Kimball Union’s First Day of Classes, Saturday, January 10, 1815

This Saturday, January 10, 1815, will mark 200 years since classes began here on the Hilltop. Seven students attended that day – we will probably never know for sure all their names, as many early records have been lost. We do know that the following spring in 1816, six young men received diplomas; four young women, their classmates, were not granted diplomas that year or any year until two women are listed in the graduating class of 1848.

David Sutherland, KUA Trustee 1812-1820.

David Sutherland, KUA Trustee 1812-1820.

How did this Academy come into existence in a tiny, secluded village so long ago? Some believe it all began with the birth of David Sutherland in 1777, a boy who spent his youth on the most northerly tip of the Scottish mainland in a village called Caithness. At age 12, his mother enrolled him in a school in Edinburgh, “… under the instruction of … a pious and learned schoolmaster.” He came under the influence of two wealthy, itinerant preachers, Robert and Richard Haldane, who had established a seminary “… to qualify young men for going literally into the highways and hedges to preach the Gospel….” He entered their school and was “educated for the ministry at [the brothers’] expense.” Sutherland was ordained in the spring of 1803 and he and his bride set sail for the United States, destination Barnet, Vermont, where a fellow Scotsman had sent a “call” to him to become their preacher.

Abner Forbes House in Windsor, VT, where a council of churchmen created Kimball Union in October 1812.

Abner Forbes House in Windsor, VT, where a council of churchmen created Kimball Union in October 1812.

One day, while visiting Deacon Joseph Foord of Piermont, NH, Sutherland spoke of Scotland and his former school, one that offered free education to poor and pious young men studying for the ministry. Foord’s son must have been informed of the visit as Sutherland later wrote a paper in 1811, where we learn that “Deacon Foord …  has a son, who a few years since, went to Scotland to obtain an education gratis, for the ministry at an institution established for that purpose…. He has written several times to his father informing him, that if an institution of the same kind were established in New England he would obtain donations for it in money and books to a considerable amount, in England and Scotland.” Because of the son’s letter, Sutherland added, a council of local ministers met on August 6, 1811, to consider a similar school; a plan was drawn up for the “infant institution.” Ideas for the school so varied, they decided to invite representatives of the leading churches in all of New England to a meeting in Windsor, VT, on October 21, 1812.

Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, was a delegate at the meeting. As one of the founders of Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, MA, in 1808, the first of its kind in the United States, it is not surprising that at age 60 he would leave the comforts of New Haven, CT, to attend the meeting. There were other distinguished professors: Porter, Woods, and Stuart of Andover Theological Seminary and Moore, Adams, and Shurtleff of Dartmouth College. However, it was President Dwight’s words that determined the kind of school that was created that day. Kimball Union Principal Cyrus Richards wrote in 1880, “President Dwight presented an elaborate argument, urging the great importance of a liberally educated ministry, for the present and future welfare of the churches and the country, and deprecating the establishment of schools with a partial and limited course of studies even for the purpose of multiplying ministers. These views were almost unanimously adopted by the Council … making the new Seminary an academy, whose object should be, as set forth in the charter, ‘To assist in the education of poor and pious young men for the gospel ministry; and such others as may be admitted by the trustees, subject to pay tuition.’” The path the Academy would take was clearly determined by the clause “such others as may be admitted …” as it made it possible for young men of all persuasions and interests to attend the Academy, and importantly and innovatively, for young women to study at the Academy from its earliest days.

The Kimballs’ home as drawn by a 19th century student.

The Kimballs’ home as drawn by a 19th century student.

Principal Richards added that the Academy, having been established by the Council “… was christened … with the name of Union Academy – it being the offspring of the united churches of New England; Its location was to be determined … by the highest offer of pecuniary benefactions. Woodstock, VT, Orford, N.H., and several other places made liberal offers. But Hon. Daniel Kimball, of Meriden, N.H., arose in the council and said that God had blessed him with a liberal fortune, but with no natural heir to inherit it. He recognized the providence of God in this movement, and was ready to pledge the institution six thousand dollars for immediate use, and the bulk of his property at his decease. This offer by this noble man … being most gratefully accepted, determined its location in Meriden, N.H.” Less than a year later, on June 16, 1813, Union Academy was incorporated.

