Old Bacon Academy, Colchester, Connecticut

The Bacon Academy building at 84 Main Street in Colchester, around 1896. Image from Connecticut Quarterly.

The building in 2020:

Bacon Academy is one of the oldest public high schools in the United States, and the second oldest in Connecticut. It was established in 1803 following the death of Pierpont Bacon, a Colchester resident who bequeathed $35,000 to maintain a school for the town’s residents. At the time, a high school education was rare in the United States, and few towns had a high school, even here in the relatively well-educated northeast. For Bacon Academy, the main purpose was to prepare boys for college, so the school offered what was, at the time, regarded as a well-rounded education. An 1803 newspaper advertisement declared that students would “be accommodated with suitable instruction in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, the learned Languages and Sciences.” Tuition in 1803 was $2.00 per quarter in the summer, and $2.50 per quarter in the winter.

The school opened on November 1, 1803, here in this brick, three-story Federal-style building. It is situated right in the center of Colchester, on Main Street directly opposite Norwich Avenue. Behind the school, visible in the distance on the left side of the scene, is the town’s old burying ground, which dates back to 1713. The opening of the school was widely reported in newspapers across the region, and the New York Morning Chronicle provided the following description of the building and its location:

A large and elegant brick building is erected for the accommodation of the scholars; being 75 feet in length, 34 feet in breadth, and three stories high. It is divided into a large hall, and convenient apartments for the different branches. . . . Colchester is a very healthy and pleasant town situated on the turnpike road leading from Hartford to New-London, being nearly equi-distant from each. A more eligible situation for an institution of this kind, could not have been chosen.

The first principal of the school was 31-year-old John Adams, a Connecticut native and Yale graduate who had previously taught at Plainfield Academy in New Jersey. He went on to become a prominent educator, serving here in Colchester until 1810, followed by 23 years as principal of Phillips Academy Andover. Later in life he moved west, serving from 1836 to 1843 as principal of Jacksonville Female Seminary, a school that would eventually be incorporated into Illinois College in the early 20th century.

During its first year, Bacon Academy enrolled 206 students. The majority of these were from Colchester, but 63 of them were from out of town. In its early years, the school even attracted students from out of state. Perhaps most notably, this included 11-year-old Stephen F. Austin of Missouri, whose father Moses Austin enrolled him in the school starting in the fall of 1804. Stephen Austin attended the school for the next three years, and he would eventually go on to become one of the founders of Texas and the namesake of its capital city.

Aside from Austin, Bacon Academy saw a number of its other students go on to achieve prominence in the 19th century. These included at least five future governors: William Larrabee of Iowa, Edwin D. Morgan of New York, Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, and William A. Buckingham and Morgan Bulkeley of Connecticut. With the exception of Larrabee, all of these men also served as U.S. senators, and Trumbull had a particularly distinguished career in the Senate, serving from 1855 to 1873. During this time, he co-authored the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery. Other distinguished Bacon Academy students included Eliphalet A. Bulkeley, who became the first president of Aetna Insurance Company, and Morrison Waite, who served as chief justice of the United States from 1874 to 1888.

By the mid-1830s, the school had grown to 425 students, including 137 who were from out of town and 32 from out of state. For the first few decades, the student body consisted of white males, with a separate school here in Colchester to educate African American children. However, at least one African American, the prominent educator Prince Saunders, was associated with Bacon Academy only a few years after it opened. He ran the African American students, and he is said to have taken courses at Bacon Academy, although it does not seem clear as to whether he was formally enrolled at the school, or was taught outside of school by some of its teachers.

In any case, by the 1840s Bacon Academy was racially integrated, and it had begun to enroll female students. This period in the mid-19th century was a high point for the school, which had aspirations of becoming a top-tier college preparatory school similar to Phillips Academy. However, the school ultimately saw a decline in enrollment, in part because of this deviation from its original mission. Unable to compete with the more established private schools, by the late 19th century Bacon Academy had settled into the role of the public high school for residents of Colchester.

