Lost Landmark: The Newton Collegiate Institute
(Also known as the Newton Academy)
To improve educational opportunities for their children, a group of Newton parents met in April 1850 to establish a new private academy in Newton. Almost a year later, on March 19, 1851, the associates of the new Newton Presbyterial Academy met at the Presbyterian Church to elect trustees. The Board of Trustees formally incorporated in November 1851 with a capital stock of $15,000.

The Newton Presbyterial Academy first opened as a day school at 26 Liberty Street in 1852. The Trustees concluded a contract with Jacob M. Skinner, of Marksboro, in February 1854 to build their Academy for $5,000 on ground purchased from M. O. Halsted, Jr. The school was to be “a frame filled in with brick, the roof to be of slate, its size 34 by 56 feet, with a basement under the whole.” The name was changed to the Newton Collegiate Institute by legislative act in November 1855. At this time, a contract to build a boarding house adjecent to the school was awarded to contractor William Sears. For many years thereafter, the steep hill behind High Street was known either as College Hill or Academy Hill.

Principal William Travis leased the Newton Collegiate Institute in April 1863 for a term of years and set about establishing a first class school. Dr. Andrew J. Travis and his wife took charge of the Boarding House. The Academic Department embraced a course of study extending over three or four years, foundationed upon the Classics and Mathematics, but including Modern Languages, all kinds of Drawing and Painting, Vocal and Instrumental Music. The teachers and lecturers then employed were: Miss Susan C. Linn, Principal of Young Ladies’ Department and teacher of Mathematics; Miss Fannie C. Norris, Principal Teacher of the Preparatory Department; Miss Catherine R. Shafer, teacher of Piano and Vocal Music; Dr. A. J. Travis, Instructor
of Physiology and Hygiene; and Thomas Ryerson, M. D., lecturer in Chemistry. The school year was divided into four terms of eleven weeks each, commencing April 20, 1863, August 17, November 2, and January 13, 1864. The Institute charged $50 for boarding, washing, lights, fuel and tuition for each term of eleven weeks. Each boarder was required to furnish two sheets, two pillow cases and two towels. Extra charges were made for Modern Languages, Drawing, Painting, Vocal and Instrumental Music, and use of the Piano. The Library was available to students without extra charge. Every patron and pupil was requested to make a contribution to the new Cabinet of Minerals. Subsequent principals were W. A. Magill, J. Sandford Smith, Chester Teel and Professor S. S. Stevens. Contractor Simeon S. Cook built a new wing onto the Collegiate Institute in May 1874.

Captain Joel Wilson became headmaster in 1883. He was born September 21, 1839, a son of Hubbard Wilson, of Gorham, Maine. He was a young Principal at an Academy near Portland when he enlisted in Company F, First Maine Cavalry on September 23, 1861. His regiment served under General Philip Sheridan. Before the war’s end, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. After the war, Joel Wilson accepted the position of Principal of Gorham Seminary, at Gorham, Maine, his old hometown. In 1878, he engaged as head master of a private school in Goshen, New York. At the time of his arrival in 1883, the Newton Collegiate Institute had an attendance of 100 students, of which 35 were boarders. These students came from Newton and vicinity, from Orange County, New York, from Brooklyn and New York City, from Maine, Minnesota, Arizona and the West Indies; and a number were former pupils of Captain Wilson at Goshen. The curriculum included English, Science and Metaphysics, Instrumental and Vocal Music, Classics, Mathematics, French, German, Painting and Drawing. The faculty included: Joel Wilson, Principal, English, Science and Metaphysics; Mrs. Sarah H. Wilson, Vice-Principal, Instrumental Music; E. B.. Condon, Classics and Mathematics; Miss Belle Bronk, English, French and German; Miss Carrie Rorbach, English and primary branches; Miss Mary C. Villiers, painting, drawing and vocal music. Captain Wilson frequently requisitioned horses, children’s ponies, carriages and sleighs to treat the young ladies and gentlemen to a ride and for winter excursions.

After several years’ absence, when he served as principal of the Hudson River Military Academy in Nyack, Professor Joel Wilson purchased the Newton Collegiate Institute in August 1892 and made considerable improvements. In October 1892, he had carpenter William T. Hill erect a building 50 by 80 feet at the apex of the Boarding House with a double bowling alley on the lower floor and a laundry in the basement. The second floor held a gymnasium, 28 by 80 feet. He also installed steam heat in the Institute to warm the school and recitation rooms. In the basement, he fitted up a bathing room, 20 by 40 feet, thoroughly cemented and filled with pure water brought from the spring on the hill. A hot-water appliance and pipes in an adjoining room heated water for the bathing pool. The improvements also included a windmill water pump. In July 1895, Captain Wilson leased the Collegiate Institute to Professor J. C. Pia, of Lewistown, Pennsylvania, a graduate of the University of France. Captain Joel Wilson served as head master until his retirement in 1898, when his son, Assemblyman Philip S. Wilson, took over management. Philip S. Wilson purchased property from his father for $9,000 in July 1905. He immediately announced plans for remodeling the buildings and installing electric lights and modern plumbing. Captain Joel Wilson died December 30, 1918.

The school thrived as a preparatory school for business and college courses of study. Captain Wilson died on December 30, 1918. Major De Mott, Principal of the Newton Academy, hired Mrs. William G. Drake as an assistant teacher in February 1930. The school finally closed in 1934. The buildings, last used as a warehouse, were demolished around 1972.

Copyright 2000 Kevin W. Wright. All rights reserved.

About the Photos in the order they appear:
1. Collegiate Institute, at the summit of Academy Street; postcard circa 1905
2. Newton Collegiate Institute and Boarding House, engraving circa 1863
3. Boarding House, Newton Collegiate Institute, circa 1880