Daniel Kimball began his life in Preston, CT, in 1753. When he was 16, his father Benjamin brought his family to Meriden, where he purchased 750 acres of land from the original town proprietors, including the village of Meriden, and owned and operated a gristmill below the Meriden Covered Bridge. After serving as a Sergeant in the Revolutionary War, Daniel married Hannah Chase, a teacher before and after marriage and a member of the prominent and educated Chase Family of Cornish, NH. Kimball inherited his father’s substantial property and greatly added to it through his own efforts. Not only was he a farmer, he owned a general store where he and his partner traded local produce as far away as Boston and returned with needed supplies for the local population. He also served the community as both a representative and a senator in the State Legislature and locally as town clerk, selectman, and Justice of the Peace.

Although he had become the first citizen and wealthiest man of the village, money wasn’t Kimball’s only gift to the Academy. He donated a portion of his property on The Hilltop for the first Academy building across the church green from his home and provided the material for it. Daniel did much of the actual construction of the building himself. Chester B. Jordan, class of 1866, a former Governor of New Hampshire (elected 1890), wrote in the February 1903 issue of The Kimball Union, “My father was present when Hon. Daniel Kimball was building the first academy. He said the old gentleman was hauling stone with his old mare hitched to a stone-boat, and laying up the foundation with his own hands. He endowed it living and dying.” The building was dedicated on January 9, 1815, and instruction began the next day.

Daniel Kimball died on February 17, 1817, but as his financial affairs were intertwined with those of his business partner, his death initially created a great hardship for the young institution. It was not until 1822 that his bequest, listed at $34,193.47, came into the hands of Union Academy. In their August 5, 1823 meeting, the trustees, as empowered by Section 13 of the charter “… once to alter the name of the Union Academy by prefixing thereto the name of the principal donor …” gratefully renamed the school Kimball Union Academy.

For more detail on the beginning of Kimball Union Academy, refer to our new history book, On The Hilltop, or visit past postings created by KUA Archivist Jane Carver Fielder on KUA’s Archives Blog <https://kimballunionarchives.wordpress.com/<https://kimballunionarchives.wordpress.com/>

Winter Carnival

Tobogganing on The Hilltop

Tobogganing on The Hilltop in the 1920s

In the 1920s, Winter Carnival events included sleigh rides, a tug-of-war, snowshoeing, tobogganing and other events. Although sledding from The Hilltop has always been discouraged, it looks as though this group of boys had at least one thrilling ride down the hill before the town authorities contacted Headmaster Tracy to protest – as once reported in an issue of The Kimball Union.

Snowshoeing on The Hilltop

Snowshoeing was also a popular sport 

These young women prepared for their snowshoeing expedition near the same place as the tobogganers. I imagine there was little danger from cars on a snowy Hilltop in the 1920s!

 

 

Winter Carnival 1941

Winter Carnival 1941

Because KUA was an all-boys’ school from 1935-1974, boys were allowed to invite their girl friends from home as guests for the annual Winter Carnival. They would vacate one of the dorms and the visitors would take over their rooms for the weekend. In 1941, The Kimball Union reported that, “The arrival of the lady guests at Meriden created the usual ardent comparison indulged in by all those who witnessed the event. The windows of downstairs D.R. were fairly crammed with spectators, as the arrivals made their way to the upper stories and their rooms.” The formal dance was held in the Silver gym followed by refreshments in the old D.R. dining hall. Snow sculpture competitions were held between dorms. The winner in 1941 is pictured above. The newspaper added, “This ski boot, about 10 feet high and 12 feet long, built by the members of Chellis Hall, was so well done … it easily captured the statuary cup …. It is built of snow packed around a framework of wood and chicken wire.” Notice the line of faculty chaperons in the upper right hand corner and behind them on the fireplace mantle, the school mascot.

