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A History of Public Education in Newton
by Kevin Wright

According to tradition, the first school in Newton was kept in a log-house at the corner of Liberty and High Streets in the decade following the Revolution. The Newton Academy was incorporated on February 2, 1801 and a school building (75-77 Main Street) erected on the Meeting House Lot, a half-acre parcel conveyed by the trustees of Jonathan Hampton’s estate on June 17, 1807. Deeds and documents of this period consequently refer to Main Street as Academy Street.

The State of New Jersey created a fund for Free Schools in February 1816, investing $15,000 in six percent bonds. The following year, the Legislature enlarged this fund by addition of certain stock dividends, the proceeds from the sale of a piece of property in New Brunswick, and one-tenth of all State tax receipts. In 1818, the Legislature appointed Trustees to administer the fund, transferring $113,238 to their care. In March 1828, all the taxes from banking, insurance and other incorporated companies, were contributed to the Free School Fund, in lieu of one-tenth of the State tax.

Miss Cornelia Halsey opened a school for women in the Newton Academy in May 1824. The Reverend Clarkson Dunn, rector of Christ Church, started a Classical School in the old Parsonage (1770 House) on Dunn Place. In April 1826, the Trustees of the Newton Academy authorized $300 in repairs to the old Academy on Main Street. William Euen enlarged his residence at 29 Liberty Street for educational purposes and opened a Boarding School for young ladies in February 1829. James Thompson and his daughters took over management of this school in July 1829. John Teasdale, a Baptist minister, conducted a Boarding and Day School for young ladies, known as the “Newton High School,” at this location in November 1835. He and Thomas C. Teasdale purchased the Liberty Street house and adjoining academy in February 1836. John Teasdale retired from teaching in May 1836 on account of ill health and Samuel Richards, of Brown University, was engaged to take his place. Nelson Robinson, then the principal at the Newton Academy, took over the teaching duties at the Newton High School in May 1838.

Beginning in 1829, the State dedicated an annual appropriation of $20,000 to the establishment and maintenance of common schools, to be apportioned among the counties according to the ratio of the taxes each paid for support of the government. In turn, the Board of Chosen Freeholders were to annually apportion their share of the school moneys among the several townships. Through their annual township meetings, citizens could raise additional funds locally, by tax or otherwise, for school support. Each township was to elect three persons to a school committee. Patrons, supporters, or proprietors, of common schools in each township were authorized to appoint a board of trustees and apply for funding. Thus each township was left the liberty, not only to expend its share of State funds, but to further tax itself for educational purposes. In response, the Trustees of the Newton Academy exchanged their school property on Main Street in October 1830 for a lot at the intersection of Linwood Annex and Division Street, where they erected a larger school building.

The annual State appropriation was raised to $30,000 in 1838, and to $80,000 in 1851. The School Act of 1851 also changed the basis of apportionment to the counties in the ratio of population, and to the townships in the ratio of the school census. The Newton Presbyterial Academy was organized in March 1851 and opened a day school at 26 Liberty Street the following year. The Trustees began construction of the Newton Collegiate Institute on the top of Academy Street in February 1853. At that time, Newton boasted five schools: Dr. Harvey Hallock supervised an English School in the Newton Academy on Division Street; Rev. Clarkson Dunn conducted his Classical School in the Parsonage on Dunn Place; Miss Warner taught school in a small building behind the David Foster residence at the corner of Academy and High Streets; Mrs. Lydia Phillips held classes for young ladies either in the upper room of the Newton Academy or in her Spring Street home (now the Waldmere Hotel); and there was the new Presbyterial Academy on Liberty Street.

An act establishing a State Normal School for the education of public-school teachers passed in 1855. A State Board of Education was created in 1866. School attendance was made mandatory in 1867 and the State was divided into school districts. Each district receiving State funds was required to maintain free schools in suitable buildings at least nine months in each year. The State funding mechanism was also enlarged and the annual appropriation increased to $100,000. Each district was required to expend moneys from State appropriations and the township school tax on teachers’ salaries and the purchase of fuel. Each school district was also empowered to raise funds by taxation or bonds, for the erection and repair of school buildings, and to raise funds by taxation for payment of teachers’ salaries. Sussex County’s first Free Public School was constructed on Halsted Street in January 1869 to accommodate 600 students. The new building was dedicated on December 16, 1870. The Trustees of the old Newton Academy sold their abandoned school property on Division Street to Jacob Swayze in 1870. Public schools were made entirely free in 1871.