AUBURN - Forget Egypt and Greece; the Seven Wonders are no further than East Middle School students' backyards.
No, not the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Seven Architectural Wonders of Auburn, as identified by the eighth-grade class of the Auburn Enlarged City School District middle school this year.
Before school let out in June, students completed a project assigned by four teachers to identify the seven most wondrous architectural structures in Auburn.
This is the third year that teachers Amanda Bova, Jon Roberts, Jeff Alberici and Carolyn Cresco have asked students to compile a list of “wonders;” two years ago students identified a general list of Seven Wonders of Auburn and last year was the Seven Most Wondrous People.
“We're trying to keep it fresh and a little bit different,” eighth-grade history teacher Alberici said. “I think that's the biggest thing. We were looking to find something new … The kids are starting to get a point where they say, ‘Oh, we did that last year.' We just felt that that was something different enough, that there were enough structures in town that it wasn't going to be something that would be difficult to do.”
The goal, Alberici said, is to showcase Auburn's vibrant history and “engage with the city of Auburn.”
The idea of the project came from the book “The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Spring” by Betty G. Birney,“ Bova said.
The story follows the adventures of a young boy who dreams of far-off places, who is challenged by his father to see the wonders that exist right in his own hometown.
“In essence, in short, he ended up realizing that his community had so much more to offer than just a building or just people going about their daily lives,” she said. “And that's what we want our kids to realize in Auburn, especially at East Middle School in eighth grade, they are community members now. They are in high school now, and they start to realize that Auburn has a lot to offer.”
Bova and Cresco, who retired this year, assigned the book to their students in June. Then the students were asked to find wonders in their hometown.
After receiving suggestions from their family members, neighbors and friends, students compiled a list of places that intrigued them. Students then voted for the top seven that became The Seven Architectural Wonders of Auburn.
Alberici and Bova said they are likely to assign a variation of the project to their students next year, but shelve it after that and bring it back intermittently.
No. 1: Seward House
Chosen with 87.9 percent of the vote, students found the Seward House to be the chief architectural wonder of Auburn.
Erected in 1816 as one of the first brick buildings in Auburn, the place that statesman William Henry Seward called home is intriguing because it represents an amalgamation of architectural styles.
“If one were to look at the house from an architectural standpoint,” Seward House Executive Director Peter Wisbey said, “it's not a pure example of any one particular style. The Sewards kept building on and adding to the house throughout the 19th century, so it's a real mixture of styles.
“But I think what appeals to visitors is the fact that it feels very livable and comfortable, not as opulent as the houses of Newport, (R.I.) or the Gilded Age,” he continued. “And that was something that Seward was trying to do in his decorating. He wanted a house that would fit into the landscape with the colors and with a level of comfort, and I think he achieved that.
No. 2: Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged
With 67.7 percent of the vote, students declared the structure that represents Harriet Tubman's entrepreneurial venture and her dedication to helping others as Auburn's
second architectural wonder.
Built in 1896 as a place to care for aged and indigent African Americans, the simple rectangular, two-story five bay frame house lacks an elaborate architectural design and decor.
What makes the home unique, site manager the Rev. Paul G. Carter said, is symbolism.
“It's the mere fact that Harriet Tubman settled here and, being the a woman who was a freedom seeker who escaped the jaws of slavery and now in a position to purchase property, made it available to other people in need,” he said.
When people gaze upon the home, Carter said, they are “awestruck.” Some have been driven to tears while others pray for world peace.
“The biggest response is one of honor and appreciation and great admiration for all that Harriet Tubman did,” he said.
No. 3: Willard Memorial Chapel
Students proclaimed Willard Chapel as the third architectural wonder with 64.5 percent of the vote.
Originally part of the Auburn Theological Seminary, the chapel was built between 1892 and 1894 in memory of Dr. Sylvester Willard and his wife Jane Frances Case Willard by their two daughters Georgiana and Caroline Willard.
Crafted in Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, the chapel features rounded archways, textured blue limestone and features an asymmetrical design prevalent in buildings constructed during the latter half of the 19th century, said Marcia Walsh, who works with Community Preservation Committee, the organization that owns the chapel.
What the students found fascinating, Bova said, was the chapel's interior, designed and hand-crafted by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.
“A lot of students didn't know that that was Tiffany glass,” she said. “A lot of them thought, ‘It is pretty glass and that's great.' And when we said, ‘Tiffany glass,' everyone was like, ‘Oh wow! We know that, the blue box and expensive jewelry and New York City.'”
No. 4: Auburn
With 52.4 percent of the vote, Bova said students chose Auburn Correctional Facility as an architectural wonder because of the large pillars situated on the exterior of the prison.
“It's very renaissance looking with the big pillars outside and the
stone work,” she said. “It stands
out in comparison to all the other buildings around. You don't really see massive structures like that.”
No. 5: The Auburn Schine's Theater
With 49.2 percent of the vote, students decided The Auburn Schine's Theater fit the bill for the fifth architectural wonder in Auburn.
Filled with art deco decor, this theater, built in the 1930s, embodies one of architect John Eberson's signature designs. Mixing futuristic elements with atmospheric style, Cayuga County Arts Council President Dia Carabjal said visitors would feel like they were underneath the stars with full view of the planets that fill the sky.
Eberson, who gained notoriety through comparisons to Frank Lloyd Wright, constructed Schine Theaters across the country
during the first half of the 20th century.
“I think that very often the local people just look at the theater as nostalgia, of piece of old Auburn,” she said. “But the reality is, it's an architectural treasure at a national level because these theaters have been destroyed all over the country and aren't valued.
“The fact that we still have the theater and are rehabilitating it, and the fact that these kids recognize that, it's very astute.”
No. 6: Merry-Go-Round Playhouse
Before it became a central New York theater destination, the
structure on the grounds of Emerson Park that now houses the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse sent many people both young and old whirling while clutching to zebras, camels, cranes and horses.
It was that fact that enticed eighth graders to, with 33.9 percent, vote it an architectural wonder.
What makes the playhouse unique, Marketing Associate Hilary Ford said, is its history with the community.
“I think the fact that it was a merry-go-round and many of our patrons remember going there as children and riding the carousel,” she said. “We saved the building that was basically falling apart and was going to be torn down, and now it's a beautiful theater.”
Though renovations enclosed the once open-air structure, Mills said the playhouse still maintains the integrity of the historic merry-go-round.
No. 7: Holland Stadium
East Middle School
students need only to peer out their own
windows to find what they, by 32.3 percent, deemed the seventh architectural wonder.
“Students chose Holland Stadium because it's an open arena,” Bova said. “It's so close to the
school (it's on the school grounds), and that's where a lot of sporting events are held. It's one of the oldest arenas around and it has the original concrete, and things like that.”
District Superintendent J.D. Pabis said what makes Holland Stadium unique is its bowl design.
“It's one of the only natural bowl stadiums in central New York,” he said.
Built and designed in the 1930s, the stadium is shaped in a horseshoe with the entrance at the top of the structure. While Holland Stadium is used for many athletic events, most notably football, Pabis said there once was an intention for baseball to be played there.
While the district has maintained the stadium over the years, the structural integrity of it has remained the same.