[Ed. note: The original 1961 typewritten manuscript was scanned by CHA's Alumni Office and provided to me as a PDF file (image format only, not editable text). That file was imported into ReadIris Pro (an Optical Character Recognition software program); the resulting text output was corrected and edited, then transformed into an HTML document (this page) and re-formatted as shown below. As time permits, my plan is to supplement the text with assorted historical images of life at CHA. It is a work in progress. Your feedback is appreciated – thank you! Ian C. Mills, 05/11]
by Ruth Parachini
Chestnut Hill Academy boys have always liked to build things.
They have always liked to found new clubs. As the Academy began the celebration of its Centennial Year in February, 1961, a group of Senior School students established a Computor Club. The purpose of the club members was to build a digital computor which could be used by mathematics and science classes.
The Computor Club was one of a series of recent student projects reflecting the universal modern interest in science. In 1959 another group of boys had built a language laboratory; assembling, installing and wiring the electronic equipment. This laboratory, the first in the Philadelphia area to be built and operated by students of a secondary school, is used by classes studying French, Russian and other modern languages. Soon after the language laboratory began to function the Junior School boys decided they also had electronic ability. They set up a broadcasting studio, installed speakers in all the Junior School classrooms and were soon scheduling regular programs from station WCHA.
If it were possible in 1961 to build one of the “time-machines” of science-fiction, Academy students would undoubtedly do so. If such a machine existed, it might be interesting to bring a Chestnut Hill Academy student of 1861 to visit the Academy of 1961.
The visiting student from the past, used to a school of a dozen or so students in one or two classrooms, would find that the population of modern Chestnut Hill Academy, including students, faculty and staff, was about equal to the total population of the community of Chestnut Hill in 1850.
He would find all these people going about the business of education in some forty classrooms and laboratories. As he walked through the large main building and the new science building, he would catch glimpses of the Chapel, the study hall, the dining rooms; of three separate libraries housing more than 10,000 books.
The furniture and textbooks he might see in the bright and attractive Junior School classrooms would be quite different from the double desks and McGuffey Readers to which he was probably accustomed. He would be amazed to see present-day C.H.A. students using tape recorders, stereo readers, darkroom equipment and mimeograph machines. The music of Randall Thompson and Aaaron Copland emanating from the music department, the abstract paintings being produced in the art department, would puzzle him.
An 1861 C.H.A. student would be astounded by the brand new gymnasium of 1961, and by the sight of eighteen Chestnut Hill Academy football and soccer teams practicing on the acres of playing fields on a fall afternoon.
To him, the Chestnut Hill Academy of the Centennial year, with grounds and buildings valued at about $1,800,000 and with an annual operating budget of over $425,000, would seem almost unbelievable in comparison with the Chestnut Hill Academy he knew a hundred or more years ago.
In 1850 Chestnut Hill was little more than a village, with a population of perhaps six hundred and fewer than one hundred houses. Many of the inhabitants were farmers, some were employed in the textile and paper mills located along the Wissahickon, and most of the rest were storekeepers or innkeepers who catered to the travelers on the Germantown and Bethlehem turnpikes.
There was a great deal of traveling on these two main roads leading into the city from the north and west. Chestnut Hill, ten miles from the center of the city, made a convenient place to stop for the night,for a meal, or to change horses. Farmers taking wagon loads of supplies to the city, and stage coaches with passengers on their way to Bethlehem and western Pennsylvania, were constantly passing through the tollgate approximately where Evergreen Avenue now crosses the pike.
The only other streets or roads in existence in 1850 were Northwestern Avenue, Bell’s Mill Road, Highland Avenue, Gravers Lane, Hartwell Lane, Abington Avenue, Springfield Avenue, Mermaid Lane, Cresheim Road, and Stenton Avenue. (These are their modern names; they were nearly all called something else in 1850).
The only churches in the village were the Baptist Church at the forks of the road, and the Methodist Church. There was, however, a Union Chapel on Gravers Lane at about Shawnee Street, which was used by several other denominations. Most of the churches in Chestnut Hill were organized here and used the building until they could build their own.
The local children went to the Harmony Public School, which stood approximately where the firehouse now is. The Congress Fire Company, which had been a “bucket company” since it was founded in 1816, had a firehouse on Germantown Avenue near the tollgate. In 1850 they bought their first horse-drawn engine.
The tollkeeper was the local postmaster and took care of the mail at his tollgate. Among the local inns were the Chestnut Hill Hotel, the Eagle or Cress’ Inn (now Robertson’s flower shop), Donat’s (on the corner where Kilian’s now stands), the Antes-Titlow Hotel (where the liquor store is) and the Mermaid Hotel. The latter was a favorite of sportsmen and coaching parties, and turkey shooting matches were frequently held there. Donat’s was headquarters for the local Republicans, and the Antes-Titlow was the gathering place for the Democrats.
