East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society

What Was the East Greenwich Academy? 

 

by Thaire H. Adamson

 

Originally published in The East Greenwich Packet Vol. 15 No. 2, May 1991

 

Illustration of the Providence Conference Seminary in East Greenwich

View of the Providence Conference Seminary, East Greenwich, R.I. (circa 1850s), formerly called Kent Academy. Later re-named the East Greenwich Academy.
 
This is a question often asked by those who came to East Green­wich after the Academy closed and administration building and dormitories razed. 
 
Kent Academy, incorporated 1802, continued as a private secondary school for 141 years under various names, and was always co-educational. It was the second such school in Rhode Island. 
 
Washington Academy in Wickford was the first, chartered in 1800, but had a short career. In 1780 a Friends School had opened in Portsmouth but was for children of Quakers, taught by Quakers, and was suspended after four years for lack of funds. Moses Brown, a contributor, continued working and collecting funds to reestablish the school. In 1814 he set aside 43 acres of land in Providence and endowed the school which was named for him. It opened in 1819, seventeen years after Kent Academy and, with the help of Friends throughout Rhode Island including those in East Greenwich whose Meeting House adjoined Kent Academy. Children of local Quaker families attended Moses Brown School which was co-educational. 
 
While the Academy was a flourishing institution, it was a central part of East Greenwich. A pamphlet published by the East Greenwich Chamber of Commerce in 1930 was entitled "East Greenwich-In the Heart of Little Rhody." Well, you could say the Academy was the Heart of East Greenwich. 
 
To begin with it was centrally located in the Village, on the hill in the historic part of town, one block from Main Street, two from the Railroad Station and another from the bay. The principal mode of transportation in 1802 was by boat and after 1837 when the Stonington Railroad was built, by train. Not only was it the only secondary school in town, it was the source of culture and entertainment for the people of the town of all ages. This was pre-television remember, and it was here townspeople came for sporting tuition owned by the Methodist Conference from 1840. Most students in town went to the Academy, although they had the option of attending any school that would accept them at that rate. Some went to Lockwood High School (Warwick's only high school), others preparatory or parochial schools in Providence. The families of the latter, nevertheless, supported the Academy by their attendance at its functions. 
 
The Chamber of Commerce pamphlet mentioned earlier noted, ''East Greenwich is fortunate in having one of the oldest and most reputable academies in New England which serves as a high school after children have 
completed the graded schools.”
 
Ian S. Haber­nan, in ''The Rhode Island Business Elite 1895-1905" stated "­all except seven of 180 local leaders had a public or private secondary school education; and, the most popular private schools for Rhode Islanders, were the Mowry and Goff's, the East Greenwich Academy, the University School, and the Friends' School (Moses Brown)." 
 
Kent Academy, the school's original name, was initiated in 1802 by eight local men, Ethan Clark(e), William Arnold, Richard Mathewson, Earle Mowry and Peter Turner of East Greenwich, and Ray Greene, Elihu Greene and Christopher Greene, all of Warwick… They were men of vision and the preamble and articles dated 8 October 1802 established the second school of its kind in Rhode Island which flourished as an educational and cultural center until 1943 when it was sold to the Town of East Greenwich for use as a public high school 
 
A lot happened in those 141 years during which many students passed through its doors from throughout New England and even beyond as well as from East Greenwich. In 1865, for example, 257 of 325 students were nonresidents.
 
The Trustees had chosen an excellent site — elevated land on western shore of Narragansett Bay with a great view and a desirable location. The land was part of the farm of Ethan Clarke and bounded by Peirce Street. Later more of the Clarke land was purchased until the grounds contained about five acres; bounded west by Rector Street and north by Church Street with the exception of the corner occupied by the Episcopal Church and its cemetery. 
 
The first school building was erected in 1803, at a cost of $3,733.55 (including the land). It was an edifice of two stories, 60 feet long and 30 feet wide, standing on a lot containing one acre and 20 rods in the immediate front of the location of the later brick administration building. (Per The History of Washington and Kent Counties, Cole, 1889). In 1804 the trustees purchased maps and globes from Europe, the best that could be procured, and books to establish a library. The first preceptor, Abner Alden ran the school successfully for six years. He was author of a spelling book and reader used in all schools in Rhode Island for a number of years. His assistant was Jeremiah Chadsey, a top mathematician of the time who also made the calculations for a nautical almanac. 
 
