Print

CHAPTER XII
Schools, Public and Private - Founding of Washington College.


The Hon. James Alfred Pearce, former Judge of the Court of Appeals, has always felt a warm interest in the cause of education. After leaving Princeton he was a tutor at Washington College, and for more than thirty years secretary of its Board of Visitors, and now President, succeeding Hon. Jos. A. Wickes. For twelve years, from 1879 to 1890, he was a member of the School Board for Kent County, serving with Sewell Hepburn the elder, and Cornelius J. Scott, and later with Richard W. Jones. In "looking back" at the School History of Kent, and more especially of Chestertown, he says: "If any records were kept by the authorities in the early days of Kent County, none have been preserved, and the only available source of information is personal recollection and tradition. My own earliest distinct recollection of the Primary School, as it was then called in Chestertown, dates back to about 1852. It was kept in an old two-story brick dwelling standing on the site of Davis & Satterfield's present establishment. It was dilapidated and forlorn beyond description, both in itself and its immediate surroundings. The teacher, for there was but one, was Squire James Graves, a former sea captain, whose qualifications, though limited, I am sure were all that his salary could justly demand. I was never a pupil there,. but tradition says his discipline was strict and severe, and this was a period when it was commonly held that the rod was the most efficient means of lifting the veil of ignorance, by which was meant the learning to read, write and cipher, with a little geography. There was no pretense of systematic grading and little attempt at classification. The schools in each county were governed by local laws. In Kent County there were five trustees elected for each school district by the white male taxables of the district, and these trustees directed the methods of instruction, employed and discharged the teachers.

"I am informed by one of the older citizens of the town that he was a pupil under three teachers in this school before Captain Graves, viz., William S. Greenwood, Simon Wickes and Jacob Brown, all of which taught in the house which stood where the house now occupied by Clifton L. Jarrell stands, but my own recollection begins with Captain Graves. After a number of years he was followed by Charles T. Ireland. Next came James M. Vickers, and after him in succession, as principals with one or more assistants, Professors Hanna, Montgomery, J. W. Russell, McBeth, McQuay, Long, William M. Slay, Vickers again, Peterson, McNeil, Fallowfield, Ebaugh, Topping, Smyth and Creasy.

"The old system I have mentioned continued until the Act of 1865, creating a uniform system of education throughout the State, out of which has come the present law, under which great advances were made in methods of instruction, in numbers and qualifications of teachers, and in buildings and equipment. But some of the teachers in the old schoolhouse were men of sterling qualities, from which some of our best citizens received their only schooling. Indeed, it should be remembered that some of the most distinguished instructors of the country were teachers in these early schools, notably Professor Simon Newcomb, of Harvard University, the great mathematician and astronomer, who, in 1853 and 1854, was the teacher of the primary school at Massey, in this county.

"About 1867 Jesse K. Hines and I, with another whose name now escapes me, were the district trustees, and under our direction the long one-story brick building containing three rooms was erected by John T. Dodd on the site of the old house; a great improvement on the latter, but wholly inadequate both in plan and accommodations. A few years later a large two-story frame addition was made to the north end of the brick building, and later still, the Methodist Protestant Church, now the home of the Enterprise, was bought and added to the ill assorted group of buildings.

"In 1901 the elegant Grammar School was erected by A. M. Culp on the Vickers-Hurtt lot on High street, at a cost of $15,000. The Commission cornprised Wilbur Eliason, J. W. Lambert, William B. i5silton, J. K. Aldridge and M. A. Toulson.

"In 1915 the new High School was erected on Washington Avenue at a cost of $3,700 for lot and

$16,800 for building. A. M. Culp was the contractor and builder. The building committee was Messrs. Curtis E. Crane, Thomas G. Wroth, Eben F. Perkins, Professor J. L. Smyth and Charles S. Smith.

"The history of the school since the Act of 1865, and especially from the time of Thomas B. Long, has been a steady progress upward. It is a far cry from the meager, shabby quarters in which James Graves and his little flock toiled and struggled with each other more than sixty years ago, to the ample and well-equipped institutions."

The present Superintendent is Professor Jefferson L. Smyth. Professor Mark Creasy is the Principal of the High School, with these assistants: Misses Nettie Gooding, Mamie Carroll, Barbara Willis, Susie Roberts; Miss Nellie Waters, Principal Commercial Department; Miss Annie Copper, Domestic Science; Professor Owen C. Blades, Manual Training. Miss Fannie Stuart is Principal of the Grammar School, with these assistants: Misses Barbara Anthony, Edith Harley, Rose Duyer, Emma H. Davis, Louisa Uric and Ida Smith.

