The History of Craftsbury Academy

Written by Aaron Cornelius

A. The Beginnings of Craftsbury Academy and the First Academy Building

B. Craftsbury Academy in the Early Days: Faith and Classical Studies

C. The Second and Third Academy Buildings

D. The Late 1800s: Mr. Henderson, the Library, and the first Graduates

E. The Twentieth Century: An Evolving Campus

F. Past, Present, and Future

G. References List

A. The Beginnings of Craftsbury Academy and the First Academy Building

New England is well known around the world for its excellent colleges and universities, many of which have deep historic roots. This emphasis on education from the earliest years led the planners of the town of Craftsbury to set aside six lots to support an academy in 1787, two years before the town was even settled. In the coming years the town's settlers established a growing number of one room schoolhouses (fourteen total by the late 1800s), and until 1826 a "Select School" existed to provide secondary education to a maximum of fifteen pupils at a time  (Craftsbury, 1961, pg. 8), which met in "a private house" (Craftsbury, 1912, pg. 7).

In 1812 the state of Vermont passed a law allowing for two grammar schools in Orleans County, one in Brownington and the other in Craftsbury, which were also the shared county seats in those years (Craftsbury, 1912, pg. 7). In 1826 a committee met to begin planning the long envisioned academy. On October 29, 1929 the academy was incorporated and bylaws were created. Meanwhile the construction proceeded apace. The two story brick academy was being erected near the common in North Craftsbury (now called "Craftsbury Common"). Orders for materials were filled locally, with 65,000 bricks being supplied from a brick mill at the base of the Ketchum Hill Road. Until 1830 the town of Craftsbury financed the construction, then in March of 1830 the town turned the nearly complete academy over to a new Board of Trustees, headed by Samuel C. Crafts. The new school was to operate as a country grammar school (Craftsbury, 1961, pg. 8).

On September 11, 1832 the school was opened. According to a flyer circulated to announce the new facility and its programs, the building was "large and commodious," and the location was "one of the most healthy and pleasant in the state." The first headmaster was a Mr. Hosmer. The school would prepare young men for "a collegiate course", or to become teachers. A separate program for young women also existed under the instruction of a Miss Sabin. Tuition was $3.00 per term, books and room and board extra (Crafts et al., 1832).

B. Craftsbury Academy in the Early Days: Faith and Classical Studies

In those early years the school received widespread acclaim for its teacher training program, which was boosted in the 1840s by Samuel Read Hall, the founder of the first Normal School (for teacher training) in the country in Concord Vermont in 1823 (Craftsbury, 1961, pg. 9). Mr. Hall also served as the pastor in the Congregational Church quite close by on the common, and in fact for many years the ties between the church and the academy were quite close (United Church of Craftsbury, 2012).

As a side note, the Congregational church still exists on the common, having been built in 1820 and remodeled considerably over the years. In the 1960s the Methodist congregation merged to form the United Church, and the combined congregation still meets in the historic church. The former Methodist church in turn passed into the school's hands and now forms the nucleus of the town's elementary school (United Church of Craftsbury, 2012).

One particular appeal of the school to many was the attention given to the "formation of right habits and good moral character in well as progress in their studies," to teach students the "advantages as well as the duty of doing right." In the 1847 advertisement for Craftsbury Academy (creating around the time Samuel Read Hall was both headmaster and pastor), the principal quality of the school is described as follows (Crafts et. al., 1847):

"This institution is located in a retired village, justly celebrated for its extensive mountain scenery, for its salubrity of climate, and for its healthful moral atmosphere which is not surpassed by that of any village in New England. The student is not exposed to the distracting and immoral influences that are everywhere found in populous villages, and on the great thoroughfares of our country.  The morals and general deportment of students are carefully observed, and amended, not so much by austerity, as by kindness and the cultivation of social habits with each other, with their teachers, and with the best society of the place."

How ironic that to this day many defend the continued existence of this tiny school by pointing to the strength of the community in the school, the tendency to include all students rather than break into social cliques, and the emphasis on healthy and safe activities! That defense is essentially an updated version of the very argument made for the school in 1847! Furthermore, a student led prayer meeting also occurred weekly on Wednesday afternoons, and school was shortened by a half an hour on those days to accommodate the meeting (Simpson, 1940, pg. 2). For quite some time the school days began with a daily religious devotional as well (Craftsbury, 1912, pg. 10). It is not clear when these religious practices faded away.