16 January 1805 the first singing school was opened when William Harrington rented the lower hall for the purpose every Saturday and Sunday evening; and on 24 August 1805 permission was given for use of the upper hall on Saturdays to M. Carpentier for a dancing school for which he paid the corporation 50¢ per quarter for each scholar. 
 
The earliest tuition rates found are the Quarter commencing March 21, 1808, as follows, per quarter: Reading and spelling $2; Reading, writing and spelling $2.25; Arithmetick (sic) with bookkeeping $2.50; English grammar $3; Composition and speech $3; Latin and Greek $3; Logick and criticism $3; mathematicks $3; Astronomy and Geography with use of the Globes $3.50. 
 
During the years 1839 to 1841 most of the shares of Kent Academy were purchased by Rev. Daniel Gould Allen who had graduated from Wesleyan University at Middletown, Conn. He wrote early text books that were used throughout New England. As head of the school he inaugurated a Normal Department which educated young men and women who received teacher's diplomas and were eligible to teach in the "common schools," and they were much in demand. (The first Normal School in the United States had been established only two years earlier in Lexington, Massachusetts). Cole wrote in his history, 'The institution has exerted an important influence in the educational work of the state, a large proportion of its public school teachers having been educated here." An EGA brochure of 1898 states: "At one time three-fourths of all the teachers of Rhode Island were educated here, while a large number of those now and in the past prominent in church and state received their early training here." 
 
9 November 1841 a meeting of proprietors of Kent Academy was held in Centreville, Warwick at the home of Rev. Moses Fifield, President of the Board of Trustees. Present were Daniel G. Allen, owner of 97 shares, Ezra Pollard, owner of one share and Moses Fifield, owner of one share. (The 100th share had been donated to the corporation. The original cost of land and building in 1802 had been estimated at $3200 and the Articles provided that it be divided into 100 shares of $32.00 each.) At this meeting the Proprietors of Kent Academy delivered to the Trustees of the "Providence Conference Academy" for $2550, deed of lot in East Greenwich bounded east by Peirce Street, north, west and south on land formerly of Ethan Clarke, deceased, containing one acre and 20 rods with buildings and appurtenances and formerly called Kent Academy. (Recorded 19 November 1841, Land Evidence Book 14 at page 327 in East Green­wich Town House Records). The Providence Conference was the ruling body of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the area at that time. Although under control of a single denomination, religious teaching was non-sec­tarian and often the majority of students were from other than Methodist families.
 
1898-99 EGA Brochure: “In addition to full college preparatory and other literary courses, including special training in common English, there are six other departments in charge of as many teachers who devote their whole time to their specialties. These departments are instrumental and vocal music, art, elocution, stenography and typewriting, and the Commercial College. The latter gives the full business practice of the best institutions of the kind, and its graduates occupy lucrative positions in business life. The principal of the Commercial College is author of The Twentieth Century Short-Hand, a system which is the product of genius, radically different from all others, being extensively introduced because of ease of acquisition, comprehensiveness and speed. The musical department has always been especially strong. The first Conservatory of Music in America was opened here in 1859 by the late Dr. Eben Tourjee, the founder of the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston (1867), who ever after had more or less of a general oversight of the interests of the school. No Academy in the country has been more widely celebrated for the superiority of its Musical Department. — Pupils are here placed under the same systematic drill, and receive for the most part the same studies which would be given them in the best conservatories of Europe. Some acquaintance with music has now become a necessary element of education. As a science, it opens a field of investigation most wonderful and beautiful; as a medium for expressing the sublimest feelings of the soul, it is worthy the thought and study of the most intelligent minds." 
 
Taught were pianoforte, organ, voice culture, harmony and theory for beginners and pupils in every state of advancement. To graduate each pupil was required to give a public recital. Frequent concerts also included artists from the large cities. The people of the village benefited form these performances.
 
'The New England Normal Institute of Music is located at East Greenwich," wrote Dr. Greene in his ''History of East Greenwich (page 261), "and its sessions are held at the Greenwich Academy during a portion of the months of July and August. It is not a local or state institution, but a national one, and is the only one of its kind in the United States. Musical people and music teachers from the more distant states of the Union attend, and the citizens of East Greenwich while it is in session enjoy a great literary, scientific and musical treat." 
 
