Founder’s Day 2020: A Year of Milestones

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Today, September 17, marks the anniversary of our school’s beginning. Our two-hundredth year together as a school community is remarkable for many reasons. New histories and artifacts have come to light in thanks to the fire vault at Gordon-Nash Library, which may not have been located without the timing of our school’s merger with the library on January 1 this year. Though we have known our founding story for many years, the unearthing of letters from our primary founder adds a new light to consider in our story.

Reflecting on leaders

When we celebrate Founder’s Day, we celebrate the people who founded the school as well as those who oversaw its continuation. Two-hundred years, seven different institutional names, and twenty-three heads of school—by the numbers and names, we can understand that New Hampton School has been a place that is not afraid to reinvent itself and adapt to changes despite the world around it.

And yet many of the names that we still witness on campus are names that have been a part of our story for many years. Meservey—rather, Atwood Bond Meservey—a former professor and headmaster whose name has stood on Academic Row since 1910 (known formerly as Chapel Hall, which was built in 1858), and graces our highest annual commendation for a graduating student. Veazey—William Damon Veazey—who was a beloved alumnus and trustee of the school, and whose name lasts as a residence on the east end of campus. Each of the names around us has a history tied within our community. Some names are newer to modern campus life, like O’Connor and Jacobson, but their legacies carry forward along with the school. This is a necessary time to pause, remember, research the stories or our alumni, teachers, and the people who have built the school into what it is. It is time to share our histories.

The journey of a founder

John Kelley Simpson is a name that has been familiar to us for many years, and who is now known to us as the visionary behind our school. Simpson was a New Hampton, New Hampshire native. At the age of 18, he departed his hometown and walked the approximate 79.6 miles to Phillips Academy Andover—a well-established school, having opened in 1778. Soon, Simpson continued onward to Boston to open a business and start a family. Through his efforts, vision, and financial contribution, he founded our school in New Hampton. His uncle, William B. Kelley, and other prominent citizens were granted a charter for the academy by the State of New Hampshire in June of 1821. Simpson arranged for the construction of a school building and the hiring of a director. He even recruited students in Boston to board with local families. Finally, on Monday, September 17, 1821, the new academy welcomed forty students, including thirteen Boston boarders. Enrollment more than doubled to eighty-seven for the second year.

Markers and milestones

In step with our Bicentennial celebration are two key milestones—first, the women of New Hampton School. Our alumnae have two histories here. Women were welcomed from opening day in 1821 and experienced their first female principal in 1829—Martha Hazeltine—an 1827 alumna. For 105 years, women were a large part of our school’s history. Their departure in 1926 appears as a necessary decision made by Headmaster Frederick Smith ’10 who, facing a large drop in matriculation, rebranded the school as a boy’s academy, and numbers soon rebounded. During the school’s sesquicentennial in 1970, Head of School Lou Gnerre announced the school’s return to coeducation. Our alumnae and students can feel pride that they and we are celebrating 50 years of women at New Hampton School since that year.

Secondly, Gordon-Nash Library, established by Judge Stephen Gordon Nash, an alumnus of 1838, celebrates its 125th year. This library has been unique to the New Hampton community. It was established and served as the state’s only private non-profit library, open to all—students, residents, and sojourners. To have the library merge with the school now in 2020, supporting the student and local community alike, helps us to reconnect with our town in this pivotal and unique year. In the face of a pandemic, it is also a challenge, but one we take on with the same spirit of community as our founder’s before us—with adaptability, commitment, and hospitality.

Remembering as a community

Like Simpson, our founder, we hope each of our alumni finds their way back to New Hampton to remember their time here and help make it better for the future. Though many have more than the hundred or so miles to travel back from Boston, the journey back to our quiet village remains an important rite for Reunion and other celebrations. In honor of Founder’s Day at New Hampton School, our students and faculty will gather for a special school meeting featuring a history presentation shared by Library Director and Archivist Jerrica Blackey P’19 and Curator of Special Collections Kent Bicknell ’65.

We wish a happy Founder’s Day to all of our school community members.

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