Ira P. Townsend '38 Ski Hill

The Ira P. Townsend ’38 Ski Hill opened in the early 1960s. 

By the early 1960s, KUA’s faculty and students had finished building the Ira P. Townsend ’38 Ski Hill located on French’s Ledges and competitions were being held there. At Winter Carnival, the boys and their dates would hike to the hill to watch alpine and jumping events. In 1962 the Concordia reported that the “Junior Nordic Championships of the U.S.E.A.S.A. were held on the new ski hill …. A week later the team won the Prep School Championships at Middlebury by a margin of 16 points, the largest in the thirteen years of competition.”

Commencement Celebrations

Over the years, graduating classes or individual alumni have given back to the Academy in many different ways – some with class gifts that can be seen around campus; some by supporting the annual fund; donating to building funds; as a trustee, Alumni Council member or a volunteer on campus. Other gifts have been designated graduation awards or prizes. Although the greatest prize of all is earning a Kimball Union diploma, it is interesting to note how some of these awards we hear of each year came into being. They had to have begun with love either for an individual classmate or faculty member or for Kimball Union itself.

Henry Mann Silver, class of 1867, was a loyal alumnus. He donated KUA’s first gym in memory of his brother, Charles Lewis Silver, in 1914; previously the Academy exercised in the basement of Baxter Hall. Silver once wrote that Headmaster Tracy came to visit him in 1913 “… and told me in a few well-chosen words that the Academy was greatly in need of a gymnasium to aid in carrying on the work of the institution.” KUA meant a great deal to him as he also wrote, “What did Meriden do for me? What did I take away from Kimball Union? The foundation of a strong constitution and years of perfect health.” The plaque that he placed in the gym had these words, “Mens sana in corpore sano.” These words followed when he established three prizes of $25, $15 and $5 for the Henry Mann Silver Awards to be given at graduation for excellence of work in athletics combined with good scholarship, those who best exemplify the ideal of sound mind in a sound body.

The class of 1895 had their photograph taken on the steps of the first Dexter Richards Hall (1892-1935) with Principal Cummings, front row, center. I believe it was when the class gathered to celebrate their 50th Reunion in 1945 that they instituted a prize to be given each year to a senior as the first one was given in 1946.

The class of 1895 had their photograph taken on the steps of the first Dexter Richards Hall (1892-1935) with Principal Cummings, front row, center. I believe it was when the class gathered to celebrate their 50th Reunion in 1945 that they instituted a prize to be given each year to a senior as the first one was given in 1946.

This touching photograph, c. 1910, of Headmaster Tracy with his young son, greeting family gathered outside the Stone Church at Commencement, is representative of the many responsibilities of KUA’s faculty as home and school become one.

This touching photograph, c. 1910, of Headmaster Tracy with his young son, greeting family gathered outside the Stone Church at Commencement, is representative of the many responsibilities of KUA’s faculty as home and school become one.

Charles Alden Tracy’s ancestors settled in Cornish, NH, in 1793; their homestead remains in the family as home to Headmaster Tracy’s granddaughter Anne. Tracy graduated as valedictorian in 1893 and returned as headmaster in 1905 through 1935; he brought the Academy through many hard times including World War I and the Depression. In 1990, the Academy established a senior award in his honor.

The Royal Burnham Townsend Award was given by Mr. and Mrs. Townsend of Chelsea, VT in memory of their son, Class of 1911, who died while a student here. A memorial window in Baxter Hall was also given by his family and its inscription “Remember the Lilies of the Field,” also commemorates this young man.

This photograph, c. 1920, was taken at a Commencement held at the Howard Emerson Merrill Amphitheatre on Chellis Road. The Class of 1920 endowed a prize that was first given eight years after they graduated in 1928. The original prize was $5.00.