Large, modern, well equipped buildings were erected in 1915 at Betterton, Millington, Kennedyville and Rock Hall. The building committees were: Betterton - Jefferson L. Smyth, Arthur H. Brice, Howard F. Owens, W. Clarence Crew and Harry Willis. Millington - J. L. Smyth, John P. Ahern, Joseph Mallalieu, Charles M. Hurtt, B. E. Feddeman. Kennedyville - .J. L. Smyth, William S. Hurlock, Harry J. Hill, Edgar B. Pennington, and John Medders. Rock Hall - C. Frank Wheatley, Marion T. Miller, J. L. Smyth, James A. Casey and T. B. Durding.

Provision was made in 1916 for building a new school at Galena; committee - Dr. E. A. Scott, samuel G. Caidwell, Ervin L. Dempsey, John Quinn and J. L. Smith. Also one at Fairlee; committee - William G. Smyth, T. H. Morris Bramb1e, Dr. Frank Smith, Harry C. Willis, J. L. Smyth. A colored school in Chestertown was also provided for.

In, 1853 the residence now occupied by Ex-Senator William W. Beck on Water street was occupied by Mr. Bassford as a seminary. This school gave yearly concerts in the courthouse, and some of the prominent families of the town attended this school.

In the house now occupied by J. Waters Russell, Miss Mollie Usilton conducted a private school.

The house formerly occupied by the "Brick House Club," on Princess street, was for many years used as a private school house, and was taught by Miss Lottie Spencer, now Dr. S. C. Roberts' widow.

Miss Josie ReDue for many years conducted one of the largest private schools in town, both for music and other studies, next to the custom house on Water street.

FOUNDING OF WASHINGTON COLLEGE.

Washington College, the oldest in the State, was established by Act of Legislature in 1782, as part of the proposed University of Maryland. George Washington, then in camp at Newburg, consented that his name should be given to the infant institution, contributed to its endowment, and visited it in 1784. (The amount contributed by Washington was $233.33.) On this occasion the students player the tradegy of Gustavus Vasa, in which reference was made to him as the Gustavus of America. H~ placed at this time his name on the records of the Board of Visitors and Governors, of which he was a member.

The college was based on a flourishing academy, with one hundred and forty scholars, under the Rev. Dr. Smith and his assistants, into which the Free School of Chestertown, established as far back as 1783, had previously been merged. The infant college was organized with all its functions immediately on the receipt of its charter in 1782. It held its first commencement with six graduates in May, 1783, when addresses were delivered in Latin and French.

The original extensive structure, 160 feet in length, whose corner stone was laid by Governor Paca in 1783, was burned to the ground in 1827. The exercises of the college were continued in Chestertown until 1844, when the central building of the present group was erected upon the old site. The corner stone was laid by Hon. E. F. Chambers. No degrees were conferred from 1827 to 1849, as the institution was at a low ebb, the appropriation from the State having been at times withdrawn, or reduced to an inconsiderable amount. It was only by the persistent efforts of the Board of Visitors and Governors that its existence was maintained.

In 1854 two brick buildings were erected, one on each side of the main structure. The college steadily increased in numbers from 1844 until the breaking out of the Civil War.

In 1890 two residences were built for the principal and vice-principal.

In 1892 through the liberality of the citizens of Chestertown, a gymnasium was erected on the college grounds.

In 1896 the Legislature authorized the establishment of a Normal Department for ladies, and gave $5,000 towards its erection. A lot was purchased of Mr. John Bell and a commodious building occupied by lady students, but at the request of the Visitors and Governors, the Legislature of 1910 repealed the appropriation for scholarships in the Normal Department and appropriated a like amount for scholarships for male students in the college. By this Act the college reverted to its original position as a place for a "liberal education in the arts and sciences."

William Smith Hall, so named for the first president of the college, was erected in 1906 at a cost of $71,000. This building was used as an administration building. It was an imposing and handsome structure, but it was destroyed by fire early Sunday morning, January 16, 1916. A new building is being erected on the site of this burned structure to take its place. A $50,000 gymnasium was completed in 1912. A tract of about five acres of land on College avenue opposite the campus was bought and fitted up as an athletic ground in 1906 and is now known as Washington field. The James White property on the western corner of the campus was purchased in 1915 from Fred G. Usilton for $3,200 and is now a part of the campus. No more beautiful or healthful situation for a. college can be found. At all times it has clung to high ideals of scholarship and of character, yielding to the State and the Nation a rich return in the training of young men for good citizenship. The present faculty comprises James William Cain, President; James Roy Micou, Vice-President; Edward J. Clarke, Secretary; J. S. William Jones, Recorder; A. Sager Hall, Professor of Physical Sciences; Charles Louis Townsend, Professor of German and French; Marten Ten Hoor, Professor of Philosophy and Education; Julio Del Toro, Instructor in Spanish, Mathematics and Science; J. Thomas Kibler, Director of Physical Training.

Page(s) 103-113, History of Kent County, Maryland, 1630-1916, by Fred G. Usilton, 1916
Transcribed by Nathan Zipfel for the Maryland History and Genealogy Project