When Phillips Academy was established in 1778, there were no dormitories or dining halls. Students paid to board with nearby families, approved by the trustees, who agreed to maintain strict rules for the boys and “to provide adequate food.”
My guess is that the boys didn’t attend the school for the sumptuous food.
While it was said that food was abundant and that boys, being boys, did “stuff themselves,” the increasing cost for the boarding families prompted the trustees in 1842 to create a dining commons known as “Chocolate Hall.”
Produce and milk were provided by one of three farms on campus, where scholarship boys often worked.
Separate “eating clubs” soon sprang up, the first being the Union Club in 1852. Headmaster Claude Fuess, in his book "An Old New England School," recorded the Bill of Fare as “bread and molasses, beefsteak from a neighboring tannery once a week, and apple pie on Sunday.”
The Eureka Club had a “reader” whose duty was to entertain the diners by reading from a book or newspaper during dinner. The Crescent Club had “gala banquets.”
The food, however, generally received poor reviews, described by one alumnus as “so wretched as to be objects of horrible remembrance.”
When the popularity of eating clubs dwindled in the 1890s, private boarding houses once again stepped in.
One of the best-known was Aunt Hattie’s. Accommodating up to 30 boarders, these boys frequently used their food to play tricks. Pancakes, known as “scalers,” became forerunner of the Frisbee. Butter-dipped toothpicks were tossed up to the ceiling “until it looked like a porcupine.”
In the late 1890s, then Headmaster Cecil F. B. Bancroft promoted the need for a dining hall.
Enter the “Beanery,” opened in the renovated Bulfinch Hall that had been gutted by fire in 1886.
A document in the Academy archives, signed by the students, describes the basic function of the Beanery: “… to have a Bill of Fare which shall not impair or suspend activity, clearness or energy of thought; not induce peevishness, dullness or weakness over our books … nor bring us digestive fevers, dyspepsia or abnormal appetites; but which shall be entirely consistent with the utmost normal appetites, which shall be entirely consistent with the utmost strength, activity, happiness and useful action of which both soul and body are capable.”
The students thereon pledged membership in the Beanery “in the best light of hygiene; in whose Bill of Fare animal fat shall hold the lowest and a healthful selection of fruits and vegetables the highest.”
The Beanery boasted electric lights and a state-of-the-art kitchen, including a dishwasher and bakery.
A 1913 menu showed a Bill of Fare upgrade: chicken croquettes (8 cents); broiled mackerel (10 cents); minced ham and scrambled eggs (7 cents); and cold roast beef (10 cents).
As the school increased in enrollment, and the Beanery no longer adequately filled the needs of hungry boys, construction began on a new dining hall, a dining Commons, designed by architect Charles Platt. The final bill came to $809,000. It opened in the fall of 1930.
Over the next 50 years, as needs changed, Commons was renovated twice, once in 1980, and secondly in 1981.
And the changes continued.
With 230 years of experience under its belt, the Academy planned another Commons renovation in 2008-09, offering students a “dining experience” catering to tastes, dietary restrictions and religious traditions.
Named for David Paresky ’56, two floors of serveries offer, among many choices, a salad bar, a pizza oven, a made-to-order stir fry option and even an espresso machine.
Paresky Commons today is definitely a long way off from the “simple diet” Samuel Phillips envisioned when he founded the school.
And those a part of campus life are grateful.