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Monday, September 14, 2009

School Bells: Academies and Seminaries 1790's-1890's

From the earliest years of the Upper Valley, leaders of the towns felt that it was important to

establish institutions for educating students beyond the common school level. Pictured above is Newbury Seminary, located in Newbury Village. It opened 175 years ago this month on Sept. 15, 1834. It was moved to Montpelier in 1868 to become Montpelier Seminary (later Vermont

College, part of Norwich University).

Haverhill Academy's Pearson Hall is seen behind the graduating Class of 1881. Haverhill Academy was chartered in 1794 and for a time was the only institute of higher learning in the area. (Photo/courtersy of John Page/Haverhill Historical Society)
While the first academy in Orford opened in 1796, it closed soon after for lack of a charter from the state. Orford Academy was reopened in this building in 1851. The third floor was the boys' dormitory and named Patterson Hall after John Patterson who provided the funds for it.

The Cookeville Academy building housed the Corinth Academic Institute and County Grammar School from 1846 to 1910. In 1847, 170 students were enrolled. It is now the home of the Corinth Historical Society.

The picture above and below is of the original Thetford Academy classroom hall (right) built in 1818. To its left is Burton Hall dormitory (1845) In the picture below, Bartholomew Hall (1870) can be see to the right of the classroom building. All three buildings burned in 1942. (Courtersy of the Thetford Historical Society)

Montebello Ladies Institute, located north of Newbury Village, opened in 1850. Over the next 17 years it awarded the degree "Lady of Liberal Learning" to many young ladies.

Bradford Academy operated in this two-story wooden building for 75 years following its opening in 1821. The building was replaced by the brick Woods School Building in 1895.

As printed in the Journal Opinion on Sept. 9. 2009

There have been private academies, seminaries and institutions that operated in our local area from as early as the 1790’s. Education was very important in early New England as it enabled people to read the Bible. In 1647 Massachusetts required primary schools in most towns. New Hampshire followed suit in 1680 as did the new state of Vermont in 1777. Randolph Roth’s study of the Connecticut River Valley of Vermont between 1791 and 1850 includes a speech given to the 1782 legislature by Rev. Gershom Lyman. Lyman, “expressed the belief of the majority of Vermonters when he referred to ignorance as, ‘a natural source of error, self-conceit and contracted, groveling sentiment.’ ”

Roth continues, “Education promised to create an electorate that would choose its representatives wisely and then defer readily to the judgment of those they had placed in power over them.” He concludes that by the turn of the 19th century, “the valley had one of the highest literacy rates in the world—approximately 95 percent for men and 85 percent for women.”

Area business and professional leaders were instrumental in establishing private academies to provide education beyond the common or primary schools. Their motives were similar to those of the founders of Haverhill Academy, “to promote religion, purity, virtue, and morality and for teaching the youth in English, Latin, and Greek languages; in writing, music, and the art of speaking; in geography, logic, geometry, mathematics, and such other branches of science as opportunity may present and the teachers shall order and direct.”

What follows is a brief history of these institutions to their demise or merger with the public school system. The sources of information are the histories of the respective towns or institutions, often written by those who were graduates or staff. These sources generally focused on the positive aspects of the institutions, the outstanding administrators and graduates.

Haverhill Academy was chartered in 1794 and for a time was the only institution of higher learning in the area. As mentioned above its founders regarded religion and education as inseparable. The wooden academy building was located on the northeast corner of the common in Haverhill Corner, a building it occupied until a fire in 1816. The replacement brick building, known as Pearson Hall, was occupied until 1897 when an additional building was built next door.

John Bittinger’s History of Haverhill recounts the struggles the academy went through before merging with the Haverhill public school system in 1880. “One purpose of the merger was to resurrect the Academy at a low point. There had been a suspension of classes for some time during the 1870’s.” The more successful public academy continued until 1969 when the Haverhill and Woodsville districts were merged.

