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An abbreviated history of Voorhees

One can still spot indestructible tanker desks, metal factory lockers, and other heavy furniture clearly from before 1971, lodged in various corners and studios of 450 West 41st St. These are fossils from The Voorhees Technical Institute, which belongs to the story of the oldest trade school in America.  One such locker standing in a nook of the north side of the third floor had a yellowing, peeling sticker stuck on it dated November 27, 1967, only just peeled off and saved by myself, on July 2013.

Yes, the oldest trade school in America was born out of the Technical Schools of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1881, it was renamed The New York Trade School, and art (with the exception of such practical skills such as lithographic printing) had been removed from the curriculum.

1892: JP Morgan endows the New York Trade School. Over the next 60 years it gains a reputation as the nation’s leading trade school for American young men and the model upon which other trade schools are founded. 

1946: The New York State Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences is founded in response to the needs of business, industry and the professions for highly trained technicians and other specialists for the post-war economy. 

1953: The institute is renamed New York City Community College, becoming the city’s first community college. 

1961: The New York Trade School’s charter is amended, making it a “technical institute.” It is renamed Voorhees Technical Institute in honor of Enders M. Voorhees, a prominent industrialist and chairman of its board of trustees. Its charter now allows the school to grant associate in applied science degrees and to operate as a two-year college.

In 1965, Jill Ferson became the first woman to attend the trade school. An electronics major from Forest Hills, Queens. A far cry from the institution that took over the building: Hunter College, which was founded as a women’s college in 1870.

Here is an article explaining the end of VTI in 1971. Operations were transferred and integrated with the New York City Community College, which is now known as City Tech. Then valued at $4 million and only occupied by about 50%, 450 West 41st St. reopened and was renamed the Voorhees Campus of New York City Community College.

There had been another vessel with the same namesake as this building once referred to by VTI students as “the new building”: a cargo ship that sailed along New York City. A bulk carrier that stopped operating in 1988. Parts have been sold for scrap, sections sent to Quebec, Turkey, and Greece.

The namesake, Enders M. Voorhees,  born 1891, was an erudite self-made man, who became a finance chairman of the U.S. Steel Corp. beginning in the late 1930s. A Harvey Mole is quoted to have said of Voorhees: “I’ve often thought that he’s probably forgotten more than I’ll ever know.”

Voorhees kept a boat and indulged a love for fishing. He brought home his catch, cooking steamed or poach salmon dinners for friends and family.

 “Outside of his family, his greatest personal financial commitment was to the Voorhees Technical Institute, a trade school, which has since been absorbed by the New York Technical College of The City University of New York. He felt strongly that people who could not attend college should still have the opportunity to develop their talents. Too often, he believed, peoples lives turned sour because they were never given any skills with which to get ahead.”

The VTI logo has since been appropriated by the society I founded: The Amateur Astronomers Society of Voorhees, est.  2012. The Voorhees building housed our inaugural month of salons, and the name remains, as we continue to host activities away from Hell’s Kitchen, such as a subterranean garage in Sunset Park, expeditions to the far reaches of the Rockaways, midtown meanderings, and epistolary exchanges.

EMMY CATEDRAL

AUGUST 2013