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Highlighting Historical Hampden

Hampden Academy

Special Feature: Listen to The Elusive Championship, by a Reeds Brook Middle School student, as told by Bob Hawes.

Text by Karyn Field

The early settlers were very concerned about education. School was first held in private homes, with the teachers “boarded around” as was customary. Eventually there were twenty district schools in various locations and at different times in Hampden’s history. Hampden Academy, the area around which much of the activity of the Battle of Hampden took place, was incorporated on March 1, 1803. John Crosby and other prominent citizens subscribed the sum of $3400 for the purpose of building the school. On June 18, 1803, they were granted half a township of land out of any unappropriated lands in the district to use for building the Academy. In 1806, the trustees met and voted to erect a two story wooden building. The first floor would hold the main entrance which opened to a corridor that would run the length of the building. There was a room on each side of the corridor with theater-style seating. The second story of the building was one large room, and was actually completed by the Congregational Society sometime between 1828 and 1839 to be used as a church.

On April 13, 1815, Hampden Academy united with the Maine Charity School, but the latter was moved to Bangor and is now known as the Bangor Seminary. After the connection between the two was dissolved, Hampden Academy really began to prosper. For the next seven years the school was under the direction of Reverend Otis Briggs.

In 1831, Asa Matthews came to the Academy and it was under his direction that the reputation of the institution was truly established. Mr. Matthews is considered one of the most successful principals to have ever overseen the Academy. It was at this time that Hampden Academy came very close to securing the educational services of J.P. Hanson, who later became the first preparatory instructor in the state. However, for reasons that have remained unclear, the arrangement was never carried out and several lean years followed for the school.

On February 24, 1842, the original Hampden Academy was completely destroyed by fire. However, it was insured for $1000 by the Hampden Fire Insurance Company, a sum that was able to only partially cover the total losses. In July of that same year, the trustees contracted with James H. Stewart and Samuel Wallace to erect a brick building for the sum of $1125. In the fall of 1843, the school was reopened under the leadership of George W. Jewett, and for the next five years was successful. This building still stands today, but over the years it has undergone many changes.

In 1848, the ladies of Hampden held a fair, and with the proceeds purchased a bell to be placed at the front of the school building. Fifty years later, that bell was replaced by another, which can be seen in front of the current Hampden Academy.

October 2, 1854, brought more devastation to the Academy when the building was once again destroyed by fire. This time, the fire burned out the floor and did much damage to the lower room and the gym equipment, which had been purchased four years earlier by William McCrillis of Bangor. The following morning, the trustees held a meeting and it was decided that the repairs needed for the school would be made immediately. For the rest of that school year, however, classes were held in the town hall.

Hampden Academy
Hampden Academy

Item Contributed by
Penobscot Marine Museum

Within a few years of the second fire, the events of the Civil War called away so many young men that the school once again declined and did not regain the prosperity that it had once so much enjoyed. In 1863, the legislature passed an act to build two normal schools in Maine. An attempt was made to establish one in Hampden in direct connection with the Academy that was already in place, but the proposal failed and the school was built in Castine instead.

The year 1871 brought renewed hope to those connected with the Academy because the school once more began to flourish under the direction of a man by the name of Mr. Tribou. However, it was not long before he was called to duty as a Chaplain in the Navy, and the school experienced such a decline that its doors were finally closed, and remained so for several years. It was not until 1886 that a group of concerned citizens who had at one time benefited from the school undertook the task of restoring the old building to its former usefulness. Donations were made and the town was able to assist in the efforts by giving a $1000 bond. Several years after the restoration, on June 12, 1905, Hampden Academy celebrated its centennial. During the celebration, a history of the school was presented and an alumni association was officially formed.

Through the years, several other important additions and improvements were made to the brick building that once stood alone on Academy Hill. In 1903 and 1904, new desks were placed in the rooms and a furnace and electric lights were added. It was also voted on August 23, 1904, to build an annex. In 1918, a tennis court was built at the rear of the building and electric lights were installed for the first time in the main room of the building. A steel ceiling was also installed in the main room on May 24, 1920. From June 4 to November 9, 1921, a well was drilled and a water system installed in the school. In 1923, the school finally received a cement foundation and, six years later, to end a decade which had seen some major improvements made to the building, several more alterations and extensive repairs were made to keep it up and running.

The 1930s saw relatively few changes with a vestibule being built in 1930 and additional rooms being added to the southeast side of the brick building beginning on July 31, 1939. It was not until 1953 that one of the most impressive additions to date was added when a modern gymnasium was constructed reducing the need for sporting events, dances, and graduation ceremonies to be held at the town hall. The school was further expanded in 1956 when a new building was erected just behind the brick structure. This new building was home to a large shop, a home economics laboratory, a science laboratory, and three additional classrooms. Only four years later in 1960, it was deemed necessary to build a library, a large room to hold study halls, a teacher’s room, and four more classrooms. It was during this renovation that a sprinkler system was installed in all of the buildings as well.

In 1961, the east side of the gymnasium was extended to provide a stage, two dressing rooms, and a store room below. Drapes were purchased and arranged so that the entire stage can be used for a large group or the drapes can be drawn onto the inner track to provide a setting for plays.