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Hampton Academy & Winnacunnet High School Alumni Association

65th Anniversary, Historic Souvenir Booklet, 1972

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Hampton Academy and Its Board of Trustees

By Arthur J. Moody, Class of ’53


The Fire of 1851 and the New Building of 1852

fgsfgAccording to the Trustees’ record book: “On the night subsequent to Thursday the 28th of August between the hours of one and two A.M.,” the original Academy building with addition was destroyed by fire. The story in the Exeter NEWS-LETTER of September 1, 1851, reads: “On Friday morning last, about one o’clock, the Academy at Hampton was discovered to be on fire and in a short time was completely destroyed. A library of about six hundred volumes, belonging to the Olive Branch, a society connected with the institution, and the chemical apparatus, were destroyed. There was an insurance of $1200 upon the building, in the Ports’h Mutual Co., Portsmouth. We learn that the Academy has a fund, but whether or not any portion of it can be appropriated towards rebuilding, we are uninformed. It is supposed that this fire was the work of an incendiary, although it was possibly the result of accident, as the Sons of Temperance held a meeting in the hall of the Academy on that evening. They left, however, at nine o’clock, supposing all Safe.”

Many automatically thought the fire was the result of an incendiary (i.e., a firebug) because of a rash of suspicious fires in the area at the time. Only four days before a major conflagration wiped out much of Concord (N.H.) – “THE BEST PART OF CONCORD IN ASHES!” read the headlines. Numerous fires in Dover led a public meeting there to set up a Committee of Vigilance. And on the night of the Hampton fire, much of the Academy at South Berwick (Me.), established just 20 years before, was destroyed by a suspicious fire which began in the Female Department.

A week later, a letter to the NEWS-LETTER from [Fire Chief] Uri Lamprey discounted the incendiary possibility of the Hampton fire, laying the blame to “probably accidental” and concluding: “The Sons of Temperance held their usual weekly meeting on the evening previous to the fire in a room on the second floor, and the fire was seen to burst out from that room by several persons.”

The Academy went ahead with the planned 11-week Fall Term which began on September 3. In the revised newspaper advertisement for that term, which appeared as early as September l, it was announced that the Vestry (“large and well adapted to the purpose of a school”) of the Congregational Church would he used and that a new Academy “will be immediately erected.”

The Portsmouth Mutual Fire Insurance Company paid off on the burned property and construction went ahead in 1852. The new school, once again built on the park by now known as Academy Green (since the newest Congregational Meeting House had been built elsewhere, was a two-story affair with steeple and bell.{*}

{**The bell, cast by Henry N. Hooper & Co., Boston, in 1852, is now on permanent display in front of the Hampton Academy Junior High School, 29 Academy Avenue.}

Only the first floor was furnished for school use: a large room with small recitation rooms opening from it. Such was also the usual configuration of primary schools of the day. The upper story was used as a hall on occasion. In January 1816, the Trustees voted to insure the new building for $3,000 with the expectation of renting the hall to the Sons of Temperance. Dr. William T. Merrill was on the Board at that time; he was organizer and head of St. John’s Council, Knights of Temperance. When Dow’s “History of Hampton” went to press sometime after the fall of 1892, the Knights underwrote the cost (probably $25) of putting a portrait of Physician Merrill, who had just retired as active President of the Trustees, in Volume I (between pp. 500 and 501).

The classes at the Academy continued after the fire and, on November 17, 1851, the Trustees attended the examination of the school as part of their annual meeting. By November 1852, the new building was in use; eight of the Trustees spent the morning of November 23 at the Academy, hearing the recitation of the students. The exercises were topped off by remarks from Trustee Amos Tuck and a prayer by Rev. Mr. Read of St. Helena. The remainder of the annual meeting was held at the house of Mrs. W. Toppan, who furnished dinner to the Trustees for $7. At that meeting a resolution was unanimously adopted recognizing “Special obligations to certain individuals” whose names “deserve to he held in grateful remembrance by all the friends of Hampton Academy” for their “many and persevering labors” in constructing the new building. Those so honored by name were “Timothy O. Norris, Preceptor, and Thomas Ward, Trustee. The 1852-53 “Catalogue” said of the new Academy: “The Academy building was erected the last year and is furnished in the style of modern school buildings, and for pleasantness or convenience is interior to none in this vicinity.”