The first photo was taken around the mid-1890s, showing the main academy building in the foreground. On the far right side is Day Hall, an Italianate-style building that was completed in 1858 as a church hall for the adjacent First Congregational Church. By this point, the exterior of the academy had seen a few changes from its original appearance, including the door hood above the main entrance and the octagonal cupola atop the building. The photo shows shutters on the windows and a balustrade along the roof, although these may not have been original either; an 1836 engraving of the building does not show either of these features.

This building remained in use by Bacon Academy until 1962, when the school relocated to a new facility. The school subsequently moved again in 1993, to its current site a few miles to the west of here on Norwich Avenue, where Bacon Academy remains the town’s public high school nearly 220 years after it was first established. In the meantime, the old building here on Main Street is still standing, as is the neighboring Day Hall, which was acquired by the school in 1929. The exteriors of both buildings have remained well-preserved over the years, and the only noticeable difference to the academy building in this scene is the lack of shutters or balustrade. Because of its architectural and historic significance, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. In addition, both it and Day Hall are contributing properties in the Colchester Village Historic District, which was added to the National Register in 1994.

First Congregational Church, Fall River, Mass

The First Congregational Church, seen looking up Cherry Street from the corner of June Street, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2020:

The First Congregational Church of Fall River was established in 1816, and throughout most of the 19th century the church worshipped in a building at the northwest corner of North Main and Elm Streets. However, in 1913 the church moved into this new building, which was donated by one of its parishioners, Sarah S. Brayton. The building was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, and it features a granite, Gothic Revival exterior. It was formally dedicated on January 9, 1913, on the 97th anniversary of the church’s founding. Among those in attendance was Sarah Brayton, who was 78 years old at the time, and the dedication sermon was delivered by the Rev. Nehemiah Boynton of the Clinton Avenue Congregational Church in Brooklyn.

The first photo was taken within a few years after the building was completed. It is a rather strange angle, because it shows the rear and side of the church, with the parish house in the foreground on the left. Further up in the distance, on the other side of Rock Street, is the B.M.C. Durfee High School, which was built in 1886. The three girls on the sidewalk are likely students at the school, and are apparently walking home at the end of the school day. During the early 20th century, the Durfee High School ended at 1:25 p.m., and the photo was taken ten minutes later at 1:35, according to the school’s clock tower.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, almost nothing has changed in this scene except for the trees, which now partially hide the buildings. The church is still an active congregation, and the exterior of the building has remained well-preserved. Further up the hill, the old high school building was converted into a family and probate courthouse in the 1990s, but it has retained its historic exterior appearance. The high school building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, and two years later both it and the church were designated as contributing properties in the Highlands Historic District.

Friends’ Academy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The former Friends’ Academy building on the east side of Fourth Street, just south of Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, in April 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Philadelphia is famous for its association with Quakers, having been founded by Quaker leader William Penn. The Quakers had a number of meeting houses throughout the city, during the colonial period along with several schools, including the Friends’ Academy here on Fourth Street. Both of the buildings in the first photo were built by the Quakers in the mid-18th century, although it seems unclear as to whether both were schools, or if one was a school and one was a meeting house.

The origins of the Friends’ Academy traces back to 1689, when it was established at the behest of William Penn. It moved to this location in 1744, and remained here for nearly a century, until 1841. During this time it was one of the city’s leading schools, and it also had several prominent schoolmasters, including abolitionist Anthony Benezet and historian Robert Proud.

The school relocated to Eleventh Street in the fall of 1841, and eventually became the William Penn Charter School, which still exists as a Quaker-affiliated independent school. In the meantime, though, its former home here on Fourth Street became a mathematical school during the 1840s, run first by William J. Lewis and then by Clinton Gillingham. This school appears to have closed around 1849, and at some point both buildings here were converted into commercial use, with one-story storefront additions extending to the sidewalk, as shown in the first photo.

