In 2004, Hebron Academy, one of the nation’s oldest endowed boarding schools, celebrated 200 years of rich history. For two centuries, the school’s mission and core values have remained consistent with its original charter: that students be taught liberal arts and sciences and educated to revere life and to respect and honor individuality. Now more than a decade into its Third Century, Hebron Academy remains an educational community focused on helping each student understand and reach his or her highest potential in mind, body, and spirit.
Hebron Academy was founded by Revolutionary War veterans from Massachusetts who received land in the “district of Maine” as compensation for their military service. They settled the community in the late 1700’s, established a church, and then chartered the school in 1804. The pioneers were “poor in goods, but rich in courage and hope.” The early settlers faced many challenges, including making a living in the wilderness, building a community, governing themselves, and educating young people in such a thinly populated settlement.
Among the settlers was Deacon William Barrows, who led the effort to establish Hebron Academy and was a member of its Board of Trustees for 33 years, until his death in 1837. Interest in the school stretched well beyond the small settlement of Hebron. Five of the nine original trustees came from surrounding towns including New Gloucester, Paris, Turner, and Minot.
The school opened its doors in 1805 to 25 young scholars, boys and girls. Many students rented rooms from Deacon Barrows and area farmers. By 1807, there were 50 students. The first dorm would not be built until 1829. From the beginning, Hebron was an inclusive, welcoming community. Girls learned alongside boys. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s students arrived from Mongolia, Burma, India, and Bulgaria.
The first preceptor, or headmaster, was William Barrows, Jr., a Dartmouth College graduate. Many of his successors were alumni from Dartmouth and Bowdoin College. Preceptors often taught for a short time, and then went on to study law, medicine, or theology.
In 1819, the school faced disaster when the Academy building burned. Neighboring towns saw an opportunity to move the school to their respective communities. But, Deacon Barrows vigorously and successfully defended the school during an hour-long address to his fellow Trustees. His speech concluded with a dramatic, emotional statement accusing wealthier neighbors from Paris Hill of “taking advantage of our misfortune” and trying to “steal away our little ewe lamb…the offspring of our prayers and tears and toils.” The speech became part of the Hebron Academy culture. It has been reenacted for special events, like the dedication of a new school building in 1891 and the Bicentennial Founders’ Day celebration in 2004. It is also commemorated in a memorial window to Deacon Barrows in today’s Hebron Community Baptist Church.
The school year in the 1800’s was much different than what is typical today, as was the organization of classes. The schedule was often affected by the weather and farming needs. Courses started fresh during the terms to accommodate short-term students who arrived from farms or workshops. There was a college-prep track, and a non-college-prep track (girls were not going on to college). Some students were as young as 10, while others were 30 year old war veterans. Enrollment varied widely depending on the term. Early subjects included Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, and Italian, English, mathematics, geography, history, natural sciences (anatomy, physiology, mineralogy, astronomy, botany, natural philosophy or physics, and chemistry), civil polity, logic, rhetoric, mental philosophy, English grammar, parsing, Webster’s dictionary, and English composition. Debating was an important activity for many years.
The school was not organized into classes and students did not officially “graduate.” Those planning to attend college studied until they felt they had prepared enough to pass a college entrance exam. Many Academy students went on to Dartmouth, Harvard, Bowdoin, and Colby. The school began official commencement exercises in 1878. Celebrations were quite different, too. Before the advent of television, radio, motion pictures, or public address systems, people would listen patiently for hours to “live” speakers and performers. Commencement exercises would last all day, with dozens of speeches and music recitals.
Around 1913, girls’ registration at the school began declining. By this time, several hundred Maine girls were attending “normal schools” for teacher training, and they did not need a high school diploma to enter these schools. At the same time, free public schools were improving. In the spring of 1922, only 36 girls registered. After graduation that year Hebron Academy became a boys’ school.
When World War I arrived, at least three faculty men resigned to enter the war and several students enlisted. Many alumni also fought in the war. Harold T. Andrews (1914) died in the battle of Cambrai in 1917, and was the first Maine boy to die in the war. A Portland post of the America Legion carries his name. Philip Frothingham (1915) was killed in an airplane accident in France and the Portland post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars bears his name. World War II had a far greater impact on the school. Twenty-eight students left school in 1943 to join the armed forces. In May of that year, the school closed and would remain closed until 1945.
The story of Hebron is often the story of dedicated individuals--trustees, headmasters, teachers, and others--who devoted their lives to the school and its students. Hebron owes its longevity and in part to its founders who were certain and clear about the school’s mission, and to many others who have guarded the school’s mission. William Sargent. Among the most revered was William Sargent, Principal from 1885 to 1921, 36 years in all. Sargent led the school into the 20th century and oversaw the school's physical expansion. Many buildings that stand across campus today were constructed during Sargent's era. He played a strong role in the everyday guidance of students and was known as someone who was truly devoted to Hebron and to educating boys and girls.