A number of the buildings still standing on Germantown Avenue and now used as shops or offices were then family homes (Sports and Specialties, Joyce Lewis, Lady Bug, the Community Center, Stage Crafters, Norwood Academy, Chestnut Hill Hospital Medical Building, etc.). A barn stood where the Pennsylvania R. R. station now is, and there was a large orchard behind it. Other farms stretched out from both sides of the turnpike. The land now occupied by Springside School, the Wissahickon Skating Club, Chestnut Hill Academy, the Cricket Club and St. Martin’s Church was mostly farmland, but on the site of Chestnut Hill Academy there was a small hotel, run by a Reuben Sands.
Sometime in 1849 or 1850 a Presbyterian clergyman, the Rev. Roger Owen, who lived in Philadelphia, developed a throat ailment and found that he was unable to continue preaching. His doctor suggested that he go to Chestnut Hill for his health. The area was just beginning to become rather well-known “on account of the remarkably dry, healthful air. Chestnut Hill is believed to be free from malaria.” It was thought that the comparatively high elevation had something to do with making the climate more healthful. At any rate, the Rev. Mr. Owen and his brother Joshua T. Owen traveled out to Chestnut Hill, probably by horse-car to Carpenter’s Lane which was the end of the line, and then by omnibus out Germantown Pike.
The brothers settled in the community and as Roger Owen’s health began to improve, they decided, in 1850, to open a boarding and day school for boys. They bought a house at the southwest corner of Springfield and Germantown Avenues (where there is now a gas station) and opened their school. The following advertisements appeared in the Germantown Telegraph in 1851.
CHESTNUT HILL ACADEMY
The winter term of this institution intended as a boarding and day school will commence on Wednesday, the 5th of November (1851). The course embraces all the branches of a practical and thorough English, mathematical and classical education, but the studies of each pupil will be adapted to his ultimate vocation, or suited to the wishes of his parents.
For day scholars – $10 per quarter or $20 for full term of 22 weeks.
Rev. Roger Owen
Joshua To Owen, A. M.
CHESTNUT HILL ACADEMY
The above includes all charges for tuition, boarding and washing, fuel, lights, stationery and also use of books so that there are no extra charges whatever.
Deduction is made for absence in case of sickness and a reasonable percentage allowed when more than one pupil is received from the same family. One-half the bill paid in advance, the remainder at the close of the session.
In the salubrious climate of Chestnut Hill, the Rev. Mr. Owen’s throat continued to improve and he began to conduct services for the local Presbyterians, sometimes in the Union Chapel and sometimes at Chestnut Hill Academy. In 1852 the Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church was organized and a church built on Germantown Pike at the corner of newly-opened Church Lane (Rex Avenue). Mr. Owen was its first pastor and continued in charge until 1885. His brother began to practice law and served a term in the Pennsylvania Legislature.
When the Civil War began, Joshua organized a company which camped and trained near the Wyndmoor station and which became part of the 24th Pennsylvania Regiment. Joshua Owen became Colonel, and later, Brigadier-General. For many years the Owen brothers were prominent and respected citizens of the community but, although considerable information about them can be found, there seems to be no further reference to their school.
Although we do not know what was happening to Chestnut Hill Academy between 1852 and 1861, we do know what was happening to Chestnut Hill. Great changes were taking place due to the fact that the Reading Railroad was opened as far as Gravers Lane in 1854 and to Chestnut Hill in 1857. The depot at Chestnut Hill was a wooden building with a large meeting hall on the second floor. The Railroad Hotel was built on the site of Dwyer’s coal yard.
City dwellers began to come to Chestnut Hill for the summer, now that the men of the family could conveniently commute to town. Many began to build country houses for use in summer and later as year-round homes. The growing community needed a good water supply so Chestnut Hill’s familiar Water Tower was built in 1859. The water came from a well and springs in the vicinity and was stored in a large tank, holding 40,000 gallons, which perched on top of the stone tower. New streets were opened between 1850 and 1860 – Norwood Avenue, Sunset Avenue, Summit Street, Newton Street, Prospect Avenue, E. Chestnut Hill Avenue. This building development all took place close to the new railroad.
West of Germantown Avenue there was comparatively little change, although down along the Wissahickon the new Wissahickon Turnpike was opened in 1854. This turnpike went from Flourtown to Ridge Avenue, following the creek through the Wissahickon valley, and was built to make easier access for the teamsters who had to get in to the mills along the stream.
This development came rather late to be of real value to most of the mills, however, since they were nearly all going out of business. Due to deforestation, the Wissahickon had shrunk to one-half or even one-third of its former width and the decreased flow of water no longer furnished sufficient power for the mills. Only the big Megargee paper mills at Thomas’ Road and Weiss’ Mill Road were still operating successfully. By 1868, this whole area had become the property of the Fairmount Park Commission.
As the community began to grow rapidly, some of the new Chestnut Hill families began to be concerned about the education of their children. A group of five men, F. E. Mitchell, Richard Levick, William H. Trotter, Thomas Earp, Jr., and M. Russell Thayer, decided to establish a school, and they applied to the state legislature for a charter. On February 26, 1861, Governor Andrew G. Curtin signed an act “to incorporate the Chestnut Hill Academy.” The charter is one of peculiar value since it was granted prior to the adoption of the Constitution of Pennsylvania of 1874. It read, in part:
“... there shall be and is hereby established at Chestnut Hill, in the County of Philadelphia, an academy or school for the education of youth of both or either of the sexes in the English or other languages and in arts, sciences and literature by the name style and title of the Chestnut Hill Academy...”