Up until shortly before that photo was taken, these buildings were occupied by a stationery and printing business on the left, and a gas fitter further in the distance on the right. However, by the time the photo was taken in April 1859, the buildings were boarded up in preparation for demolition, which occurred soon after. They were replaced by more modern commercial buildings that have, in turn, been demolished as well, and today the site is part of the Independence National Historical Park.

Today, there are no surviving features from the first photo, although Carpenters’ Hall stands on the left side of the present-day photo. Built in the early 1770s and made famous as the meeting place of the First Continental Congress, this building was standing when the first photo was taken, but it was not visible from this section of Fourth Street until the rest of the block was demolished around the mid-20th century.

Maclean House, Princeton, New Jersey

Maclean House on the campus of Princeton University, around 1894. Image from Views of Princeton University (1894).

The house in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post on Nassau Hall, Princeton University was established in 1746 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, as the College of New Jersey. The school moved to Newark a year later, and then to Princeton in 1756, upon completion of Nassau Hall. At the time, Nassau Hall encompassed all of the school’s amenities under one roof, including classrooms, dormitory rooms, offices, a dining room, and a meeting hall. However, the school did have a separate building for the college president, who lived here in this brick two-story house, located immediately to the northwest of Nassau Hall, fronting Nassau Street. Like its neighbor, the house was completed in 1756, and it was likewise designed by Philadelphia architect Robert Smith. Its first occupant was Aaron Burr Sr., who had served as Princeton’s president since 1748.

Burr died only a year after moving into this house, in the fall of 1757, leaving his widow Esther with two young children, including future vice president Aaron Burr, who was just a year and a half old at the time. Burr’s replacement as president was Esther’s father, Jonathan Edwards, the famous pastor and theologian. Edwards had begun his ministry career in Northampton, Massachusetts, where his preaching had helped to spark the Great Awakening. However, after many years in Northampton he was dismissed by the congregation in 1750, and he subsequently moved to the remote western Massachusetts town of Stockbridge. There, he served as a missionary to Native Americans until the College of New Jersey invited him to be its next president.

Edwards arrived here in Princeton in the midst of a smallpox epidemic, and one of his first priorities was to encourage students to receive a smallpox inoculation. Leading by example, he was inoculated on February 23, 1758. However, what was supposed to be just a mild case of smallpox progressively worsened over the next few weeks, and he died here at this house in Princeton on March 22, barely a month after becoming president of the college. He was buried in nearby Princeton Cemetery, alongside his predecessor and son-in-law, in a plot that later became known as Presidents’ Row because of the many college presidents interred there.

After Edwards’s death, this house was subsequently occupied by the next eight college presidents: Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, John Witherspoon, Samuel Stanhope Smith, Ashbel Green, James Carnahan, John Maclean, and James McCosh. Of these, Witherspoon was probably the most notable. In addition to serving as president for more than 25 years, Witherspoon was also involved in politics during the Revolutionary War era. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress, and in that capacity he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, becoming the only active clergyman to sign the document.

Aside from being the residence of many Princeton presidents, this house was also home to a number of slaves over the years. Most of the early presidents were slaveowners, and New Jersey was among the last of the northern states to abolish slavery. The state enacted a gradual emancipation plan starting in 1804, but slavery in New Jersey was not fully eliminated until the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. The last Princeton president to have slaves here in the house was Ashbel Green, who was president from 1812 to 1822. He had at least three slaves here during this time, including Betsey Stockton, whom he freed in 1817 when she was about 19 years old. She remained here as a paid servant for the next five years, and during this time she also received an education. Then, in 1822 she traveled to Hawaii as a Christian missionary, and upon returning to America she became an educator, eventually teaching for many years at an African-American school here in Princeton.

