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By August 20, 2020 Read More →

Peterborough Academy Opens August 21 1837

On August 21, 1837, the Peterborough Academy opened its doors to local scholars for the first time. Before the Academy opened, parents who wanted their children to have a high school education sent their students to private academies in other towns like Hancock, New Ipswich and Francestown.

The Peterboro’ Academy Association

To address the need for an academy in Peterborough, local men formed a corporation with the State of NH for the purpose of building a private academy. They determined they would need $1500 to build the 47’ by 30’ brick house and ready it for its future scholars. To meet this need, the corporation offered one hundred fifty shares for $10 each. Fifty-eight men signed up to be shareholders in the association, buying from 1 to 10 shares each, with the bulk of the men purchasing 1 to 2 shares.

The building costs would have been more had it not been for Gen. James Wilson, Jr. who owned an ideal lot sited near the bridge over what was then called Goose River (today called the Nubanusit).  Wilson granted permission to the shareholders to erect an “institution for the instruction of youth” on his lot. 

The shareholders met for the first time on Saturday, February 18, 1837, at Col. Whitcomb French’s Tavern on Main Street. French was not

Newspaper advertisement for the Peterborough Academy

August 11, 1852 advertisement for the Fall term at the Peterborough Academy

only the host for the meeting, but also one of the shareholders having purchased five shares himself. The shareholders elected Henry Cogswell, owner of the south Peterborough mill (later known as Noone’s Mill), as chairman of the association and put him in charge of the overall building of the academy.

Instruction and Teachers

In addition, they elected a standing committee of 12 shareholders to engage an instructor, to regulate the price of tuition, and to determine the lengths of each term. Initially the academy had three terms. Students could choose which terms (fall, winter, or summer) in which they would enroll. Terms varied in length from 10 to 12 weeks each.

Instructors, also referred to as principals, were paid based on how many students they were teaching in the term. In August 1837, the committee hired the first principal, Nathan Ballard. Ballard, who had been “fitted for college” at Kimball Union Academy had just graduated from Dartmouth College. Ballard was paid $3.50 for each scholar in attendance each term.

The standing committee also determined what would be taught and what books and materials would be used. When the academy opened for its first term, the committee had spent $180 for the school’s “philosophical apparatus” (books and equipment.) Most of the rest of the original $1500 was spent to level the ground and construct the building. Their initial cost estimate was very accurate and the association actually came in under budget, still having $57.03 in their treasury when the school opened.

Enrollment and Teacher Wages

Principal Ballard, like many of the future principals, stayed only through the first year. Enrollment numbers tended to drop drastically Peterborough Academy building with students on lawnduring the winter term. In the 1839-1840 school year the academy had 90 paid tuition students in the fall term and then only 15 in the winter term. That means the principal earned $315 ($3.50/student) for the 11 weeks of fall term and only $52.50 for the same amount of time in the winter term. Interestingly, some teachers chose to work for the town at one of the district schools during the winter term then return to the academy to teach the spring term when enrollments were higher.

The fluctuating enrollment led to the downfall of the academy. Eventually the academy reduced the schedule to two terms and later just one term a year. As early as 1844, the shareholders of the association discussed whether they should try to sell the school.

Public High School

Ultimately in 1871 the shareholders leased the building for $100 a year to the town to use as the town’s first public high school. For some reason the shareholder’s lease didn’t allow the town to use the school bell. They were not to ring the bell! The shareholders had a change of heart when the town built a new school in the 1880s and sold the bell to the town for $1 for use at the town’s new Central School. At that time, the Academy building became the G.A.R. Hall.

Today, the Monadnock Center preserves the Academy bell in its museum collection. The Peterborough Academy building is now the home of Post and Beam Brewing.


Published August 21, 2020