If visiting Kimball Union in the early 19th century, one would have found many students boarding in Meriden’s inns or in spare rooms in community homes. However, the top floor of the timber class building, the First Academy, also contained four bedrooms for eight students. Each room contained an open fireplace for heat and for warming food. One stormy night in the autumn of 1824, smoke from the chimneys blew into these rooms and as the flues were not well constructed, they soon filled with smoke. The boys went elsewhere to study, but before they left, they carefully covered the embers with ashes and removed wood and kindling from the hearths. During the evening they checked on the fires several times, but suddenly, fire engulfed the building; it was reportedly consumed in fifteen minutes along with its valuable library which held many books donated by Daniel Kimball.
The boys were not punished; it was not considered they were to blame for the fire. Asa Dodge Smith, class of 1826, whose room the fire began in, went on to Dartmouth College, and graduated in 1830. Thirty-three years from that date, Smith became president of Dartmouth (1863-1877). Ironically, as president, it became his duty to dismiss Charles Ransom Miller, KUA class of 1867, from Dartmouth as an “unworthy student.” After many pleas beseeching President Smith to allow him to return on the promise of renewed dedication to his studies, Miller was readmitted and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1872. Four years later he married the girl he had met at KUA, Frances Daniels, class of 1869, and by 1883, had become Editor-in-Chief of the New York Times, a position he held for forty years. Kimball Union announced in 1957 that it had received $1,000,000 from the Charles Ransom Miller Estate. In 2010 the building named for him, now called Miller Bicentennial Hall, was renovated into a modern class building for the Academy of the 21st century.
The ties that bind are many for the folks of old KUA.
Image: Meriden House