The last college president to occupy this house was James McCosh, who moved into the newly-acquired Prospect House in 1878. The house was then used as the residence of the dean of faculty, and seven different deans lived here between 1883 and 1967. The first photo was taken during this period, no later than 1894, and it shows the northern side of the house, from Nassau Street. This photo also shows two large sycamore trees standing in front of the house. These trees had been planted in 1765, less than a decade after the house was built, and by the time the photo was taken they were already nearly 130 years old.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, very little has changed here in this scene. The house is now occupied by the Alumni Association of Princeton University, and it is named the Maclean House in honor of John Maclean, who lived here during his presidency and served as honorary president of the Alumni Association. Despite these changes in use, though, its exterior has remained well-preserved, and along with Nassau Hall it stands as the oldest building on the Princeton campus. Perhaps even more remarkable, though, is that the two sycamore trees are also still standing. Now more than 250 years old, they are nearly twice as old as they were in the first photo, and in the summer their leaves partially hide the view of the house from the street, as shown in the present-day photo.

Nassau Hall, Princeton, New Jersey

Nassau Hall at Princeton University, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

Nassau Hall, which opened in 1756, is the oldest building on the Princeton campus, and among the oldest college buildings in the United States. The College of New Jersey, as it was known at the time, was established in 1746, and it was originally located in Elizabeth before moving to Newark in 1747. Then, in 1753 Nathaniel FitzRandolph donated a plot of land here in Princeton to the school, and a year later the cornerstone was laid for this building. The building was nearly named for Governor Jonathan Belcher, but he demurred out of modesty, instead suggesting it be named Nassau Hall in honor of William III, who was from the House of Nassau.

Upon completion, Nassau Hall was one of the largest buildings in the English colonies, and the largest in New Jersey. It was the only building on campus at the time, so it was home to all of the school’s amenities, including a meeting hall, a dining room, offices, classrooms, and dormitory rooms. There were 70 students enrolled when the school moved here to Princeton, and its faculty consisted of the president, at the time Aaron Burr Sr., and two tutors. It was designed by Philadelphia architect Robert Smith, and one of the earliest descriptions of the building appeared in 1760 in the New American Magazine, which emphasized its rather spartan design:

There are three flat-arched doors on the north side giving access by a flight of steps to the three separate entries. At the center is a projecting section of five bays surmounted by a pediment with circular windows, and other decorations. The only ornamental feature above the cornice, is the cupola, standing somewhat higher than the twelve fireplace chimneys. Beyond these there are no features of distinction.

The simple interior design is shown in the plan, where a central corridor provided communication with the students’ chambers and recitation rooms, the entrances, and the common prayer hall; and on the second floor, with the library over the central north entrance. The prayer hall was two stories high, measured 32 by 40 feet, and had a balcony at the north end which could be reached from the second-story entry. Partially below ground level, though dimly lighted by windows, was the cellar, which served as kitchen, dining area (beneath the prayer hall), and storeroom. In all there were probably forty rooms for the students, not including those added later in the cellar when a moat was dug to allow additional light and air into that dungeon.

As was the case with most of the colonial-era colleges in the United States, the primary objective at the College of New Jersey was to prepare men to enter the ministry. However, while most were affiliated with either Puritanism or Anglicanism, this school was Presbyterian in its theology. Up until Woodrow Wilson in the early 20th century, all of its college presidents were ministers, and during the colonial era this included Great Awakening leader Jonathan Edwards and Declaration of Independence signer John Witherspoon.

Edwards arrived here in 1758, only two years after Nassau Hall was completed, but he died just a month later, after receiving a smallpox inoculation. The next two presidents also died relatively young, but John Witherspoon became president in 1768, and remained here until his death in 1794. During this time, he was also involved in politics, including serving on the Continental Congress, and he was the only clergyman among those who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Aside from these two presidents, the school also had a number of prominent students throughout the 18th century. Future president James Madison graduated from here in 1771, and one of his classmates was future vice president Aaron Burr, grandson of Jonathan Edwards, who graduated a year later. Others included Joseph Hewes, Benjamin Rush, and Richard Stockton, all of whom signed the Declaration of Independence along with Witherspoon.