The five original trustees built a one-story stone schoolhouse on Rex Avenue just behind the church. The building must have been a rather primitive one. It cost $1,550.10 to build, and had no running water. Not until 1889 did this seem important. In the minutes of the Board of Trustees that year is mentioned the fact that water was regularly borrowed from the next door neighbors, and that this was inconvenient. After careful investigation, they decided to have water piped into the building and one washstand was installed.
The first headmaster was “a Mr. Buckingham.” We know nothing about him, except that he held the position just one year. Henry W. Scott was headmaster from 1863 until 1870 and was followed by Reginald H. Chase, who was head until about 1880. These two gentlemen may both have been at the Academy in the late 1860’s; the few scraps of information we have conflict somewhat.
In 1924, Russell Thayer, then in his seventies, wrote:
“In regard to the history of the Academy, I think my father, M. Russell Thayer with several other gentlemen, were the original incorporators. I attended the school myself when I was about 12 years old. A Mr. Chase at that time was Head Master; as I remember, he used the ruler to hit us on our hands, if we were not good, etc. I think that must have been about 1865. ... The schoolhouse was built and located next to the Presbyterian Church which stands at the corner of the street.
I was a very bad boy, and among other things, I remember standing opposite the school and shooting with a dollar pistol, at the knob of the school door — (it hit just alongside the knob).
I think boys are much better morally and physically now, than when I was a boy, as I look back with horror on some of the things we did...”
Mr. Thayer’s recollections about the exact date may have been slightly inaccurate. One of the few possessions of Chestnut Hill Academy dating back to this era is a copy of Washington Irving’s “Tales of a Traveller.” On the fly leaf, above the imprint of the official school seal is the following inscription:
Presented to Robert R. Reed for distinguished excellence in English Composition.
Henry W. Scott Principal
Chestnut Hill, Phila., May 17, 1867
Other than Mr. Thayer and Robert Reed, we do not know who any of the “scholars” were during these years nor do we know who was on the faculty except for the headmasters. We do know that the courses offered were college preparatory, but there is no record of graduates.
The school apparently began to deteriorate during the late 1870’s and by 1880 it was having hard going. It no longer prepared for college, but had become an “infant school” for younger children and was run by Miss Josephine Chamberlain. It continued to operate in this fashion until the time of its reorganization in 1895.
Meanwhile, further changes had been taking place in Chestnut Hill. Between 1861 and 1895 much had happened to stimulate the growth of the area. The Civil War brought changes to most communities, but the war was literally brought home to local residents when, in 1863, the Mower United States General Hospital was opened.
The hospital was an enormous installation occupying a tract of twenty-seven acres between Abington and Springfield Avenues and between the Reading Railroad and Stenton Avenue. It consisted of fifty pavillions, long, low buildings, which radiated like spokes of a wheel from a huge oval corridor in the center. Tracks were laid through the corridor and into each pavillion so that carts carrying patients or food could be easily moved about. The hospital had a capacity of 3,500 beds and although it was only open for a year or two, 17,000 wounded soldiers were cared for.
To serve the hospital, the Wyndmoor station on the Reading was built and E. Willow Grove Avenue was opened to give access from the turnpike. (W. Willow Grove Avenue did not come into existence until some years later.) The orderlies who staffed the hospital settled the section of Wyndmoor on the far side of Stenton Avenue. Many of them brought their families and established permanent homes there.
On the site of modern Chestnut Hill Academy, Reuben Sands’ little hotel was still standing. In 1863, a large addition to it was built. It was “constructed of the same material used for building the Mower Hospitall” and had ninety rooms. Named the Park House, it operated as a summer boarding house until it burned down in 1877.
Chestnut Hill’s reputation as a summer resort continued to grow. In 1873 the Eldon Hotel (now the Fairview Nursing Home) was built on Bethlehem Pike. The Philadelphia Cricket Club, which had been founded in 1854 and whose members had originally played cricket on a field in Camden, held its matches on the grounds of the Eldon until it moved to its present location.
Most of the growth of Chestnut Hill from 1850 to 1884 had taken place east of Germantown Avenue, along the Reading Railroad. The west side had changed little. In the 1880’s this situation was altered abruptly. Mr. Henry H. Houston who had bought hundreds of acres of land on the west side of Chestnut Hill decided the time had come to develop it. He built the Wissahickon Inn on the site where the Park House had burned down in 1877.
The Inn, situated on a high point overlooking the Wissahickon Valley and containing two hundred and fifty rooms, was opened on May 30, 1884. An admirer said of it, “The erection of this splendid building is one of the efforts which have been made of late to give citizens and their families places of recreation and refreshment near the town.” It quickly became a fashionable and popular place to spend the summer.
