Monadnock Moments No. 20: Chesterfield Academy
The New Hampshire Register of 1810 lists the Chesterfield Academy as one of only twelve academies in the state. Academies, private secondary educational institutions, were virtually the only means of obtaining a secondary education in New Hampshire at the time.
The Chesterfield Academy had actually, been founded in 1790 and was the first academy in this region of the state. It had an excellent reputation during its early years, being ranked second only to Phillips Exeter.
Between 70 to 100 students were generally in attendance. They were usually local residents, but many came from Vermont and Massachusetts. The by-laws of 1806 set rules and regulations for the academy. Tuition cost 25¢ per week and unexcused absences were to be punished by a 25¢ fine for each day absent. Students were forbidden to use indecent language, to keep cards or dice, or to visit public houses. They were also to keep themselves neat and clean and were not to dispute or contradict the principal.
Many students went on to distinguished careers after their stay at Chesterfield, including several who became prominent lawyers and doctors. Some of the more famous graduates included Reverend Hosea Ballou, pioneer of Universalism; Dr. Horace Wells, inventor and pioneer in the field of anesthesia; famed surgeon Amos Twitchell; and Governor William Hale.
The school realized its greatest prosperity during the 1820s when Chester¬field was one of the leading towns in the county with two hotels, six stores, and a population greater than that of Keene. Public high schools began to predominate in the middle of the nineteenth century, however, and academies began to lose their importance. The Chesterfield Academy continued on for many years, but after 1850 it lost the previous prominence which had made it one of the most distinguished educational institutions in New Hampshire.