History of Hampton Academy

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Contributed by Bruce E. Russell

The Hampton Union and Rockingham County Gazette, March 31, 1938

The Rev. Mr. Webster after becoming acquainted with the people of Hampton became convinced of the need for a place to secure a higher education than that provided by the common schools. The children learned to read, write, cipher and to show respect for age as well as something of the importance of good manners. The pastor appreciated the efforts of the teachers in these directions but felt that other branches of study leading to higher attainments were necessary. So when a considerable number of parents became interested a petition to the general court for incorporation of a Proprietary School in Hampton was made. It was granted on June 16, 1810.

Money was needed so shares were taken by thirty individuals totaling one thousand dollars. A meeting was held in February 1811 and after choosing a committee to solicit more funds was adjourned for a week. It was then voted to accept a gift from the town, of the Green, where the meeting house formally stood for a site to erect a school building. At late meetings arrangements for the new building were completed. The school house at first was one story but later a second story was added as a result of a proposition made by the Masons. In the record of the transaction Dec 1820 the new school is first called an Academy.

In the summer of 1821 it was decided to turn over the property to a permanent board of trustees to administer. This new board adopted a constitution which regulated its business and guided their future development. Article 15 provides "there shall be taught in this seminary the English, Latin and Greek languages, Writing, Arithmetic, Music, and the Arts of Speaking; also practical Geometry, Logic, Geography and any of the liberal Arts and Sciences or Languages, as opportunity and ability may hereafter admit and as the corporation shall direct." It also provides for religious instruction which was actually given for many years, and revivals were not infrequent.

From the beginning Hampton Academy took a good standing among schools. Its time of incorporation is proceeded by two schools, Phillips Exeter Academy for Boys and Atkinson Academy but this has not interfered with its prosperity.

The first preceptor was Mr. Andrew Mack who began his duties in September 1811. Many young men, afterwards of high repute in professional and political life, fitted for college here: three of Mr. Webster's sons; Amos Morrill, Judge of the U.S. District Court in Texas; Daniel Clark, who held a like office in New Hampshire twenty-five years, was a founder of the Republican Party and U.S. senator; Moses Norris, a member of Congress; James Jay, railroad king; James Grimes, for three years governor of Iowa; Amos Tuck, lawyer and representative to Congress; and many more.

Early preceptors were for the most part men of learning and culture commanding respect and often winning the warm affection of their pupils. A young ladies department was established after the enlargement of the building in 1821. It was entirely distinct under the charge of a preceptress.

In 1837 Mr. Amos Tuck was principal and also a trustee. It was during his term of office that philosophical and chemical apparatus was purchased and chemistry and physics added to the curriculum. It has been an important part of the program ever since. Mr. Tuck has remembered his association with the academy and has been a benefactor a number of times since.

On August 29th 1851, the Academy building burned to the ground from some unknown cause. At first there was talk of fixing up the old Congregational Church for a town house and Academy, but no satisfactory arrangement could be made. Finally the trustees decided to build anew and chose a committee for that purpose. Through the efforts of Mr. Norris and Mr. Thomas Ward, funds were solicited and a new building completed. It is the one now in use.

Only the first story was used as a school the upper being designated for a hall. In 1866, it was rented to a Division of the Sons of Temperance.

After the completion of the new Academy, the funds of the institution were reduced to about one thousand dollars. Since that time the trustees have received a considerable number of bequests, the interest of which is used for the maintenance of the school.

There have been several societies in connection with the school. The most outstanding is the Olive Branch Society which was incorporated about 1832. Its members collected a library of several hundred volumes of valuable books. All of which were lost in the fire. The purpose of the society was for promotion and improvement of writing and extemporaneous speaking. There was also at about the same time a debating club known as the Ceceronian Society. Not much is known of it except from the writings of Joseph Dow.

Several propositions were made at different times to move the Academy to a more central location. In 1871, the movement had gained approval of the trustees.

At a special town meeting in June 1872, the town voted to establish a high school and a committee was chosen to confer with the trustees for the removal and use of the Academy's building for a high school. An agreement was reached and an enabling act procured from the Legislature on July 3rd, 1872. A lot has been purchased and preparations made to move the building when the whole plan was frustrated, through the opposition of certain individuals of influence.

Still the question as ignited from time to time until the Odd Fellows offered to rent the hall if the building was suitably located. On March 1, 1881, a committee of trustees was chosen to buy land and move the building. Christopher G. Toppan donated an acre of land well situated between the two main beach roads.

The building was raised from its old foundations and placed on two long wooden stringers kept in place by cross timbers, heavy chain cables borrowed from the Portsmouth Naval Yard were made fast to the stringers and eighty yoke of oxen attached to them.

Dow's history says that they were attached in four strings, but living participants say there were but two. Several pair of horses were hitched ahead to lead the way. When all the preparations were completed on the morning of January 22ed, 1883, Morris Hobbs, who was in charge, called all teamsters to an open window at the side of the building and addressed them; "Now teamsters don't talk any louder to your oxen than you did to your family at breakfast this morning. Then when I give an order you will hear what I say, now to your cattle, and bring every ox up to the bow. And a moment later as all was ready, "Now all together, go." There was some trouble with one yoke of oxen and they had to be removed and another start made. This time they kept it going. Once, as they crossed an old stone wall, it almost stopped and Morris Hobbs shouted, " give 'em the iron" and on it went making a big circle to bring it into position, stopping, almost as it now sets. Seventeen minutes had elapsed since it left its old home half a mile distant and now it stood on its new site amid the jubilant towns people. Windows were opened, flags waved and the people shouted themselves hoarse as they realized that the big undertaking was accomplished.

During the summer extensive repairs were made, a road laid out, and the Old Fellows hall finished.

The school started again in September having been closed for more than three years.

After the removal of the building agitation was again started to combine the Academy and High School. The opposition had died out and this time it was accomplished. On September 14, 1885, the school opened under the new name of Hampton Academy and High School with Jack Sanborn, of Hampton Falls, as principal. The first class under the new regime was graduated in 1887, and last summer held its 50th anniversary reunion at the Whittier Inn.

Since the first graduation, each year adds a new group to the alumni of the institution until now there are 507. It is expected that this year the largest class to ever graduate will appear numbering thirty.

For a number of years prior to 1907 there had been suggestions to start an alumni association. Finally at the request of Mr. Mitchell, the principal, Mrs. Lucy A. Marston called together a group of former pupils, and finding them enthusiastic announced the first meeting for June 21, 1907 at the Casino Hampton Beach. It was a success and has been meeting annually since at graduation time. Besides their annual meeting to enjoy a renewal of school ties they have awarded prizes to members of the graduating class for excellences in scholarship and service to the school.

A number of important changes have taken place in the past fifty years. The Domestic Arts Course was introduced in 1914, as the result of a legacy left for that purpose. Up until then only the Academic and Scientific courses were taught. From 1915 to 1920 and Agricultural Course was experimented with and found unsuccessful. It was replaced by a Commercial Course which has been retained ever since.

The policy of furnishing textbooks free started in 1890, prior to that time pupils purchased their own. The school was placed on the state's approved list of High Schools on 1901, and has remained there.

The building became over crowded some years ago so when space became available in the new building the ninth grade was removed to relieve the congestion. Now the building is again over crowded as a result of the growth of the town.

It is left for the next century of Hampton's history to determine what will be the fate of this old and honored institution. May we hope that it continues to serve the community as faithfully in the future as it has in the past.

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