Abbot Hall

Down the hill a bit the Abbot Academy buildings, grouped about the green circle and approached through the dignified Merrill gates, will attract attention. Abbot Hall, the original school building with columns, was erected in 1829. The school was founded by a group of Andover citizens, with assets consisting of a note for one thousand dollars plus one acre of land, given by Madam Sarah Abbot. From that time on the school has been an integral part of the life of the town. Changing and progressing with the years, it has entered upon its second century with the same high standards, assured of the loyal interest of a strong body of alumnae scattered over the world in places of responsibility and influence. (Historic Houses in Andover, Massachusetts, 1946.)

In fact, by 1835, or thereabouts, according to reminiscences on file, semi-annual examinations were held in the upper room of the Academy building, which was not until 1890 called "Abbot Hall." (Jane B. Carpenter. Abbot in the Early Days, 1959.)

Now comes upon the scene David Hidden, carpenter and contractor, who had come to Andover from Newburyport to erect buildings for the Theological Seminary. His old tally book, which fortunately has been preserved, is a valuable record of the growth of all the institutions on Andover Hill in the way of buildings. It gives such details as the cost of materials and the work of each man,--- a diagonal line for each working day of the week and a cipher for Sunday.

Under date of August 6, 1828, an item occurs which seems to refer definitely to preparations for constructing the new school house. "Began to look up Stuf for the Academy Window & Door Frames." (Ibid.)



Began to Work Statedly on the Academy Friday August 29, 1828. Raisd Oct 25th

myself 69-3/4 & 14-1/4 days
Mr. Parker 68-1/2 & 4-3/4 days
Mr. Holt 46-1/2 & 4-1/4 days
Mr. Berry 66-3/4 & 6-1/2 days


The old Academy Building, for many years always so called, was considered, when erected, one of the finest edifices in Essex County or even in the State. Such an opinion was confirmed in the Bailey era by an architect consultant. He spoke in admiration of it, as it must have been before it was moved to the present site from its original position facing School Street, and raised to introduce another floor beneath it. He felt its lines suggested a Bulfinch product.

In connection with the rebuilding in 1906, the problem had arisen of increasing the seating capacity of the upper room, which had been spoken of for a long time as the "Hall," long retained in the expression "Hall Exercises." This had been accomplished by the removal of one of the two small rooms at the rear, the historic "No. 1," for many years Miss McKeen's senior classroom. The tradition of "No. 1" as the senior classroom was preserved in the new McKeen Hall. At this time also the narrow stairway was made much broader, providing a more dignified approach to the assembly room, afterwards called the Chapel. But before many years expansion again became imperative. In 1918 "No. 2," the other room at the rear, was removed, and in 1928 a closet on the front side of the building, once large enough to hold a practice piano, was taken away and a window inserted near it for better lighting. It was after one of these noticeable changes that Alice Twitchell, Loyalty Endowment Fund Director and frequent visitor, brought a laugh on herself when she remarked at morning Chapel that this was the one place that had not changed since she graduated in 1886.

It was not until 1902 that the porch on the back of the building seen in the early pictures had been removed. To come now to the later history, important alterations took place on the ground floor. The large room on the southeast corner, which had been used for various purposes and more recently as a "kitchen," was properly equipped for a household science laboratory. Between that and the biology laboratory was a long narrow room formed from the old passageway and used for years as a carpenter's shop, but now closed for some time. As the great Centennial celebration approached, it became obvious that a regular office on the campus to house alumnae activities was a necessity, and in 1927 the old shop was transformed, by the addition of a section of the household science laboratory containing a window, into a sunny livable room with two windows and the old double doors facing the south. Now there was sufficient space for filing cabinets to be set up and widely separated boxes of records brought together and reorganized. Even more space was soon needed, if only for the work of mailing three thousand Bulletins. The next year another slice was taken off the household science laboratory and a good-sized closet installed. With these changes the Alumnae Office became a more adequate center for the many and varied operations connected with the Centennial, and for the regular alumnae routines thereafter. (Ibid.)

In the changes necessary to make room for Draper Hall, that great wooden building was very soon to be moved to the site where the Infirmary now stands, and Abbot Hall (then still known as the "Academy") was turned about from its original place toward the middle of the present "Circle," facing School Street. (Ibid.)

