Above Left: The Second Academy (printed from KUA’s glass slides collection) was a small brick building built c. 1824 on the site of the first wooden structure. Above right: Students and faculty gather in June 1880 in front of the Second Congregational Church. This wooden church burned down in 1894 and was replaced by the current Stone Church. Left: Asa Dodge Smith graduated from KUA in 1826 (photograph courtesy of Dartmouth College).
In the nineteenth century, all Academy buildings were heated with fireplaces or woodstoves. The students were responsible for keeping the fires lit and running safely in their own rooms. One blustery night in 1824, the young men’s rooms in the academy building began to fill with smoke. They left to study elsewhere, but before leaving, they carefully covered the fireplace embers with ash and removed all wood and kindling from the hearths. Throughout the evening, the boys took turns returning to check on their fireplaces, but suddenly, the building was engulfed in flame and burned to the ground in 15 minutes. The boys were safe, but all else was lost, including the books of the Meriden Library (inc. 1797) which had been housed in the Academy building since 1815 at founder Daniel Kimball’s invitation. Before that time, the library’s books had been kept in local homes.
The cause of the fire was determined to be faulty chimney flues, rather than any carelessness on the part of the students. Principal Newell (KUA 1822-1835), accordingly, did not expel any of them. A small brick building soon replaced the old wooden one; it became known as the Second Academy.
One of the young men housed in the first school building, Asa Dodge Smith, class of 1826, went on to graduate from Dartmouth College (1830) and Andover Theological Seminary (1834). He became a preacher and a teacher and, in time, was elected President of Dartmouth College, 1863-1877. According to the General Catalogue 1816-1880, Smith was one of seven KUA graduates who became college presidents by 1880.
Question of the Week: Who knows where the Meriden Library is located today?
Answer to last week’s question: KUA was originally called Union Academy because it was partly founded by New England churchmen who were united in their desire to create a seminary for poor and pious young men studying for the ministry.