The Academy: Rochester's 19th century educational center

Feb 23, 2018

Across from Plumb Corner, on Constitution Way, sits the epicenter of Rochester. There are three buildings neatly in a row – the Town Hall, the Rochester Congregational Church and a third building in between.

Currently the vestry belonging to the church, that middle structure was once home to an academy, and for a generation, was the “leading educational force in town,” according to Historical Commission member Betty Beaulieu.

The building was completed in May 1839 and was part of a major education movement in Rochester that began in the early 19th century. Known just as “The Academy,” the school was a noted and highly accredited place to study English, Latin, Greek and French. Beaulieu said there was also an emphasis on “moral conduct” and “intellectual improvement.”

“Many students went on to be doctors, lawyers, judges,” Beaulieu said.

It wasn’t just Rochester students that attended The Academy – students from out of town studied there too, and stayed at a boarding house across the street, where Plumb Corner currently stands.

The school’s decline began in the 1860s, due to a shortage of funds and an increase in competition – Marion’s Tabor Academy was founded a few years later.

By 1905 the school had reached an agreement with the church to share the building. The upstairs would remain classrooms for The Academy, while the downstairs was used for the church.

Now, the entire building is used by the church. According to Rev. Robert Ripley, the upper half of the vestry is probably mostly authentic to the 1870s, with minor updates. The tiny classrooms are now used for Sunday School.

“Everyone is surprised by how small the classrooms are, but you know there weren’t a lot of students here,” he said.