This photograph, c. 1920, was taken at a Commencement held at the Howard Emerson Merrill Amphitheatre on Chellis Road. The Class of 1920 endowed a prize that was first given eight years after they graduated in 1928. The original prize was $5.00.

In this 1937 Commencement photograph, KUA’s herd of cows can be seen grazing on the Potato Patch. Senior C. Parker Jones, is at the podium given by the Class of 1902 and one that is used to this day for all assemblies including Commencement.

In this 1937 Commencement photograph, KUA’s herd of cows can be seen grazing on the Potato Patch. Senior C. Parker Jones, is at the podium given by the Class of 1902 and one that is used to this day for all assemblies including Commencement.

After college, Jones served as a captain in the 113th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron in Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland and Central Europe in World War II. For his valor, he received the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and other citations. In 1952, Jones returned to KUA as an English teacher. Over the years, he pursued his love of the outdoors working with the Outing Club and with Ira Townsend as they cleared land and built the Townsend Ski Hill near French’s Ledges. Jones House was owned and rebuilt by him from a tumble-down building into a cozy home for his family and was bought by the Academy many years later. The Joneses retired after 28 years in 1980; his wife Kay had worked for many years as Headmaster Carver’s executive assistant. In 1973 the senior class honored him with the Faculty Cup which had been inaugurated in 1967 by the Student Council. The cup is engraved with these words:

1967

STUDENT COUNCIL CUP

IN HONOR OF THAT FACULTY MEMBER WHO

BEST EXEMPLIFIES THE VIRTUES OF

WISDOM, DEDICATION AND HUMILITY.

UTINAM QUISQUE HOMO

HAS VIRTUTES LAUDET

Wayland and Bertha Porter at their retirement celebration in 1965. honor.

Wayland and Bertha Porter at their retirement celebration in 1965.
honor.

The Porters worked at KUA from 1935 until 1965. Wayland, known affectionately as “Pappy” because of his love of the outdoors and his inventive ways, was responsible for many projects including leading the Outing Club over three years in building a log cabin on top of what became the Townsend Ski Hill. They cut down the trees on another part of campus, prepared the logs, transported them to the top of the hill and built the cabin from 1938 to 1941. Porter was also the force behind the skiers’ rope tow on the Potato Patch; he famously powered the tow with the engine from Headmaster Brewster’s old Pierce Arrow car. Bertha worked in the library and was involved in all the school activities including being a sports fan, a hostess at teas, a chaperone at dances and a multitude of other events. When they retired in 1966, the faculty established a senior award in their honor.

Tom and Elva Mikula greet parents and students after a Commencement held outdoors on the Stone Church green

Tom and Elva Mikula greet parents and students after a Commencement held outdoors on the Stone Church green

The Mikulas were here from 1974 until 1989. Besides guiding the Academy through its return to co-education during their first year here, a number of the facilities, including Flickinger Arts Center and Whittemore Ahtletic Center, and student programs, such as Cullman Scholars, that are now enjoyed by the Academy came about under their leadership. Before becoming KUA’s Director of Building and Grounds at KUA, Elva taught in the Plainfield School. The Mikula Award was established in 1987 by Allan F. Munro, Class of 1955, former Chairman of the Board, and Trustee Emeritus in honor of Mr. Mikula.

Headmaster Mikula passed away this spring; a Celebration of Life in his honor will be held during Reunion Weekend 2014 at the Service of Remembrance at 2 pm on June 7 at the Meriden Congregational Church.

Here ends my third year of sharing KUA’s long and rich history with you through From the Archives … . I look forward to bringing you more kUA facts and stories in the autumn. I want to wish all of the seniors a sunny and happy Commencement on Saturday and lots of good luck in college and beyond. Remember not to forget, as the men and women of the 19th century would have said, “… good old KUA” and keep in touch!

Jane Carver Fielder H 2013

Kimball Union Archivis