After the end of the Revolution, ten Princetonians participated in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and five of them signed the Constitution: Gunning Bedford, David Brearley, Jonathan Dayton, James Madison, and William Paterson. Many other former Princeton students held other positions at the state and national level in the years during and immediately after the American Revolution. These included General Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee, who served as a cavalry officer in the Revolution and later as governor of Virginia, and Oliver Ellsworth, who served as the second Chief Justice of the United States.

However, it was not only Princeton’s students who played a role in the American Revolution; the school itself became a battleground during the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. Prior to the battle, about 1,400 British soldiers were stationed in Princeton, and Nassau Hall was converted into barracks. During this time, the interior of the building was vandalized by the occupying army, and it was damaged even further during the battle itself. When Washington’s army advanced on Princeton, about 200 British soldiers took a defensive position inside of Nassau Hall, protected by the stone walls. However, the Continental Army opened fire on the building with cannons, and at least two cannonballs hit it before the British surrendered, effectively ending the battle.

Overall, the Battle of Princeton was a relatively small battle, but it helped to provide a much-needed morale boost for the Continental Army. Throughout the summer and fall of 1776, Washington had suffered a series of defeats as his army steadily retreated from New York City and across New Jersey. Thomas Paine famously described the situation as “the times that try men’s souls,” since many soldiers were deserting or not planning on re-enlisting after their enlistments expired on January 1, 1777. However, Washington’s surprise victory at Trenton on December 26, followed by Princeton a week later, helped to motivate soldiers to re-enlist and even inspired new recruits to join the army. Two years later, the Battle of Princeton was memorialized in Charles Willson Peale’s famous Washington at Princeton painting, depicting the commander in chief leaning against a cannon on the battlefield, with Nassau Hall visible in the distance on the left side of the painting.

Following the battle, Nassau Hall was occupied by the Continental Army throughout much of 1777, first as barracks and then as a hospital. This caused further damage to the interior, but at the end of the war the building took on a very different role when it temporarily became the capitol of the United States. Since 1775, Independence Hall in Philadelphia had been the meeting place of the Continental Congress. However, in 1783 a group of about 400 soldiers from the Continental Army marched on Independence Hall, demanding payment for their wartime service. Despite Congress’s requests, the Pennsylvania state government declined to use the militia to protect the building, so the Continental Congress left Philadelphia on June 21, and reconvened nine days later here at Princeton, in the second floor library of Nassau Hall.

Nassau Hall served as the capitol building for the next four months. During this time, on October 31, 1783, Congress was notified that British and American diplomats had signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolution. That same day, Congress also held a ceremony for diplomat Peter John van Berckel, who presented his credentials to Congress as the first Dutch ambassador to the United States. Van Berckel was apparently offended that his formal reception occurred in a small New Jersey town, rather than in Philadelphia as he had expected. However, he subsequently served as ambassador until 1788, and following the end of his term he continued to live in the United States for the rest of his life.

In any case, Congress did not remain in Princeton for much longer. It met here for the last time on November 4, 1783, and subsequently departed for Annapolis, where the Maryland State House functioned as the temporary national capitol. Congress would later return to the Princeton area, meeting in nearby Trenton for a little less than two months in late 1784 before moving to New York City in 1785. The capital city would then shift back to Philadelphia in 1790, before permanently moving to the newly-established city of Washington D.C. in 1800.

In the meantime, Nassau Hall continued to function as the home of the College of New Jersey throughout this time. However, on March 6, 1802 the building was completely gutted by a fire, leaving only the stone exterior walls still standing. The school soon began raising funds for its reconstruction, and among the donors were the citizens of Princeton, who feared that the school would use the opportunity to move out of the small town. For the work of rebuilding Nassau Hall, the school hired architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who is best known for having designed the United States Capitol in Washington. His plans for Nassau Hall were largely faithful to Robert Smith’s original design, and consisted of mostly minor stylistic changes. Perhaps the greatest difference was the roof, which was raised two feet higher than the original.