As early as 1796, a group of proprietors worked to establish an academy in Orford. Orford historians William Conant and Alice Hodgson describe how the group erected a building on the West Common south of the present church, hired a teacher and “…fixed the tuition at one shilling a week.” After several unsuccessful attempts to obtain a state charter, the academy closed. The building was used as the district primary school until it burned around 1850.

At that time, there was a renewed interest in Orford Academy and a new three-story brick building was constructed at the south end of the Ridge. Joseph Patterson furnished the money for a third story boys’ dormitory, which became known as Patterson Hall. A dormitory for girls was built next door. The Academy opened in 1851 with 9 teachers and 167 students. In 1898, as its enrollment declined, the proprietors sold the property to the town. Orford High School, established in 1926, occupied the building until it merged into the Rivendell Interstate District.

In 1935 the United Opinion stated, “There is some evidence that an academical institution was operated in Bradford as early as 1797.” It refers to the “seminary” operated in the home of Mother Peckett for the training of Methodist ministers. Bradford Academy was established in 1820 with the first classes being held on March 12, 1821, with hopes it would become the Orange County Grammar School. Bradford historian Harold Haskins, who later served as its principal, chronicles its long history.

The Academy operated for 75 years in a two-story wooden building located in front of the present BA building. After 1866 the private academy was partially merged with the Union School District that operated two district primary schools in Bradford Village. That merger was expanded in 1892 to become the Bradford Academy and Graded School District. The present brick building, known as the Woods School Building, was first used in 1895. It was the gift of John Lund Woods, a native of Corinth. Bradford Academy became a public high school and continued to operate as such until 1971 when Oxbow High opened.

During the 19th century there were several private institutions in Newbury, their history recorded by Frederic Wells in his town history. A “select school” was open in 1830 but ended with the establishment of Newbury Seminary. That academy opened 175 years ago this month on September 15, 1834 in a three-story brick building on Newbury’s common. Established under the auspice of the Methodist Conference of New Hampshire, it operated in Newbury until 1868.

It then moved to Montpelier to become Montpelier Seminary, now part of Norwich University. Walter Rice Davenport writes in his History of Montpelier Seminary that lack of success was not the reason for its relocation. Rather, the lack of local support both from students and moneyed interests along with a break in the association with the N.H. Methodists caused the trustees to seek a larger community site.

In 1887 the village school district purchased the old seminary building, and in 1893 the town central school was created. The building burned in 1913 and was replaced by the present school.

Newbury was also the site of the Newbury Biblical Institute. Operating from 1837 to 1846 to train young men for the ministry, it was the first Methodist theological seminary in America. It was the predecessor of the Boston University School of Theology.

Two institutions for the training of young women also operated in Newbury. The first was the Female Collegiate Institute. It opened in 1850 and during its 17 years it educated 151 young ladies. The second was the Montebello Ladies’ Institute located on what is now Montebello Road north of Newbury village.

This institute opened in 1873 as a day and boarding school and operated until 1890. Women who finished the course of study were awarded a diploma declaring them to be “a lady of liberal learning.” An article on their third year commencement in the 1876 Bradford Opinion stated, “The people of Newbury may justly be proud of having such a school in their midst.”

The only academy that still operates as a private secondary school is Thetford Academy. It opened in February 1819 at Thetford Hill and had close connections with the Congregational Church. Alice B. Slade has written the most complete history of the academy during its first century. The 1888 Orange County Gazetteer stated, ”Thetford Academy is perhaps more widely known than any other public institution in the town because of the large number who have pursued the road to knowledge through its portals.” The original classroom building and adjacent dormitories burned in 1942 and were replaced by the current academy building.

The Corinth Academic Institute and County Grammar School was incorporated in 1846. The academy building is located in Cookeville. In 1847, 170 students were listed. In 1876 it united with the local district school. The Corinth town history concludes, “Corinth High School or Cookeville Academy, suffered reversals over the years, being reduced to one high school teacher and one grammar school instructor when the last class graduated in 1910.”

