Old Academy Hall, Wilbraham Mass

Old Academy Hall, on the campus of Wilbraham & Monson Academy, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The building in 2015

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Built in 1824, this was the original building at what would eventually become the Wilbraham & Monson Academy. The school was initially founded as two separate schools: Monson Academy in nearby Monson, Massachusetts in 1804, and Wesleyan Academy in Newmarket, New Hampshire in 1817.  Wesleyan Academy was founded as a Methodist school, and when Newmarket was found to not be a suitable location, the school moved to Wilbraham, which at the time was an important center for the small but growing Methodist denomination.

The school moved into this building in 1825, and although the campus has grown substantially over nearly 200 years, the original building is still in use.  Over the years, the academy taught a number of notable people, including Massachusetts Governor and US Senator Winthrop M. Crane, industrialist and Pratt Institute founder Charles Pratt, and abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone.  Several members of my family also attended Wesleyan Academy, including my great-grandfather in the 1880s and both of his parents in the 1840s.  In fact, my great-great grandmother was less than a year younger than Charles Pratt, and likely would have known him during his three years at the school.

Wesleyan Academy closed in June 1911, and remained closed throughout the 1911-1912 school year.  It reopened in September 1912 as Wilbraham Academy, with a new headmaster, a new faculty, and a mostly new student body.  Only one Wesleyan Academy student enrolled in the new Wilbraham Academy, so there is a bit of discontinuity with the school itself, even though the campus remained essentially the same.  Another change came in 1971, when the school merged with Monson Academy and the Monson campus was closed.  Today, although Wilbraham & Monson Academy uses the old Wesleyan Academy campus, the school recognizes 1804 as its founding date, the year that Monson Academy opened.  The original Wesleyan Academy building has remained nearly unchanged from the exterior, and today the building houses classrooms for the English and foreign language departments.

Main Street, Wilbraham Mass

Looking north on Main Street from Faculty Street in Wilbraham, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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Main Street in 2015:

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These photos show Main Street where it passes through the Wilbraham & Monson Academy.  The houses on the left-hand side of the road can also be seen in the photos in this post; those photos were taken from the field on the far right in this view.  At the time that the first photo was taken, the academy was called Wesleyan Academy; it was later called Wilbraham Academy, and in 1971 it merged with Monson Academy, giving the school its current name.  Today, other than having a paved road and fewer trees, not much has changed in this scene, and the area is part of the Academy Historic District, a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wesleyan Academy Baseball Field, Wilbraham Mass

The baseball field at Wesleyan Academy (today Wilbraham & Monson Academy) in Wilbraham, probably around 1900.  Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The field in 2015:

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These photos show the same field as the one in this post, just from a different angle.  The historic image here was probably taken at a later date; the one in the other post dates to the early 1890s at the absolute latest, while this one is probably about 10 years later.  This game certainly seems to have attracted a bigger crowd, although obviously the game itself has not started yet – if nothing else, the table sitting on the first base line should give that away.

Wesleyan Academy is now Wilbraham & Monson Academy, and the field is still there, although today it is used for soccer and lacrosse.  The three houses in the background are also still there, and are part of the academy campus.  From left to right, they are: the 1854 Morrow House, the c.1814 Brewer House, and the 1878 Winchester House.  Like most of the other buildings on campus, they are well-preserved, and they make up part of the Academy Historic District, a National Register of Historic Places site.

Wesleyan Academy Baseball Game, Wilbraham Mass

A view of a baseball game in progress at Wesleyan Academy (today Wilbraham & Monson Academy) in Wilbraham, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The field in 2015:

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The first photo is a rather remarkable scene showing an early baseball game.  Most 19th century baseball photos are staged studio portraits that loosely imitate in-game action (see this photo from the Library of Congress website, where the string holding the ball is clearly visible and it looks more like a magic levitating trick than anything one might encounter at a baseball game), so it is fairly rare to see real, in-game action from the 1800s.  This particular photo was taken no later than 1892, the year it was published, and no earlier than 1878, when the house on the far left was built.  Most likely though, it was probably taken shortly before publication.

By the time that the photo was taken, the game of baseball was well established as the most popular sport in the country, at both the professional and amateur levels.  For the most part, the game 125 years ago wasn’t all that different from baseball today – this scene is instantly recognizable as a baseball game.  However, there was one last major change in the rules that happened a few years after this photo was taken.  A close examination of the photo shows that the pitcher is standing on flat ground, and appears closer to home plate than in modern baseball.  Prior to 1893, the pitcher released the ball 55.5 feet from home plate, and stood on flat ground rather than a raised mound.  In 1893, the distance of 60.5 feet was established; this remains the same today, and was such a major change that many baseball historians consider 1893 to be the beginning of modern baseball.

I don’t know which team is the home team, but this was taken at what was once Wesleyan Academy, and is now Wilbraham & Monson Academy.  My great grandfather attended the academy in the late 1880s, and I don’t know whether he played baseball there, but depending on the exact date of the photo, he could easily be among the players or spectators – some of whom seem to be standing dangerously close to the batter.  Today, the campus has grown significantly since the first photo was taken, but the field is still there and is still used for sports, although baseball is now played on a different field on the other side of the campus.

Old High School, Springfield Mass

The old Springfield High School, on Court Street in Springfield, probably in the 1880s or early 1890s. Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The scene in 2015:

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Springfield’s first public high school was established in 1828, and it was in several different location before this building on Court Street opened in 1848.  It served as the high school until 1874, when a new high school opened on the current location of Classical High School.  The old building was used as a primary school until at least the 1880s.  However, before the end of the century it was demolished and replaced by the Springfield Police Department headquarters, which can be seen in the first photo of this post.  However, the police station wasn’t there for too long, because the site is now occupied by the 1913 campanile tower between Symphony Hall and City Hall.

Memorial Chapel, Wilbraham Mass

The Methodist Church in Wilbraham, around 1903. Photo courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The building in 2015:

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The Memorial Chapel at the corner of Main Street and Mountain Road in Wilbraham is right next to the Wilbraham & Monson Academy campus, but it wasn’t always a part of the school.  It was completed in 1870, and was the third meeting house for Wilbraham’s Methodist Society.  The society was established in 1793, and their first meeting house was used until 1835, when it was converted into a private home.  It is still standing, directly across Mountain Road; I took this photo from right in front of it.  The church in this photo was used by the Methodists from 1870 until the 1920s, when they merged with the Congregational Church to form the Wilbraham United Church.  The Academy acquired the church in the 1930s, and now uses it as a library and as a venue for concerts and all-school gatherings.