Twelve days after the opening of the Inn, the first train ran over the new tracks of the Philadelphia, Germantown and Chestnut Hill Railroad (Pennsylvania) from the terminus at Evergreen and Germantown Avenues to Germantown Junction (North Philadelphia), and a year later there were thirty-two trains daily. Mr. Houston had been instrumental in causing this road to be built.
Mr. Houston also provided the ground and built a home for the Philadelphia Cricket Club. When the Club was opened on October 2, 1884, “evening festivities were held at the Wissahickon Inn. Mr. Kingsley, the manager of the Inn, lighted up the grounds with electricity for the first time. The Orpheus Club sang in the dining hall.”
The first service at St. Martin’s Church was held in June, 1888. Many houses in the vicinity had been built by that time and many others were under construction.
In 1892, the Philadelphia Horse Show was held for the first time, on St. Martin’s Green, the present varsity football field. Ten thousand people attended that year. The Horse Show was soon moved across the road to the present varsity baseball and soccer fields and the Club soccer field. A club house, grandstands, refreshment stands, stables and sheds were built and a tanbark ring laid out. The horse show continued on this site until 1908, when it moved to Bryn Mawr because the residents of Chestnut Hill felt that it was a dangerous fire hazard.
In 1894, the trolleys came out Germantown Avenue to Rex (the tollgate at Evergreen had been abolished twenty years earlier). The population of Chestnut Hill was increasing very rapidly as more and more city families took to suburban living.
By 1895, the time was ripe for Chestnut Hill Academy, which was barely existing in the school house on Rex Avenue, to take a new lease on life. The person most responsible for the reorganization of the school was Charles Wolcott Henry. A minute which the Board of Trustees adopted at the time of his death says, in part:
“... he became interested in the Academy’s welfare. He indicated to a few friends the necessity for its existence in this locality, warmly appealed for cooperation, reorganized its Board of Trustees, and, under the stimulus of his purpose and energy, it was soon established in a new and commodious home on Main Street...”
The gentlemen on the new Board of Trustees believed “that Chestnut Hill should have a boys’ school of the first rank, and that a school of this character could nowhere find a more beautiful location than at Chestnut Hill.”
The “new and commodious home” was a building at 8030 Germantown Avenue. It had previously been a real estate office and was purchased by Mr. Henry for Chestnut Hill Academy. After taking over the 1861 charter, the Board of Trustees appointed Frederick Reed to be the new headmaster. The school opened in the fall of 1895 with an enrollment of thirty-five students and a faculty of five, including the headmaster and Miss Chamberlain, who had moved from the Rex Avenue schoolhouse along with the charter, the desks, the stoves and other school fixtures.
Mr. Reed was headmaster for only one year; he was followed in the post by C. Hanford Henderson, who also stayed only one year. Mr. Reed and the Board members were concerned that the students did not get sufficient physical exercise. They went so far as to draw up plans for building a gym, 40 feet by 20 feet, but were unable to raise sufficient funds. They settled the matter by installing flying rings, parallel bars and a horse in an old shed attached to the back of the school building, “for the scholars to exercise upon.”
Mr. Henderson had problems of a different sort. He reported to one meeting of the Board of Trustees that “several parents were dissatisfied with the radical methods introduced into the Academy and especially with the substitution of Geometry for Arithmetic and the supposed omission of Spelling and Geography.” Mr. Henderson defended his innovations on educational grounds. The trustees suggested having a parents’ meeting so that an explanation could be made to them. The parents may not have been satisfied with his explanation, since he resigned at the end of the year.
In 1897, James L. Patterson began his long and successful tenure as head of the school. From the beginning of his regime, Chestnut Hill Academy prospered. By 1898 it had outgrown its “commodious” home on Main Street, and moved to the Wissahickon Inn. The building at 8030 Germantown Avenue was sold to the city for a public school and was later torn down and replaced by the Venetian Club which stands there today. The old Rex Avenue building was also torn down about 1900 – so, of the four buildings which have been occupied by the Academy, none remains except the building on Willow Grove Avenue.
With the move to the Wissahickon Inn, there ended approximately the first third of Chestnut Hill Academy’s history, an era marked by tentative beginnings, attempts to keep pace with the growth of the community, near failures, followed by renewed efforts to support the school that everyone concerned felt was needed.
For approximately the next third of a century, the Academy had strong private backing. The Houston and Woodward families, by providing the buildings, and through their generous financial support, active interest and assistance in many ways, gave the school stability and an opportunity to expand and grow. Another factor of great importance during most of this segment of the school’s history was the able administration of the headmaster, Dr. Patterson.
For most of this period, although the proportions varied, roughly two-thirds of the students were day pupils, sons of families living in Chestnut Hill and Germantown, and the other third boarders. The boarders used the hotel bedrooms, dining and kitchen facilities, and some of the public rooms were converted into classrooms for the winter. The Inn ballroom (the present chapel) was used as an assembly hall.
Dr. Patterson, the only member of the faculty to own a car at this time, used to store his little Oldsmobile in the ballroom during the winter. The dining room was in the corner of the first floor where the library now is. At first, as soon as school closed in the spring, the building would be refurbished and converted again to hotel use for the summer.