We are told by Caroline C. Shea (writing in 1930 while an officer of the Hampton Historical Society) that the Academy never quite recovered from the fire. About the 1870s, she wrote: “…. it lost its prestige outside the locality for lack of funds to establish itself, and because of rival schools in nearby towns which were largely endowed …. The principal was obliged to depend on tuition fees and the tuition of scholars paid for by the income of funds. They found their food and one of the older male pupils used the building and built the fire for his tuition. The girls were not above doing some of the sweeping and dusting necessary. There were no sports except for baseball which the boys played on the Green now the Memorial park; and for a time there was a croquet set for the girls – and boys too if they cared to play.”

The Trustees continued their duties and hoped for more financial support. They found it difficult to employ permanent instructors using the proceeds of tuition alone. They occasionally offered a small stipend in addition to the tuition fees. Late in 1854, $35 was offered but the Principal left after that term. As an inducement to his successor, a new stove was put in the schoolroom and the use of the building was offered — presumably as living quarters or for private tutoring. Also, the cost of advertising the Academy outside the Town (via flyers and the press) was withdrawn from funds of the school, not from tuition proceeds. The Academy building was one of eight Rockingham County edifices pictured (from an “Ambrotype” engraving) on a large multicolored map of the County published in 1857 by Smith & Coffin, Philadelphia. (Smaller two-color reproductions have, in the past dozen years, been distributed by the Exeter & Hampton Electric Company.)

In 1861, the Trustees chose a committee “to take into consideration the condition of the Academy, and to devise some plan by which its funds may be increased & its usefulness as an institution of learning be extended.” In 1862, the first legacy was received. As provided in the will of Christopher S.Toppan ,who had served as one of Portsmouth’s first mayors after City status was granted in 1849, $2,000 was to be invested with the income going to several tuition scholarships each year. The recipients were to be chosen by the Hampton Selectmen. The principal was at first invested in “United States Stock” of the Civil War period but later, three years after the War had ended, the trust fund was changed to other securities at the suggestion of Amos Tuck. In 1883, it was invested in a guaranteed mortgage bond through an investment company. On occasion, surplus income from the fund was used to pay outstanding expenses of the Academy (“sundry existing demands”). In 1864, $50 was used to complete the purchase of an “apparatus” for the school. Six years before, a committee had been chosen to raise money for that purchase.

During the 1860s, the Trustees continued to look for ways to enhance the “usefulness” of the Academy. They had to increase tuition in late 1864. It was raised to $5 per term per scholar for the Common English branches, $6 for High English and $7 for the Classics (Languages).

In 1866, the Board approved the publication of a “Catalogue” – apparently missing for several years. That “Catalogue” (for 1866-67) listed 13 Trustees (six ministers, two M.D.’s, four “Esq.’s” and one “Hon.”). Three terms were covered in the pamphlet beginning with the Summer Term of late May to early August 1866. Listed were the names and residences of the “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” who attended the Summer, Fall and Winter Terms. Unlike the “Catalogues” of the late 1820s, the 1830s and the 1840s, the girls were listed first, before the boys. The calendar called for four terms of 11 weeks each with nine-week vacations between all terms except for a longer, five-week vacation after the Summer Term ending on August 2, 1867.

Tuition charges, payable in advance, continued to be the same as set in 1864. The Toppan bequest was covered thusly: “By the munificence of the late Christopher S. Toppan Esq., of Portsmouth, a fund has been placed at the disposal of the Trustees, the proceeds of which defray the expenses of tuition of several meritorious students, nominated by the Selectmen of Hampton. Such students are allowed the use of the fund three successive years.” Therefore, by implication, the courses of study remained three years in length. Board with private families was listed as $3.50 per week.

Of the 66 different students enrolled for the three terms covered, all but a handful resided in Hampton or nearby towns. Approximately one-third of the students were enrolled in the Higher English branch of study. The end-of-term examination was a public affair with the friends of the students cordially invited. The yearly examination by the “Trustees continued to he held at the end of the Fall Term to coincide with the Board’s annual meeting. At least one more “Catalogue” (for 1809-70) was printed before the school became a high school in 1885.

In November 1869, the Trustees permitted the Principal to hold only one session of school each day during the Winter Term.

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