The North Parish offered Phillips Academy early competition. After Phillips Academy was founded by Samuel Phillips Jr. with help from Eliphalet Pearson in 1778, some North Parish (now North Andover) residents created a school of their own.
In 1799, Jonathan Stevens, a well-to-do farmer, offered free land not far from the North Parish meeting house. His friends funded the project, and a building was constructed on what is now Academy Road. The school was incorporated in 1801 and was called the North Parish Free School. By 1803 the Free School’s name became Franklin Academy, perhaps after Benjamin Franklin.
The school was for boys and girls, unlike Phillips Academy that only admitted boys, and it was the first incorporated school in Massachusetts that admitted girls. The Franklin School differed from Phillips in another way as it was not intended as a preparatory school for college, but rather taught more practical courses intended for the needs of the community.
Franklin Academy was a for-profit enterprise, and it struggled until 1817 when Simeon Putnam, a Harvard graduate (class of 1811), took over as principal and made the school more popular and profitable, for he was a strict and fine teacher. He changed the focus of the school to more classical studies. In his “History of Andover” (1829) Abiel Abbot wrote, “The school has been highly beneficial to the North Parish and to those youth who have enjoyed its advantages... The Classical School, taught the eight preceding years by Mr. Simeon Putnam, has been constantly and deservedly rising in reputation for thorough instruction and moral discipline... The reputation is inferior to none, and has never been more flourishing than at the present time.”
Unfortunately, Putnam died in 1833, while still in early middle age, and the school once again struggled. Fifty years after it opened it closed and became a stable in 1853.
Claude Fuess was the former headmaster of Phillips Academy when he wrote his 1959 book, “Andover Symbol of New England.” There he detailed the opening of the Andover Theological Seminary in 1808, and said that in the early and middle of the 19th Century “Andover was well-known throughout the Commonwealth as a place of culture. But its claim of distinction was due to Andover Theological Seminary, which acquired a fame at one period hardly less than that of Harvard College.”
However, in the 1880s, the seminary held “heresy trials” where the most theologically conservative members of the faculty tried to rid the school of more moderate teachers. The trials received much publicity from the Boston newspapers and the news became national. The moderates won the trials, but the school suffered from the negative publicity and didn’t recover for several years.
After leaving Andover in 1908 and spending time in Cambridge affiliated with Harvard, the school eventually moved to Newton Centre and became Andover Newton Theological School, once again a highly-respected institution.
When the seminary opened, it built several buildings. At the time Phillips Academy had only one structure. Prior to the beginning of Phillips Academy, 30 boys from Andover had gone to Harvard. In those days, it was more important for a student to have funds to pay for Harvard than have scholastic merit.
Abbot Female Seminary, which would become Abbot Academy, opened in 1829. Shortly later a competing school for girls was opened by Mrs. Bela B. Edwards on Main Street, and it was considered more aristocratic than Abbot. It closed in 1864.
Among the boys, Abbot was known as the “Fem Sem” and Mrs. Edwards School was called the “Nunnery.” (Mrs. Edward’s husband, Bela Bates Edwards (1802-1852), graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1830 and taught there from 1837 until his death. He founded or was associated with several religious periodicals and “Edward’s Addresses and Sermons” with a memoir by Edward Park were published in two volumes in 1853.)
For many years following its beginning, Phillips Academy had its ups and downs, at one time dropping to only 18 students. However, as the 19th Century matured so did Phillips, and by the end of the century the school was becoming one of the best in the country. In 1908, when the Andover Theological Seminary moved out of Andover, Phillips paid $250,000 ($6 million today) for the seminary’s real estate and buildings, and Phillips began developing one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. By 1928, Phillips Academy was ranked as the No. 1 prep school in the U.S. In 1973, Abbot Academy, one of the country’s finest girl’s schools, merged with Phillips, further enhancing PA’s campus and prestige.
(Additional fact: Pearson Street in Andover is named for Eliphalet Pearson, mentioned in the first paragraph.)
Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com