This arrangement did not last very long. It apparently became increasingly difficult and inconvenient to try to remove the traces of schoolboy occupancy each year, and by 1900 or 1901 the Wissahickon Inn ceased to exist and only Chestnut Hill Academy remained.
At this time the almost continuous process of remodeling and rebuilding which has gone on for nearly sixty years was begun. The first change made in the Inn buildings was the conversion of the stable and carriage house, down the hill on Springfield Avenue, into the Recreation Building for indoor tennis, baseball, squash, and basketball.
A stream ran under the foundations of this building, eventually weakening the walls. Most of the “Rec” collapsed about 1950. The Badminton Building is all that remains.
All students were required to take gymnastics and one early problem was where to locate the gym. Some of the places used for this purpose were the corner of the basement where the four-year-olds now do their gymnastics, the ballroom, and the dining room. Finally, in 1905, the Woodward Gymnasium was built and the open-air swimming pool was enclosed. It was felt at that time that no more magnificent athletic facilities could ever be desired by any school.
In the same year, the floor of the ballroom was lowered five feet to permit the building of the chapel at one end of the main hall. At the opposite end of the hall, the Charles Wolcott Henry Library replaced the old dining room in 1906.
When the Inn was built, it was almost completely surrounded by wide porches. These were undoubtedly much admired by the hotel guests who sat on them while enjoying Chestnut Hill’s “delightful air,” but they prevented sufficient light from entering classrooms, so most of them were peeled off in the late 20’s.
Some “grounds and buildings” problems have never been permanently solved. The 1961 parking problem, for instance, is acute. It was also acute in 1899. Many boys brought horses to school and there was no place to put them. The Board of Trustees finally took action and made arrangements with the caretaker of the Horse Show grounds to look after students’ horses. A few years later, bicycles were the cause of parking difficulties.
The Chapel organ has also been a perennial problem. It started breaking down as early as 1908 and has been doing so with regularity ever since. Student reaction has always been one of delight. An early issue of The Wissahickon says, “The washboiler has lately been victor in the weekly Monday contests between it and the organ for possession of the water power.” And, another year, “The organ has been of a very rebellious nature lately, much to the distress of Mr. Elwell and enjoyment of the boys.” Although the washboiler is no longer the organ’s rival, trouble with the organ is a very familiar modern emergency.
As the enrollment of the school increased, over the years, more and more classrooms were needed. Gradually, bedrooms were transformed into classrooms by taking out partitions and turning two small rooms into one larger one, which explains why so many rooms now have two, or even three, doors to the corridor.
Student interests and activities fifty and sixty years ago were not unlike those of today for the most part. Before 1903, football, hockey, baseball, track, and tennis teams were regularly playing games and matches with rival schools – DeLancey, Episcopal, Germantown Academy, Bryn Athyn, Abington Friends, some of the local high schools, and the arch-rival, St. Luke’s in Wayne. The Athletic Association was in existence before 1903, and was concerning itself, as always, with the question of what kind of letter should be awarded to which boy.
By 1907, basketball was being played. In 1908, the first Blue and Blue contests were held. Soccer games were scheduled by 1909. For some years, the soccer season did not begin until the football season had ended, and many of the football stars were also soccer stars. In the spring of 1923, Chestnut Hill Academy was admitted to the Inter-Academic League, a proud occasion for the school.
The student organization with the longest continuous history is the Glee Club, which was founded at least sixty years ago. A companion organization, the Mandolin Club, was very popular. Gradually, other instruments than mandolins were added and the club evolved into something more like an orchestra, although it was called the Mandolin Club for a long time and, later, the Instrumental Club.
Dramatics were popular very early. The first dramatics club, the Sock and Buskin, was organized in 1907. The programs of productions given early in the century are most interesting. The very first one was called “Acis and Galatea or The Graceful Gumdrops and the Terrible Troglodyte.” This was a musical but probably bore very little resemblance to the “Brigadoon” of 1961. Some other early titles were “Ivanhoe, the Furious”, “The Private Secretary”, “Miss Civilization” by Richard Harding Davis. In some years, minstrel shows were given instead of plays or musical comedies. The Sock and Buskin always managed to make a handsome profit which was turned over to the Wissahickon to rescue the magazine from its annual deficit.
The Wissahickon was the first school publication to be established, in 1903. It combined, for the first few years, the functions of a literary magazine, a school newspaper and a year-book. In 1911, the first Caerulean was published. The first Campus Lantern came out in 1927. Since these founding dates, there have been interruptions in the appearance of these publications, but probably no year when one or another of them was not published.
Dances have always been popular and, at least since 1916, nearly every graduating class has had a Senior Prom in the gymnasium at the end of the year. The hard-working decorating committees used to have two assets no longer available. Mrs. Houston, for years, lent her potted palms; and the swimming pool, with flowers floating on the water, or with a canoe anchored in the middle, added a glamourous touch.