Throughout the nineteenth century the school emphasized classical studies, including Latin, Greek, French, painting, drawing, music, algebra, geometry, and the "higher English branches" (Crafts et. al., 1847). Gradually the school adopted more pragmatic programs. By 1911 the school offered a "commercial course", instruction in typewriting, some history courses, and some lab sciences. At this time the program still retained much of its classical roots, but was starting to shed some of the older aspects of the program, like rhetoric (Craftsbury, 1912, pg. 9).

C. The Second and Third Academy Buildings

Sadly, the original brick academy deteriorated rapidly. The best known photo of the old building, likely taken in the 1850s, clearly shows large cracks in the brickwork rising up from the foundations. As a stroke of good luck, the town had only recently built a new town house in the village to the south, and the old town house on the common was now vacant. The town approved deeding the old town house over to Craftsbury Academy for use as a new facility in 1868. There are no complete photos of this structure, although the two existing partial photos shows a dark exterior with columns rising two stories. It is not clear when the structure was built. It should also be noted that this is not the first occasion the town of Craftsbury chose to generously support the school. In 1835 the common in North Craftsbury was significantly shrunken by selling lots to the value of $350, all of which was donated to the academy (Craftsbury, 1961, pg. 9).

The old town house, the second home of Craftsbury Academy, was destroyed in a fire in February of 1879, while Mr. G. W. Henderson was headmaster. The trustees immediately voted to rebuild on nearly the same site, creating a new structure "in the approved style of modern architecture, larger than the one that burned, rectangular" and with a tower and "gleaming weathervane rising nearly seventy feet above the ground." The new building had five large rooms for meetings and classes and a library. The same building remains to this day, albeit continually altered by renovations large and small (Craftsbury, 1961, pg. 9). The new building was funded partly by insurance money, but also by subscriptions from the townspeople (Craftsbury, 1912, pg. 8).

D. The Late 1800s: Mr. Henderson, the Library, and the first Graduates

As a side note, headmaster G. W. Henderson was of African American descent, and he was among the first  African American headmasters in the country, the first being Alexander Twilight to the north of Craftsbury in Brownington, Vermont. Mr. Henderson was headmaster for four years before the death of his wife, a former teacher at the academy, caused him to leave the area. About Henderson, the trustees said the following in an advertisement for the school (Boardman, 1878):

"The trustees feel great satisfaction in the increasing success and usefulness of the Academy under its present Principal. Mr. Henderson is a thorough scholar and a Christian gentleman. The progress of the classes has been rapid and thorough and we feel that the prosperity of the school may afford ample occasion for congratulation and cheerful anticipation on the part of its friends. We are permitted to hope that the school will be continued in charge of Mr. Henderson beyond the present academic year."

One particularly important way in which Mr. Henderson impacted the school was in creating a school library. In fact, he made an investment in a library a condition of his return for a fourth year. On January 1, 1879 the trustees voted to provide $150 for books, which were to be chosen by Mr. Henderson and Reverend Boardman of the Congregational Church, who was also the author of the quite favorable statement made above about Mr. Henderson. Obviously, the fire that destroyed the building just a month later forced a reevaluation of those plans. There was no further discussion of a library at that time, but by 1891 support was building again. Mrs. Mary Crafts Hill offered her personal collection in 1892 to form the nucleus of a new library if a fireproof building were created, and the same year work began on a small stone building. In 1894 it was completed for a total cost of about $1500. The small library served as both a public and a school library for many years. However, it was less than ideal, being difficult to heat and prone to dampness. It was finally taken down in 1957, and a new wooden structure on the common served as the town library (Craftsbury, 1962, pg. 10). The current library which sits on the common replaced that second structure only recently, and the first stone structure was formerly situated roughly where the flag poles are at present on the academy campus.

Another important change that occurred in the school at this time was the institution of graduation, which prior to the early 1880s did not occur. Students would complete courses, but not as part of a program culminating in a diploma. The first graduating class was in 1881. At that time the school year was just thirty weeks, and many of the students also taught school in local schoolhouses or worked in busy seasons on area farms. The students were also, as a rule, several years older than would be considered normal today (Simpson, 1940, pg. 1).