The 1898 Brochure continues: Also, art classes; sciences taught largely by laboratory methods with an instructor who is a graduate of Harvard; elocutionary training given the entire school without cost, with a full course for those wishing to make a specialty of the art. The teacher is from Emerson School of Oratory, Boston. Weekly rhetorical exercises are given in the Chapel, frequently attended by large numbers of citizens of East Greenwich. Gasses are also in physical culture. Arrangements were made with the State Military Authorities so that students wishing military drill could have daily use of arms at the state's armory located just across the street from the Academy where a proficient officer gave instruction. 
 
The original Kent Academy, a small wooden building erected 1803 was sold to the Town of East Greenwich in 18 58 for $1000 and moved to Spring Street on the west of the present Boy Scout Hall. The land went through to Somerset Street and the Girl Scout House is on what used to be the school playground. Called the Spring Street School it was used as an elementary school until 1928 when the new Central School (later named Eldredge School) opened its doors. The old building for awhile housed the East Greenwich Historical Society and was later razed. For 125 years many students of differing ages were nurtured within its walls. 
 
When this first administration building became inadequate and needed to be replaced the Providence Conference Seminary placed an ad in the Pendulum of 27 January 1855 offering for sale 35 excellent building lots on eastern slope of a hill 50 rods west of the Court House, stating: 'They are the most beautiful lots in the vicinity of Providence. The Seminary wishes to erect a new academy building, and thus offers rare opportunity to obtain a superior site at a very small price, and to assist a worthy and useful Institution to carry on its good work of educating the young." The committee was Robert Allyn and Thomas J. Johnson. A second ad, 16 June 1855 asked for bids for digging the cellar and cellar walls.
 
Graduating exercises in 1858 were held June 28, 29 and 30 and on Tuesday, June 29 at 11 o'clock the new seminary building was dedicated. Address was by Rev. Dr. Cummings, President of Wesleyan University, and other speakers were Elisha Dyer, Governor of Rhode Island, William M. Rod­man, Mayor of Providence and John Kingsbury, Commissioner of Public Schools. Afterward a public dinner was held at the Updike House, now the Greenwich Hotel. 
 
The new edifice was an imposing structure, three-story brick with two towers. It contained principal's office, reception room, reading room, museum, lecture and recitation rooms, music rooms and on the third floor an elegant chapel containing one of the largest organs in the state. A wall along Peirce Street was topped by a picket fence, and the stately elms and other plantings made this a most impressive complex. 
It was a sad day for the numerous alumni of East Greenwich Academy when the school closed its doors ending 141 years of service to the community. It was sold for the sum of $41,750 in 1943 to the town of East Greenwich for use as a public high school. Funds for the purchase had been approved in a record nine minutes at Town Meeting in August 1942. 
 
By 1959 the town had built a modern school on Cedar Avenue for a high school (now Cole Junior High), and no longer had use for the old buildings. Many people wanted them saved for other usage but renovation was considered too costly. In the spring of 1959 the town sold land and buildings, including Winsor Hall and the Administration Building to St. Luke's Episcopal Church for $22,000. Both buildings were razed and the church put an addition onto their church and sold the old Parish House to the Southern R.I. Extension Service. 
 
The town retained ownership of the rest of the land keeping Swift Gym, Olney House and Academy Field. Eastman Hall was razed and the Quaker Meeting House next to it had been some years earlier, and this is now the site of the Town House and its parking lot. Historical Cemetery No. 36 marks the Quaker Cemetery. 
 
Clarke Cottage (originally called West Cottage) on the hill of Rector Street was used as a residence for the Superintendent of Schools in East Greenwich for some years but later razed. Rose Cottage, home of the headmaster, and South Cottage, used as a dormitory for a number of years, are now privately owned.
 
"Townspeople, including those who did not attend school there, basked in the fame that the Academy brought to East Greenwich. There were cultural dividends for all residents and Academy-sponsored lectures, debates and athletics." ("300 Years — The Tercentenary Book, East Greenwich, 1677-1977"). 
The handful of men who founded this institution of learning in 1802 probably had no idea it would be so long-lasting or far reaching, or cause the Town of East Greenwich to become so well-known in so many far-off places.