Some activities popular fifty years ago have since lost favor among C.H.A. students. The Franklin Debating Society no longer exists, and Declamation Contests are no longer held. Students of today may not even know what a pushmobile is, but between 1910 and 1920, pushmobile races caused quite a stir at the Academy. The race course ran over Willow Grove Avenue to St. Martin’s station, through the station drive, and back on Springfield Avenue.
Schoolboys in the early 20th century were understandably not so much interested in national and world affairs as they are today, but comments on other than school events appeared occasionally in editorials in the Wissahickon. In 1904, it was noted that Mr. Roosevelt had defeated Judge Parker by the largest majority in the history of presidential election. Also, the editor expressed great sympathy for the “plucky little nation” of Japan during the seige of Port Arthur.
In 1916, politics again aroused great interest and, in a straw vote taken among the students, Hughes defeated Wilson for the presidency with a majority of 80%. One morning in 1915, all the lady teachers of the Lower School deserted their classes for the day to go into the city and march in the Suffragette parade, to the great amusement of the boys.
World War I made a profound impression on the life of the school. In 1915, a Cadet Corps was established and Sergeant Minnes of the Canadian Field Artillery became a member of the faculty. He conducted classes in military science, and military drill was compulsory for boys in Forms IV, V, and VI. Cadet uniforms were ordered from Reed’s, and a Bugle Corps was formed.
Some of the masters and even some boys who were old enough left school to join the armed forces or ambulance units. All the students left at school worked hard at selling Liberty Bonds. By the end of the war, and when the final Victory Loan drive was over, they had raised a total of $1,215,950 and were commended for having done better than any other private school in Philadelphia. There was very little grumbling about the “meatless” days, or the fact that the gym sometimes was closed for a week at a time and the “Rec” building closed for one entire winter because of the coal shortage. On Armistice Day, “school was closed and everybody went into the city, even the teachers who served as police during the celebration.”
Over three hundred graduates and former students of Chestnut Hill Academy served in the armed forces or engaged in war work of some kind during World War I. Thirteen of them lost their lives. The Alumni Gold and Silver Medals awarded at Commencement each year are given by the Alumni Association in memory of those thirteen.
In 1923, Dr. Patterson resigned as Headmaster, although he continued to be a member of the faculty until 1926. Under his guidance, the Academy had become firmly established as one of the foremost college preparatory schools in the Philadelphia area and the enrollment had increased from fifty-seven to nearly three hundred.
In a letter to alumni and friends, announcing the resignation, the trustees said, “In scholarship and moral tone the school has, under Dr. Patterson’s leadership, more than kept pace with its material progress. Year after year, it has successfully prepared its boys for the universities, and the work of the world, and today their sons are, in turn, enrolled among its pupils. ... For themselves and for all the alumni and friends of the school, they (the Trustees) here accord him the full measure of gratitude, appreciation and honor.”
Dr. Patterson was succeeded as headmaster by Theophilus R. Hyde, who remained until 1930. During Mr. Hyde’s regime, the scholastic standards of the school continued to improve. In 1926, the annual Lower School pageants were instituted and have been given regularly ever since. The Campus Lantern was founded in 1927, and the Wissahickon became solely a literary magazine, gradually diminishing in importance until it was abandoned in 1933 and not revived until 1957.
When Mr. Hyde left, Gilbert H. Fall was appointed acting headmaster for one year and then headmaster from 1931 until 1936. Mr. Fall had been a member of the faculty since 1906, and was known by hundreds of graduates and former students as a capable and well-loved teacher. He took charge of Chestnut Hill Academy just as it was about to enter upon a trying and difficult stage of transition.
Since 1898, the school had passed through the second third of its history, establishing a fine record of growth and success in every way except financially. The students and their parents had not been concerned about the financial problem since the Houston and Woodward families had, year after year, come to the rescue and made up the annual deficit. By the early ’30s, when the country was in the depths of the Depression, this state of affairs could continue no longer.
In 1933-1934, an extensive survey of the Academy and of its purposes and problems was made, with the aid and advice of Dr. E. D. Grizzell of the University of Pennsylvania. The final report of the survey committee was made in the spring of 1934 to the first meeting of the Home-School Association. The committee had found that, because of the depression, the enrollment of boarding students had been rapidly shrinking, but that the expenses of running the boarding department had continued disastrously high. It was recommended that the boarding department be given up, that Chestnut Hill Academy become a college preparatory country day school for boys, and that it should try to enlist much wider community interest and support.
With the immediate adoption of this plan, there ended an era during which students had come to the Academy from thirty-two states, the District of Columbia and fourteen foreign countries. Most of the students from outside the United States had come from Central and South American countries, some of them natives of those countries and some of them sons of American families living abroad. Japan, South Africa and Newfoundland were represented.
Possibly the most interesting foreign students were four princes of the royal family of Siam. These four boys who came during the ’20s and ’30s were all excellent soccer players and honor-roll students.
Mr. Fall resigned as headmaster in 1936, but continued on the faculty as head of the history department until 1942, completing, then, thirty-six years of devoted service to Chestnut Hill Academy. In 1936, Frederic E. Camp was appointed headmaster. He continued until 1939, when failing health necessitated his resignation, and Charles Platt was appointed to succeed him.