The academy fell into some financial trouble around this time, "for the amount expended per pupil was double what he paid in tuition." Generous gifts, including from the same Mrs. Hill who had contributed so much to the library, help create an endowment fund, while Reverend Moodie from the Congregational Church volunteered himself to serve as principal for two years without pay. Reverend Moodie encouraged a physical training program using "Indian clubs", and also encouraged an existing institution, the "Christian Endeavor Society," which met after school. Townspeople did their part by boarding many students free of charge, making "many sacrifices to accommodate the young people and thus help the academy" (Craftsbury, 1962, pg. 11).

E. The Twentieth Century: An Evolving Campus

In time the building was modified. In 1904 twenty feet was added to the rear of the building, allowing for a basement containing a furnace and "closets" (which may refer to the first indoor plumbing in the school). The lower floor received two additional classrooms, while the upper floor had an expanded hall, which had "opera seats to accommodate an audience of two hundred" and a "stage at the west end (which ) make the hall a convenient place for holding school entertainments." (Craftsbury, 1912, pg. 8). This large entertainment hall was ideal for recitations and concerts, and was also made use of by the public since the academy had been built (Craftsbury, 1962, pg. 12). By this time too, photos show that some of the roof decorations had been removed, including the beautiful gabled dormers on the north and south slopes of the roof.

By 1912 the trustees began considering options for a gymnasium. The option they settled on was to accept as a gift the former Presbyterian Church in East Craftsbury, which had only recently been replaced by an attractive building which remains in use to this day. The building, which may have been built as early as the 1830s, was dismantled and moved onto the campus just north of the academy building. It was remodeled considerably. The tower was closed in, the chapel converted into a gymnasium. A chemistry lab was built under this gym to the east (Craftsbury, 1962, pg. 12).

The next great transition for the school occurred in 1917. At this time momentum had been growing to include programs in agriculture and home making, but private funds were simply not available  to support these programs. In order to secure federal aid and expand these programs, the trustees leased the campus to a new board of directors for ninety-nine years, a project encouraged by Mr. Charles W. Dustan (Craftsbury, 1962, pg. 12). Other members of the Dustan family also impacted the development of the school. Charles' brother William was a farmer, and his children were quite successful. In honor of William his daughters donated a plot of land to the school now known as "Dustan Field," the site of the school's athletic fields. Likewise, William's son Charles (nephew of the Charles mentioned previously) is honored annually when a scholarship is given in his name to a worthy graduate of Craftsbury Academy. Charles was an exceptionally bright and promising young man, and a member of the class of 1930. Sadly, he died of a recurring illness at the age of nineteen just before beginning his university studies. The devastated family and community created the scholarship in his memory (Anne Wilson, personal correspondence, 2012).

It is worth noting that by this time the nature of the school had changed considerably. While in the early years students from all over the country attended school at Craftsbury Academy, the construction of additional academies meant that students at Craftsbury Academy came mainly from just Greensboro and Craftsbury (Craftsbury, 1912, pg. 7).

In the centennial year of the founding of the school the student body had grown so large (graduating classes in the 1920s and 1930s were on average the largest in the school's history) that two wings were added to the existing academy. These wings included three new classrooms, a principal's room, and a teacher's room (Craftsbury, 1962, pg. 13).

Just after World War II a new gymnasium  was built to serve the school. The new gym was, for a while, the largest and most attractive gymnasium in the county. It also served as a war memorial (Craftsbury, 1962, pg. 12). Sadly, the beautiful gymnasium developed serious structural problems, as the exterior walls began to spread and had to be secured using large metal tie rods.

In 1988 the town approved a new structure to be known as Minden Hall. The new building was built north of Craftsbury Academy, replacing an old structure known as the academy apartments (which in turn were split into two structures and moved onto new lots elsewhere in town). The total cost was just under one million dollars, financed from a mixture of aid from the Trustees of the academy, state aid, other donations, and of course local taxes (Dunbar, 1988, pg. 1). The building was completed in 1989, the bicentennial of the town's founding in 1789.

F. Past, Present, and Future

In recent times a substantial renovation of the campus has occurred, focusing on the complete renovation of the historic academy building with an emphasis on bringing the structure up to modern building codes, improving energy efficiency, and increasing the usefulness of the school as a twenty-first century learning institution. The renovations cost approximately three million dollars, and took great pains to preserve the historic qualities and appearance of the school. These were completed in the 2010-2011 school year (Buildings and Grounds, 2012).

