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Jaffrey Center Village Improvement Society

Melville Academy FAQ

Melville Academy

Who built Melville and why?
It was built by Jonas Melville, a banker and prominent citizen of Jaffrey (born in Nelson and moved to Jaffrey in 1821, nephew of Rev. Laban Ainsworth), along with Dr. Luke Howe, Asa Parker, John Fox (who gave the land), and John Felt as contributors and trustees. The town was growing rapidly and had stores and taverns, mills, three or four churches. There was a demand for advanced education that could prepare young people for professions or for college. Before 1833 there had been a few unsuccessful attempts to raise money for an academy. Many people had argued that more education was a waste of time and might make Jaffrey’s young people discontent with the rural way of life.

What was an academy?
Common at this time, an academy was a private school that was between a high school and a college. It promoted a well-rounded, classical education for students who wanted to study subjects beyond the basics of reading, writing, and math taught in the one-room schoolhouses. Many graduates of academies went on to become teachers and ministers. Melville Academy was always co-educational.

How many students? Where did they come from?
When the Academy opened in 1833, it had 174 students – 87 males and 87 females. They came from Jaffrey, Rindge, Greenfield, Marlborough, Keene, Sullivan, Peterborough, Nelson, Sharon, and even towns in Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts. It had a principal, called a preceptor, and he had two assistants. Students could pay for room and board (meals) with local families. In 1835, “board in the vicinity of the Academy, including washing, could be obtained at $1.25 per week.” By 1840, that had risen to $1.50. By 1846, the enrollment had dropped considerably: 58 students for the spring term, 37 for the fall, and 41 for winter.

What did it cost?
Tuition in 1833 was $3.50 per pupil, per term, for the basic courses. Latin and Greek cost an extra $4.00, and French was $1.00. There were three terms at first, starting in early December, then in early March, and early June. Each was 11 weeks long.  A fourth term was added in the 1840s.

What subjects were taught?
English (grammar, composition, and literature), Greek, Latin, arithmetic, music, philosophy, logic, history, geography, geometry, and speaking (called declamation). Students would also study astronomy, botany, and chemistry. Melville had maps, a globe, and a 100-volume library. Like other schools of the time, it also sought to promote “piety and virtue.”

Why did Melville Academy close?
Melville opened its doors in prosperous times and closed them during an economic depression. Jonas Melville, the Academy’s primary benefactor, had invested in the development of local railroads and lost everything in the Panic of 1857 when bank and railroad stocks became worthless; his mansion (the Stone House, now part of St. Patrick’s School) was auctioned off to pay creditors, leaving the Melvilles destitute. Without his support, tuition did not cover the costs of the school, especially since parents of students also suffered financial setbacks and had to withdraw their children.

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