Then and Now: Lewis Academy
Education was apparently not high on the list of priorities of pioneer Wichitans in the 1870s, but they made up for it during the economic boom in the following decade. According to the history of the Wichita First Presbyterian Church, This is Who We Are, there were seven colleges being promoted or under construction in 1886 on the east side of the city alone.
In April 1885, an energetic canvass for subscriptions was started to build an educational institution in the heart of the city–the Wichita Academy. A site was purchased on the east side of Market between Second and Third streets. By June 1885, $11,000 had been raised and the school opened, but only briefly. It immediately ran into financial difficulty and closed after only a few weeks.
At that point, the presbytery of the Presbyterian Church formed a corporation to buy the failed school and to establish a Presbyterian academy. The Wichita Eagle reported on April 16, 1886, "The board of directors yesterday changed the name of the Wichita Academy to that of ‘The Lewis Academy’ in honor of Col. Hiram W. Lewis, president of the Wichita National Bank, who has made a gift of $25,000 to the school’s endowment fund. The corporation has also secured 100 additional feet from the present grounds to the corner of Market and 3rd streets for $6,500, making a total of 200 by 140 feet. The walls are nearly up to the top of the second story windows and in a few weeks the building will be enclosed."
The plans for the Lewis Academy were done by Wichita architects Proudfoot and Bird, and the building was to have a frontage of 112 feet and be 83 feet deep. The book, Wichita Century, A Pictorial History of Wichita, states the school opened "in September 1886 with 354 students in attendance."
Although the institution operated for a quarter of a century, it was not very successful. In the postcard book of Wichita, Peerless Princess of the Plains, it is that reported that during its existence, "the surprisingly small total of 273 boys and girls graduated from the Presbyterian school." In March 1909, the presbytery decided to sell the Lewis Academy building and consolidate the school with the College of Emporia.
For a year, the First Presbyterian church held services in the building until their new church was completed. The Power-Myers Conservatory of Music took up residence in the academy building for a few months until the structure was purchased by the YWCA. The Wichita Eagle reported on March 1, 1913 that the "YWCA board yesterday decided to take $20,000 endowment given them by A. A. Hyde and add another $20,000 to it and purchase the Lewis Academy....The building will be converted by YWCA into a dormitory and boarding house for working girls."
According to the Wichita Century, it was "occupied by that organization until 1949, when it was razed."
The site now contains an attractive building housing the Salvation Army. And if one looks closely, it even has a few of the architectural details of the old Lewis Academy."
(Notes for the above article were gathered in part from the Tihen Notes, Special Collections, Wichita State University)