Likewise, in the spring of 2012 the old gymnasium, built after World War II, was torn down. The occasion was bittersweet for many in town who had been so proud of the beautiful gymnasium when it was built. The construction on the new gymnasium began immediately and reached its conclusion on October 17th, 2012 when the new Memorial Gymnasium was dedicated. Present were hundreds of community members, many of them alumni of the school. The new gymnasium was dedicated by Robert Twiss (Class of 1942), with Charlie Smith (Class of 1937) and David Reed (Class of 1944) in honored attendance, all veteran of World War II. The new Gymnasium was dedicated to the memory of those who had served in that war, as its predecessor had been. After the building was dedicated, Board of Directors member Harry Miller noted to those in attendance that the two million dollar building would serve the school for the next hundred years (as witnessed by this author).

It may be interesting to note that while so much has changed in the academy over the years, some things have remained the same. In the 1880s the students at the school participated in a hike up Prospect Hill, and mirroring that in modern times each fall the students hike local mountains as class groups. Likewise, at the end of each term and before each vacation students would gather for social activities, including games and music. Today students enjoy activities like Winter Carnival and Autumnfest before breaks as well (Simpson, 1940, pg. 3).ed years.

Another constant has been the town's support of the school. While townspeople have never been extravagant in their support of the school (and have occasionally rejected budgets or bond votes they thought were impractical), for the most part the town is proud of and supportive of Craftsbury Academy. As was once said by the alumni of the school (Craftsbury Schools, 1962, pg. 13):

"It is frequently stated that the people in any community will determine what sort of schools it will have. And it is particularly to the Craftsbury Community that we pay our especial tribute on this occasion. The people of Craftsbury, at least in our time, were determined to have schools equal to the best. ...With a force of public opinion, with active and discerning trustees, with adequate equipment, with well trained and consecrated instructors, we are bound to feel we were part of a great tradition, we did then, and we do now."

Craftsbury Academy, as an institution, is now nearly two centuries old. Given the town's willingness to update the historic campus it seems clear that it will exist for many years to come. The school's campus, programs, and nature have evolved constantly over the last two centuries, but there is still great pride in the school to this day in the community, as well as an eagerness to ensure that students at Craftsbury Academy have an education "equal to the best," as said above. While the school may yet evolve in the twenty first century and perhaps beyond, it will always be a source of pride for those who are alumni or have come to love it as this author has. In the words of Alice T. Simpson, of the class of 1883, in her advanced years around 1940:

"As I look back over more than half a century I ... see again the faces of boys and girls who were my fellow students. If any were alive today, and a few are, I know that they share with me a pride in and an affectionate memory of Craftsbury Academy, not only because of what it did for us and for the children of many of us, but also for what it has meant to the whole community... I believe that the Academy has been and will continue to be Craftsbury's best investment and I hope that you who are now its students will see to it that it continues to be the kind of school of which we can all be proud."

G. References List

Boardman, Joseph. (1878). Craftsbury Academy. Barton, VT: Webster Printing. Retrieved on June 4, 2012:

Buildings and Grounds. Craftsbury Schools. Retrieved on June 5, 2012:

Craftsbury Academy. (1912). Catalogue of Craftsbury Academy, 1911-1912. Hardwick, VT: The Hardwick Gazette Press. Retrieved on June 4, 2012:

Craftsbury Academy. (1962). Souvenir Booklet of Craftsbury Academy, 1960-1961. Hardwick, VT: The Hardwick Gazette Press. Retrieved on June 4, 2012:

Crafts, Samuel C., Chapin, W.M., and Paddock, J.A.. (1932). Craftsbury Academy. St. Johnsbury, VT: Messenger Office. Retrieved on June 4, 2012:

Crafts, Samuel C., Chapin, W. A., and Paddock, J. A. (1847). Craftsbury Academy. Stanstead, Quebec: Robinson's Press. Retrieved on June 4, 2012:

Dunbar, Bethany M. (1988, July 20). Craftsbury Academy Cements Its Position. The Hardwick Gazette, pp. 1, 5, 9

Simpson, Alice. (1940). Craftsbury Academy in the Eighties. Craftsbury, VT: Author. Retrieved on June 4, 2012:

United Church of Craftsbury. A Brief History of the United Church of Craftsbury. Our Church. Retrieved on June 4, 2012: