“We are standing on the grounds of the Caledonia County Grammar School, later to become Peacham Academy — really an integral part of this community for over 150 years,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “We’re going to go chat with Frank Miller, who attended Peacham Academy — and also happens to be the vice president of the Peacham Historical Association — so we’re going to head up to the site of the original building.”
“The residents of (the then-new) Caledonia County were scrambling to decide who’s going to get the courthouse and who’s going to get the school,” Miller said. “And Peacham decided to seek the grammar school because they knew that if the population was exceeded in another town, they’d lose the courthouse. They got the charter from the legislature in 1795, and the school was open for business in 1797.
“Now, the original school was actually up on top of the hill here. In those early years, Thaddeus Stevens was one of our students here; he, of course, was key to the abolition movement (as a Congressman from Pennsylvania). Having people from surrounding communities here every day really kind of grew the vision of the people of town as to what the world might look like.”
“Peacham Academy long predated most other academies that you could find in New England as being co-ed,” Mike Hoey noted. “The private school I attended in western Massachusetts was boys-only until 1971, and Peacham Academy had it beat by a very long time.”
“The academy accepted a co-ed population of students for most of its history,” Miller said. “In 1843, it was time to replace (the original school), and they decided at that time to move it right here. The academy really took off in the early 1900s, and that continued until about 1965. Financial realities started to impact the school, and by 1971, they were no longer viable.
“I actually went to junior high there in ’66, and (my high school) graduating class was ’71, the last one. The academy closed; they had a big auction. In 1976, a big fire started in the belfry of the academy and burned it down.”
“Most of these buildings were associated with the academy,” Perkins added. “And it wasn’t just kids from Peacham, right? I mean, there were dorms here; kids were living here.”
“In the ’60s, because of the financial pressures, they made us shift to have a boarding student population, Miller said. “So, suddenly, we had many students from Massachusetts, Connecticut, but also as far away as Texas and Colorado. This building behind us was the gymnasium. It was originally the Methodist church in Peacham that was converted.”
“And there’s still a gym on the top floor,” Perkins said. “It’s the town hall.”
“The boys’ dormitory was built in 1963,” Miller continued. “That’s the long building at the top of the hill. That was the science building; that was built in 1965. And then, on this side, we have the Alumni House, and that was the girls’ dorm (with) a couple of classes (inside) like home economics, and it was where the cafeteria was.”
Perkins asked, “If people do want to visit and learn more about Peacham Academy, how do they do that?”
“We are online at peachamhistorical.org,” Miller answered. “Our facilities are open throughout the warmer months on Thursdays — Thursday mornings — and appointments can be made.”