Mr. Platt, C.H.A. Class of ’21, was the first former student to become headmaster, although several had become members of the faculty. He held the position until December, 1942, when he resigned to go into the Navy.
During these years just before the war, the Academy continued to have serious troubles. The attempt to operate as a country day school was not an immediate success. Parents and friends in the community tried hard to lend a hand. A Kindergarten was added to the Lower School. Parents of boys in the school tried to recruit more students. They formed committees to work on improvements to the physical plant which had become badly run-down. The swimming pool, which by now had deteriorated beyond repair, was floored over and a stage built to provide the school with an adequate auditorium.
It was very difficult, however, to get any financial support from the community because the school, under its original charter, was a private corporation without assets and obviously unsound financially. The grounds and buildings were still owned by the Houston estate, not by the Academy. The Board of Trustees worked for many months to bring about a change in the situation, and finally worked out a plan.
In December, 1940, Chestnut Hill Academy was re-incorporated under the Pennsylvania non-profit code (under the old charter the owners were entitled to keep any profits from the operation of the school, although there is no reason to believe any profits were ever made). The Board of Trustees became a Board of Directors under the new charter of 1940.
At the same time, the Trustees of the Houston estate transferred to the Academy, deeds to twenty-two acres of land and four buildings. After many years of generosity to the school, this was the most generous gift of all. In an announcement of these developments in the Campus Lantern, Mr. Platt said, “as a public trust Chestnut Hill Academy can most usefully and faithfully serve the needs of the present and future generations of boys in the expanding community.”
While their elders were concerned with these fundamental changes in the status of the Academy, the school life of the students went on pretty much as usual. The Dramatics Club presented annual productions – “Our Town”, “Julius Caesar” in modern dress, “Spring Dance” by Philip Barry. The Middle School started publication of the CHAT in 1937. The choir gave concerts. An orchestra was beginning to develop.
Proms were given by the Junior and Senior classes, featuring such bands as those of Harry James, Bunny Berigan, Erskine Hawkins (nationally famous dance orchestras did not command such large fees in those depression days). W.P.A. art exhibits appeared on the walls of the Exchange and the first floor corridor. The annual Christmas dinners were held, complete with boar’s head, flaming plum pudding, yule log, court jester, and the singing of old English carols.
As early as 1939, however, the coming war began to make its impression. Refugee children from England came to live with Chestnut Hill families. Four of them attended Chestnut Hill Academy. One boy came from the “playing fields of Eton” to the soccer fields of C.H.A., and the rest were from other English public schools. Alumni, members of the faculty, including the headmaster, began going to Citizens’ Military Training Camps in the summer. Selective Service became a new fact of life for younger faculty men and older boys.
After December 7, 1941, the students plunged into war projects, just as a previous generation of students had done in 1915. First aid classes were held in the dining room for the faculty and Forms V and VI. Air raid drills were held, and air raid instructions published in the school paper. Eighteen Senior School boys joined the emergency Ambulance and Stretcher Corps at the Water Tower, and money was raised to buy emergency equipment.
The rifle range was used for practice by a Home-Defense unit. Boys in shop classes turned out dozens of model airplanes for the Navy to use in training courses. Colleges announced accelerated courses, College Board exams were suspended and if a senior was recommended by his school, he could enter college in June, immediately after his graduation from preparatory school. Many members of the faculty left to join the armed forces.
By the summer of 1942, the disruption proved too much for Chestnut Hill Academy and its recently-established independence. The community was too concerned with the war effort to be able to give the time and effort needed to help the school. In August, a notice was sent out that the four top classes were being closed.
In September, the Academy opened as an eight-grade school with an enrollment of only 112 boys. In December, Mr. Platt resigned as headmaster and went into the Navy. Chestnut Hill Academy was now in more serious trouble than it had been at any time since 1895. Many predictions were made that the school could not possibly survive.
It is not at all unusual for private schools to have a history of crises in their existence. A glance at some of the earliest football and baseball schedules played by Chestnut Hill teams will reveal names of schools that present-day students have never heard of – DeLancey School, Blight School, St. Luke’s and others. They have all gone out of existence.
Even some of the largest schools in the Philadelphia area today had some very narrow escapes from oblivion. Episcopal Academy, for instance, nearly merged with Chestnut Hill Academy at least twice. Negotiations for such a merger were going on in 1904 “for the second time,” according to some early Board of Trustees’ minutes. In 1917, negotiations were opened again and this time all the arrangements were made, resolutions adopted, and notices sent out to alumni and parents that in September, 1917, the two schools would be merged.
However, part of the plan was to use the name, Episcopal Academy, and to drop the name, Chestnut Hill Academy. This caused such a storm of protest from students, parents and alumni, that the whole plan was hastily cancelled. Episcopal finally solved its problems by merging with the DeLancey School and moving to Overbrook. St. Luke’s School in Wayne had a disastrous fire in 1927, and was never able to rebuild. So, although Chestnut Hill Academy’s position in 1942 was precarious, it was not unprecedented.
