The Lenox Academy
The lovely Federalist Academy building (still standing on Main Street) attracted well educated Lenox residents and visitors who would set a tone for future centuries. Although one of the most notable educational institutions, it was not the first.
Early Educational Efforts
Eighteenth century New England towns with 50 or more families (the minimum for a town) were required (in addition to building a meeting house and hiring a minister) to provide a schoolmaster to teach reading and writing. Larger towns were required to provide a grammar school.
There was no requirement for a building and schooling might have taken place in people’s home or in the meeting house. Part of whatever meager pay the school master’s received was in the form of room and board – obtained by moving from house to house.
No matter how well intentioned, it apparently took the town a while to move on this mandate as the first record relevant to this issue was a meeting March 16, 1770 in which it was voted to raise 20 pounds to hire schooling.
In the original proprietor’s agreement a lot (north of the current church) had been set aside for a school house. By the early 19th century, the town had been divided into districts. By 1860 there were nine districts. It’s not clear what happened to the “school lot- #6” — perhaps it was sold to fund other school buildings.
As described by Tucker* these early school houses would have been crude and small with benches rather than seats or desks and heat from a large box stove. Students would have to take turns bringing the kindling to start the fire.
A Private School in the Village
The village, referred to in records as District #2, included a private school supported by Major Azariah Egleston. There is a record of Amasa Glezen being paid for teaching and for finding a house for the school in 1792.
The Lenox Library (it’s not clear how it was funded) was established in 1797 and would have provided an important source for reading material — books still being scarce and expensive.
Advancing to “Higher Education”
It’s difficult to make equivalencies to modern educational grades, but the petition to the state for incorporation of an academy , Jan. 5, 1803 would have been significant in that most locations at the time would have had nothing like a high school. This academy (of course for males only!) would have taught Latin, math and other subjects that would have prepared these young men for a college education.
It is not clear whether it was the state, the town, or certain individuals, but someone owned a township in Maine (still part of Massachusetts at the time). Half of said township was sold off make a payment on the Academy. When combined with other private donations (led by the ubiquitous Revolutionary War veterans and town leaders Azariah Egleston and William Walker), it was enough to buy the land and build the handsome building still with us today. The contributors read like a “who’s who,” of early 19th century Berkshire County: the Rev. Thomas Allen of Pittsfield, Joseph Whiten of Lee, Ephraim of Sheffield, Rev. Jacob Catlen of New Marlboro, Barnabas Bidwell of Stockbridge, Thomas Ives of Great Barrington, Nathaniel Bishop of Richmond, and five additional Lenox citizens: Rev. Samuel Shepard, Joseph Goodwin, Eldad Lewis, Captain Enos Stone and Dr. Caleb Hyde.
The Academy records giving Azirah Egleston $2200 May 21, 1807, for “38 3/4 rods of land together with the Academy now standing on the premises.”
There has been some debate about when the building was completed, but 1803 is generally accepted as the start date and clearly it was completed by 1807. In fact, the building may have been standing before 1803. The exchange above (between Amasa Glezen and Azirah Egleston) may have been for basic education or for an existing “academy” facility in 1792.
Teachers and Students
Levi Glezen was the first principal. He had been a student at Williams and then gone on to establish himself as an educator in Kinderhook and Sheffield. Another well known name in the list of educators who led the Academy was John Hotchkin. A teacher of Latin and Greek, he was principal from 1823 to 1847 and began the practice of “annual exhibitions.” For these student recitals, stores closed, farmers came to town and the normal business of the village ceased for this August holiday.
The charge for students was $7 per 14 week term. They usually boarded in local homes for an additional $1.25 to $1.50 a week.
The excellent reputation of the Academy was indicated by the geographic reach of some of its well-known graduates:
- Alexander Hamilton Stephens (went on to become vice president of the Confederate States of America)
- Mark Hopkins who would go on to become an educational leader at Williams College and elsewhere
- Henry Wheeler Shaw of Lanesboro (generally known as Josh Billings)
- Charles Sedgwick who would become clerk of the Lenox-based courts and the husband of Elizabeth who would start a similar school at their home, “The Hive,” for females
- Julius Rockwell – distinguished lawyer and citizen of Lenox
- William Lowndes Yancey – secessionist from Alabama
- Dr. Henry M. Field, editor of the Evangelist.
The Academy closed in 1866 for about 13 years. In 1879 the town used it as a high school. The building was moved a bit south (to its current location) and was repaired.
The town constructed a new high school in 1908 (now Cameron House) which was used for that purpose until the Lenox Memorial High School was completed in 1966.
The Academy was used as a school sporadically until 1911 when Charles Lanier and Newbold Morris opened it as the Trinity School.
By the middle of the 20th century, the building was being used for commercial purposes and had substantially deteriorated. On October 24, 1946, the town voted to take over the building and restore it.
Today it is the home of the Lenox Historical Society and is used by the VFW and the Historical Commission.
*Unpublished manuscript – George Tucker
Lenox: Massachusetts Shire Town, by David H. Wood, Published by the Town of Lenox 1969
Notes and Minutes Lenox Academy