its size. But Utica, by 1920, was flirting with a population of 100,000, almost double what it had been when the Kemble Street facility opened in 1899. At least one elementary school, John F. Hughes, opened in 1925. expanded its curriculum to include the 9th grade in order to help with the overcrowding at UFA
As the population of the city expanded, there was a corresponding expansion of the areas in which people lived, sleeping further and further away from the Academy. Demands were increasing for a second high school, preferably much further east where homestead development was the greatest.
It wouldn't be until September 9, 1936 that a second high school would open, a unique edifice built under the Work Progress Administration (WPA) at a cost of $1,135,000, to be named Thomas R. Proctor High School in honor of that individual who gave so generously to the city he so dearly loved. While the Proctor facility did help the overcrowding at UFA, the continued expanding city population soon required more space, accented by the reality that by 1960, the school's graduation classes again were hovering around 600 students.
But, despite its already enormous size, in 1964 it was decided to further renovate the Kemble Street building at a cost of just under $2 million, adding a new library, cafeteria and classrooms to be first available at the opening of school in the fall of 1968. This was just before a North Utica school became a high school, later named John F. Kennedy High School. It too was overcrowded as North Utica's population inflamed, warranting a $2.5 million expansion of its own beginning in 1977.
Beginning with the first census recorded in 1813, when the Village of Utica's population was 1,700, up through the U.S. census of 1960, the number of residents in Utica grew regularly without interruption. However, after the 60s, there was a steady decline in population, falling below the 100,000 mark in 1970 and below 75,000 in 1980. And with this decline of people living in Utica came a corresponding decrease in high school enrollments, creating concerns that the city no longer needed three high schools.
In 1987 it was proposed that both Proctor and Kennedy high schools would become junior high schools and making the UFA facility Utica's only high school. With it developed elaborate busing requirements since students would be coming to either the high school or one of the two junior high schools from the furthest reaches of the city. Previously, as earlier noted, transportation was never the concern of the school, it having been the responsibility of parents and students. The high school retained its name, Utica Free Academy, but later that same year, it was changed to Utica Senior Academy.
It took only a couple of years to determine that the Kemble Street facility was not the best choice for Utica's only high school, because this was the oldest of the three high schools and the only one without room for expansion. In 1990, reversing itself, the school board declared the facility on Hilton Avenue, then a junior high school, as the city's sole upper division school, calling it Utica Senior Academy. Subsequently, the school board was implored to restore the original name to the Hilton Ave. facility and it became Thomas R. Proctor Senior High School.
By 1993 the Kemble Street facility was sold at auction and the building
itself postured to become an assisted-living campus for senior citizens
with facilities for skilled nursing services for those in need of special
care. It opened in the summer of 1995, known as the Loretto Utica Center,
administering to the opposite end of the age scale than it did when
it was a high school. And, thus Utica Free Academy was no more.