At this critical time Chestnut Hill Academy had three strong assets — a small group of parents and friends who believed that the community needed the school; an undiscouraged faculty; and Robert A. Kingsley. Mr. Kingsley had been teaching modern languages at the Academy for seventeen years. In December, 1942, he was appointed Headmaster.
Mr. Kingsley was convinced, and he convinced everyone else concerned, that what was left of the school was solid and strong; a foundation on which could be built a Chestnut Hill Academy larger and more successful than it had ever been. Under his able leadership, the Academy began its process of redevelopment.
The three- and four-year-old pre-school groups were added, and then a ninth grade. Interested parents worked hard. They promoted goodwill for the school in the community. They helped to bring in new students. They raised money. The first “Hey Day,” a far cry from recent ones and from the exciting Centennial Ball of 1961, was held in the school dining room in 1945. The committee members cooked the dinner themselves in the school kitchen.
As the war ended, several former faculty members returned to the Academy and soon learned how to be junior school teachers. Alumni were coming home and starting to send their small sons to their old school.
The enrollment started to climb; from 112 in 1942 to 250 in 1945, to 355 in 1950. There had never before been more than 288 students, even in the best of times back in the ’20s. It began to be possible to make some physical improvements to the buildings. The leaky old roof was replaced, hundreds of gallons of paint were applied inside and out, new equipment was installed everywhere from the boiler rooms to the farthest classrooms.
By 1953, with the largest enrollment in the school’s history, the time had come to restore Chestnut Hill Academy to college preparatory status. One grade was added each year until there were twelve, and in June, 1956, commencement exercises were held in the chapel for the first graduating class in fourteen years. By this time the enrollment was over 450. (During the centennial year, it passed the 500 mark.)
As the Senior School was restored, all the traditional activities of the upper forms were revived. The Campus Lantern, Caerulean, and Wissahickon reappeared. Glee Club concerts and formal dances were given once more. Varsity teams represented the Academy again. The old Sock and Buskin was reincarnated in the modern Players.
In the spring of 1956, the school was evaluated by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, and given full accreditation. Chestnut Hill Academy boys once more were well-prepared for college, and the colleges were glad to accept them.
As the Academy moved forward and it became apparent that the school was becoming larger and more successful than it had ever been, it was able to enlist increasing support from its friends in the community. An Annual Giving program was initiated in 1950, and has been increasingly successful each year since.
In 1954, a community campaign raised almost $1,000,000 for Springside School and Chestnut Hill Academy. The Academy’s share built the lower level of a new gymnasium wing and provided for classroom and library expansion and new science laboratory equipment. In 1955, a gift in memory of Thomas C. Jordan, Jr., equipped a library annex and bought hundreds of new books.
In 1959, another gift established the Balis Junior School Library. In 1960, the Kline Science Building, given in memory of Mahlon N. Kline, was dedicated, another gift of $10,000 remodeled and re-equipped the music department; the Class of 1960 remodeled and furnished a Senior Commons Room in memory of a classmate. In 1961, the new gymnasium was completed with funds contributed by parents, alumni and friends.
This list is far from complete; there have been almost countless other gifts of varying kinds from tennis courts to kitchen sinks, from holly trees to furniture, from shares of stock to electronic equipment, from silver trophies to brass andirons. Quite obviously, a great many people still believe, as did the trustees of long ago, that “Chestnut Hill should have a boys’ school of the first rank.”
The first graduating class of which we have any record was the Class of 1899, which consisted of one young man. Since Albert Smith Faught was awarded his diploma in the old Inn ballroom, he has been followed by 642 other graduates. All but a very few have gone on to college and they have been a credit to Chestnut Hill Academy.
Some alumni have made brilliant scholastic records in college, like a recent C.H.A. valedictorian who achieved the highest junior year average in the history of Williams College. Several C.H.A. varsity letter winners were named to all-American teams while in college. Ex-Campus Lantern editors have staffed the Harvard Crimson. Former Glee Club singers have toured with the Dartmouth Glee Club and the Whiffenpoofs. Sock and Buskin alumni have appeared with the Triangle Club and the Mask and Wig.
Approximately 600 graduates and former students served in the two World Wars. Twenty-six of them lost their lives, thirteen in each war.
Many alumni have become locally well-known in medicine, law, teaching, business, government and other fields. A few have achieved nationwide fame. Irving Langmuir, ’99, won a Nobel Prize in chemistry. Stanley Woodward, ’16, has served in the State Department as Ambassador to Canada, Chief of Protocol and in other posts. Thomas S. Gates, Jr., ’24, has been Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense in President Eisenhower’s Cabinet. Joseph S. Clark, Jr., ’18, has been Mayor of Philadelphia and United States Senator from Pennsylvania.
Chestnut Hill Academy is proud of its alumni and particularly proud to have a higher percentage of alumni sons and grandsons currently enrolled than any other school in the Philadelphia area.
As its first century ends, the Academy is larger, stronger and more successful than it has ever been. The story of the first hundred years, then, has a proper “happy ending.” The history of Chestnut Hill Academy shows no signs of ending, however, and is...
“to be continued.”