There were attempts to establish academies in several other area towns. Lyme formed an academy in 1836, erecting a building in Lyme Center in 1839. It operated for about 15 years and then the building, which still stands, was used by the public school system. Individuals in Post Mills, Topsham, Ryegate and Groton established “select schools” during the period from 1840 to 1860. Private and selective in their enrollment, they were short-lived.

Education beyond primary school was not a goal for most children. Roth writes that the majority of 19th century residents of the Valley, “Did not feel that their children needed more education than they themselves possessed, and they did not want to incur the costs associated with improving the schools and taking their older children out of employment.”

Even among those students who did attend, many attended only one or two 11-week terms each year. Reformers wanted to make schools public open and to all children. In 1867 Vermont became the first state in the nation to require school attendance for children ages 6-16. New Hampshire followed suit in 1871.

In all academies, the number of students attending in any one year was affected by the course of study, tuition, the staff, epidemics, and national events such as war and economic depression. Students often changed from one school to another and one of the duties of the principal was to recruit students.

Students were tuitioned to these academies from neighboring towns and states. Thetford, Newbury and Orford owned dormitories and in all cases villagers offered board and room. The students who attended were often interested in entering college. Those who attended schools such as Newbury Seminary were interested in becoming ministers and teachers. It was not uncommon for students to take a term off to teach in a local district school.

Having students from away brought new life and some prosperity to the villages. At the Orford Academy there were 13 rules published in 1851. A student was, “expected to conduct himself at all times with propriety” and refrain from profane language, cards and dice playing, ardent sports and smoking. While rules were strict, enforcement varied with changing administrations. Youthful capers in the neighborhoods were not uncommon.

Some academies allowed young women to attend. Martha Howard of the Thetford Historical Society writes: “From the beginning, Thetford Academy was co-educational: this being attributed to the number of educated and strong-minded women living in Thetford at the time, who likely influenced their husbands toward admitting girls to the school from the beginning.”

Students of color were another matter. Wells writes, “At that time it was held by a large portion of the public, to be a sin and a crime to teach a colored person to read and write.” When in 1842 Newbury Seminary allowed a “colored girl” to attend, there were those “who advised her exclusion from the school” saying that it would ruin the school. In what Wells calls an “act of moral heroism” one student offered to room with the young woman and the preceptress gave her a place at the dining table next to her. In 1856 Thomas Morris Chester, the son of a slave, graduated from Thetford with 2nd highest honors and became a Civil War reporter and a general in the Louisiana militia.

Tuition varied from term to term and with the selected course of study. In 1853 at Bradford, the Common Branch English tuition was $3 per term, whereas Higher English, Latin and Greek tuition was $3.50. By 1878 the tuition for those courses had been raised to $4.50 and $5.50. Because funds were usually in short supply, faculty members often stayed for just a short time before seeking improved opportunities. Older students sometimes taught young ones under the supervision of the principal.

Between 1894 and 1906 Vermont began to require that all towns provide a public high school or pay tuition for its students to attend a high school. As a result of this change, some academies merged with the public school system and made changes in their curriculum to accommodate the diverse needs. In the case of Thetford, the private academy became a designated school for Thetford students. Tuition students still attended the local academies. It was not uncommon for students from Corinth and Topsham to board in the village when attending Bradford Academy, returning to their homes on the weekend.

Many students did not graduate from the academies, even after they became public schools. They assumed that graduating from the 8th grade or achieving the age of 16 was sufficient. There is no doubt that many of the students who did graduate went on to live more productive lives as a result of their education. An internet search of the graduates of local academies produces the biographies of leaders from every field of endeavor and from across the nation.

Rev. Timothy Frost spoke at the centennial celebration of Bradford Academy in 1920. His words reflect the accomplishments of all of these academies. “Here sleeping potentialities have been awakened. Here aspirations have been born, to bless the world. Out from this school have gone joymakers to touch with beauty and refinement a multitude of homes.”

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