"A school for the instruction of youth in the Latin and Greek languages, mathematics, geography, and the other branches of science higher than are taught in the common schools." - From the will of Sally Lewis
Lewis Academy was founded by Sally Lewis and her cousin Addin Lewis of Southington, CT.
Sally Lewis was born to Job Lewis and Hannah Curtiss. While her exact birthdate is unknown, she was baptized on February 14, 1773. Her father was a shoemaker and tanner. Her family was also wealthy. Since she was the only sibling that wasn't married, her father left his house to her. Once she settled into the home, she wished to be more involved in the community of Southington. Although wealthy, she was also a woman and was given the cold shoulder by the men in town. Sally was always passionate about education. In 1828, she taught women basic education skills in a room at the First Congregational Church.
While women's opinions were often disregarded in Southington, some men were considered outcasts. One of these gentlemen was named Jesse Olney. Jesse was a school teacher ambitious about bringing a higher quality education to Southington, CT. He wanted Southington to be the model for education in hopes that more towns would follow suit. However, the men in town never took it seriously. That didn't stop Jesse. In 1829, he approached Sally Lewis due to her wealth, hoping she would fund a new school. She would listen as Jesse shared his ideas but never shared hers. Jesse all but gave up until Sally died in 1840. In her will, she left $3,579.62 of her estate to go toward a school for higher education.
Although Sally didn't voice her thoughts about a school openly until her death, she did confide in her cousin, Addin Lewis. Addin was born in 1780 to Nathaniel Lewis and Sarah Gridley. He moved to Alabama at a young age and became the mayor later in life. He would often write to Sally, and they would talk about a possible school that could be built in Southington, CT. Sally's influence inspired Addin to leave about $15,000 of his estate to go toward Lewis Academy when he died in 1842. $5,000 was allotted to build the school, and the rest went towards paying teachers and "necessary expenses."
The Opening of Lewis Academy
Addin Lewis's contribution to the new academy was not without its stipulations. Although education was previously taught inside a church, he did not want this new school to be influenced by any religion. The school was not allowed to take faith into account when admitting students. However, there must be a maximum of five trustees of the school, and they must be a member of the First Congregational or First Baptist societies. The first trustees were Romeo Lowry, Julius S. Barnes, Lucas Upson, Alfred Hotchkiss, and A. Perrin Plant.
In 1843, "Lewis Academy," was located in a lecture room in the "Old Chapel." However, it was not named Lewis Academy until September 21, 1846, during a trustee vote. The "Old Chapel" was located where the town hall is today. Henry D. Smith was the first principal of the school.
In 1846, the board planned a new building dedicated to Lewis Academy behind the First Congregational Church on Academy Hill. On September 14, 1846, the building committee was elected. The members were Amon Bradley, Captain Levi Upson, A. Perrin Plant, and S. S. Woodruff. They contracted Captain Samuel Woodruff to design and oversee the new building. Woodruff was a local contractor who built both public and private buildings.
On December 4, 1848, the new and permanent building of Lewis Academy opened its doors.
"The institution is located in a town healthy, central, easy of access, and widely known for the interest taken in the subject of education and for the excellence of it's schools. The building is large and elegant, finely situated, and fitted up in the best style of modern improvements in school architecture." – Southington News, Southington, CT, August 15 1857, pg. 13
*Note that Lewis Academy became Lewis High School in 1882. The location was still the same. (Left Image) 1890 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map with the site of Lewis High School - (Right Image) 1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map with Lewis High School's location after being remodeled. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The first principal for the new academy was Elias B. Hillard. He also taught the students alongside teachers E.D. Morris, N.S. Monross, and S. Fenn. Students from all over the state attended. Their families had to pay tuition that would vary each term. Tuition was the following...
$5.00 for English Studies
$6.00 for higher branches of Education
$7.00 for languages such as Latin and Greek
$10.00 for musical instruction
The families of the students would also have to pay for textbooks. Addin Lewis stipulated that ten Wolcott students were eligible for free tuition per semester.
The school was open all year and divided into three terms. The first term started on 10/30 and was 15 weeks long. The second term began on 2/12 and also lasted 15 weeks. The last term started on 6/11 and was only 14 weeks long. Students would have roughly three weeks to one month off in between terms. The main academic goal of Lewis Academy was to teach both men and women how to think critically, investigate issues, and become well-rounded people that would carry them throughout their lives. Students received a classics education that included mathematics, geography, English, science, music, etc. Lewis Academy would be today's equivalent of a college preparatory school.
The End of the Academy
In 1882, Lewis Academy became a free public school and was renamed Lewis High School. There was no longer an admission process, and all Southington students were welcome. As a result, the building was remodeled in 1896 to accommodate the influx of new students. In 1950, Southington decided to build a new high school which is now Southington High School. Lewis High School was then converted into Lincoln Lewis Middle School in 1952, which taught 6th and 7th graders. The building was eventually razed in 1967 when it was no longer used as a middle school. Remodeling the building to be used for other purposes proved to be too costly.
On November 29, 1884, H.D. Smith and Stephen Walkley formed the Sally Lewis Academy Association. The first meeting took place in a conference room at the First Congregational Church. Membership was contingent upon being an alumnus of Lewis Academy or a direct descendent or spouse of a student who attended Lewis Academy. Their annual meetings consisted of two parts. The first would be a business meeting with guest speakers. Members would talk about the happenings at Lewis High School and read letters from previous academy alums. There was a luncheon before the second part, which was a reunion. They also held special events, such as a ceremony to unveil a bronze plaque in honor of Sally Lewis In 1903. It was located at Lewis High School. The association had a ceremony in 1905 to unveil a portrait of Addin Lewis that was painted by Samuel Morse, who invented the telegraph. The Sally Lewis Association disbanded on June 28, 1933, after the last living alums died.
Artifacts from the Academy
September 22, 1858 – I began to go to school for the first time to the academy. My teacher's name was Mr. Frost" – From the diary of Alice Bradley Barnes.
The children of the most prominent families in Southington attended Lewis Academy. This included Franklin, Alice, and Emma Bradley, who were the children of Amon Bradley. All of the artifacts pictured are in the Barnes Museum collection, the homestead of Amon Bradley.
Written by Nadia D.
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