...the Academy Building was constructed in 1828-29. David Hidden of Newburyport employed three carpenters at the end of August 1828 and started work at that time. William Saunders of Cambridge also assisted and made the columns that support the front portico. The roof of the 70 foot by 40 foot edifice was raised October 28, 1828, and most of the interior was finished by spring. The building faced School Street when built.

When the school was opened on May 6, 1829, the upper story was not finished. There was a large central room on the first floor and a recitation room on either side. The room on the north side was for the children while that on the south side was intended for the older scholars. There was one broken stove which "heated" the entire area.

The back piazza was added during the period of Asa Farwell's superintendency, 1842 to 1852; not many other improvements were made over the first thirty to fifty years of the school's existence. A description of the facility as it appeared in 1859 is provided in the McKeen sisters' history:

"The Academy hall was a broad reach of bare floor; the monotony of the unpapered walls was broken only by masses of smoke left upon the plaster by candles in tin reflectors --- the only mode of lighting. The teachers' platform, over which Madam Abbot's portrait presided, was so narrow as to make passing dangerous, and the Principal was enthroned upon a higher central eminence, secured by a large desk or pulpit. The hall was furnished with heavy desks, each for the accommodation of three persons, whose chairs were set in stocks. One small bookcase contained the entire library of the Academy; a few minerals, a magic lantern, and the debris of what had once been scattering pieces of philosophical apparatus, and four or five outline maps comprised the whole stock of illustration in any department."

A major addition was made to the Academy Building in 1875 --- that being an observatory dome on the top of the building to accommodate a telescope purchased that year. This effort culminated a drive by the Latin Astronomy teacher, Miss Mary Belcher, and cost approximately $2400. The observatory was built as a cupola and the telescope was mounted on a brick pier which rested on the building foundation. In addition, a room was finished off in the attic with a huge lutheran window looking westward; this room also served as a studio in the summer months. The telescope was mounted in the fall of 1875 and was properly introduced to the students, faculty and citizens through twelve lectures on astronomy.

The Academy Building, estimated at the time to weigh 900 tons, was moved to its present location in the summer of 1888 by A. M. Ellis of Maiden. There were 200 screws, 300 rollers, 40 strands of rope, 5 capstans and five horses used during this move. The building was raised to the proper height, placed on a pivot at one corner, turned one quarter turn and then moved 200 feet. The operation was accomplished so smoothly that a vase accidently left on its bracket was found whole and in place after the move.
As part of this move, a basement floor was added to the building. This level was fitted up as a laboratory for Physics and Chemistry and was first used in November 1889. In 1890 the name of this edifice was officially changed to Abbot Hall in honor of the Academy's first benefactor. The back porch, shown in many pictures of the nineteenth century, was removed in 1902.

About the turn of the century the Abbot Trustees authorized the remodeling of this building to make it a Science Building so that the common usage of Graves Hall with Phillips boys could be discontinued. Physics and Chemistry labs were constructed on the second floor while Biology and Domestic Science labs were created on the ground floor. All rooms were well lighted and ventilated and were large enough to serve as lecture and recitation rooms as well. The building was connected to the central heating plant at that time.

The upper hall which had played such a vital role in the early life of the school was expanded during this rebuilding effort of 1906. One of the two small rooms at the rear of the hail, historic "No. 1" which was the senior classroom, was removed; "No. 2" was removed later --- in 1918 --- to provide more expansion. Finally, in 1928 the "closet" on the front side was removed and a window was installed for better lighting.

Further renovations were accomplished in 1907-08 to provide a larger observatory with a 5" Clark Telescope. The John-Esther Art Gallery which is discussed later was also added at that time.

Following the merger with Phillips in 1973 this building became idle. From 1978 to 1990 Abbot Hall and the John-Esther Art Gallery housed the Northeast Documentation Conservation Center --- a non-profit regional conservation center specializing in the conservation of library and archival material and art on paper. (Robert A. Domingue. Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. An Illustrated History of the Property (including Abbot Academy). Wilmington, MA: RAD Publishing, 1990.)