Cyrus Richards’ early life followed along the same path as many young men of his generation whose ancestors settled the Connecticut River Valley in the 1760s. His grandparents, leaving their home in Plainfield, CT, traveled a good distance along a bridle path to reach what would become Norwich, VT, in order to clear land and settle a farm. Cyrus’ father, the first boy child born in Norwich, later cleared his own farm land on the line between Hartford and Norwich, VT where Cyrus was born in 1808, the eighth of nine children. Their father died when Cyrus was only four and it became the duty of the eldest son, 16-year-old Chester, to give up any thoughts of education for himself in order to help his mother keep the family together on the farm and to assist his younger brothers in their hope for an education. Cyrus was described in the 1941 Alumni Bulletin by his granddaughter Helen Richards “…as a barefoot boy in homespun, but with a love of books and an eager desire to learn…two months of school every winter furnished his formal education, but it was supplemented by constant reading and study at home, so that he early won the reputation of being one of the best scholars in the neighborhood.”
Helen wrote that when Cyrus was “…still a youngster he was ‘bound out’ to Mr. Elijah Hazen…” a neighbor, to work for him on his farm. He was often homesick and although he could see the smoke from his mother’s chimney off in the distance, Cyrus rarely got home. Mrs. Hazen, who was childless, took an interest in this bright young man, and together with the village schoolmaster “…fostered his ambition for a college education.” Having “a clear, high tenor voice that made him early in demand as a music teacher in the neighborhood schools…” Cyrus was able to save enough money, along with money raised by citizens in the surrounding area, to enter KUA in 1828. He was 20 years old, a fact not unusual in those days of poor and pious young men seeking an education under difficult circumstances. His youngest brother, Jonas, entered the following year and both men graduated in 1831 and went on to Dartmouth College. During his senior year at Dartmouth, class of 1835, KUA Principal Newell became ill and asked Cyrus to assist him for a term. Helen wrote that he showed “…such marked ability as a teacher that on the day he graduated from Dartmouth he was elected principal of the Academy.” He was 27 years old. He remained principal for the next 36 years.
Next Week: A letter home from Horace Wood, class of 1833
Photo: Principal Richards preaching in the old, wooden Meriden Congregational Church. It was struck by lightning in June 1894 and burned. It was soon replaced by the current “stone church.”