Thus restored, Nassau Hall would continue to be occupied by the school for the next half century, until another disastrous fire gutted it on March 10, 1855. This time, architect John Notman was responsible for the renovations, in the process making more drastic changes than Latrobe had. Inspired by Italianate-style architecture, which was popular at the time, Notman’s plans gave Nassau Hall more of a Renaissance appearance. Here on this side of the building, his design included a new arched doorway at the main entrance, and an arched window and balcony above it. Notman’s most significant alteration, though, was the addition of two Italianate towers, with one at each end of the building. The tower on the east side of the building is hidden behind the trees in the first photo, but the western tower is partially visible on the far right side of the scene.

The first photo was taken around 1903, and just two years later the tops of these towers were removed. Otherwise, though, the exterior of the building has not changed much since the 1855 reconstruction. However, the school’s use of Nassau Hall has evolved during this time. As Princeton added new buildings to its campus, Nassau Hall no longer needed to serve as an all-in-one building for dormitory rooms, classrooms, and offices. By 1924, the building was being used exclusively for administrative offices, including the offices of the university president, and it has been used for this purpose ever since.

Today, after surviving a Revolutionary War battle and two major fires, Nassau Hall still stands as an important part of the Princeton campus. It has been heavily altered, especially after the two fires, and the only original materials left in the building are the stone walls. Regardless, though, it remains one of the oldest college buildings in the country, and it is also important for its role in the Battle of Princeton and as the temporary capitol of the United States. Because of this, Nassau Hall was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Clio and Whig Halls, Princeton, New Jersey

Clio Hall and Whig Hall, on the campus of Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The American Whig–Cliosophic Society at Princeton is one of the most prominent collegiate debate organizations in the country. Its history traces back to the 1760s, and over the years its membership has included some of Princeton’s most distinguished graduates, including many of the Founding Fathers and two future U. S. president. The organization was originally two separate groups, the Whig and the Clio, and each had its own facility on campus. However, in 1928 the two were united as the Whig–Cliosophic Society, and it remains an active student-led organization here at Princeton.

The first photo, taken around 1903, shows the view looking east on Chapel Drive from near West College–now Morrison Hall–and Witherspoon Hall. On the left side of the scene is Cannon Green, and in the distant center is Marquand Chapel. On the right side of the scene are two identical buildings, which were completed in 1893 as the homes of the Whig and Clio societies. They were both designed by noted architect Arthur Page Brown, and their marble, Greek Revival-style exteriors evoke a sense of the philosophers and democratic ideals of classical antiquity. The building here in the foreground was Clio Hall, while the one further in the distance was Whig Hall.

About a decade after the first photo was taken, a young F. Scott Fitzgerald enrolled at Princeton, and during his time here he joined the Whig society. Fitzgerald never graduated, instead dropping out to join the Army during World War I, but his experiences at Princeton ultimately formed the basis of his first novel, This Side of Paradise. This book established Fitzgerald as the leading voice of the Jazz Age, and it even included a passing mention of Whig and Clio Halls, describing how the protagonist, Amory Blaine, “wanted to ramble through the shadowy scented lanes, where Witherspoon brooded like a dark mother over Whig and Clio, her Attic children.”

After the Whig and Clio organizations merged in 1928, the Whig–Cliosophic Society occupied Whig Hall, which it continues to use nearly a century later. During this time, the debate society has continued to have a number of prominent members, including Senators Claiborne Pell, Paul S. Sarbanes, and Ted Cruz, and U. S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. In the meantime, Clio Hall was put to other uses, and it is now the administrative offices of the Princeton Graduate School. Overall, this scene has remained largely unchanged since the first photo was taken, and the only significant difference is the Princeton University Chapel. It is barely visible in the distance, mostly hidden by trees, but it was built in 1928 to replace the earlier Marquand Chapel, which burned in 1920.