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Interesting Granby Grange Hall History

By Carol Laun, The Granby Drummer (May 29, 2021)

  JANUARY 20, 2023 --

The Elusive Academy in North Granby

Hunting history is a mixture of research, detective work and luck. A search for an elusive academy in North Granby resulted in finding not one, but at least four of them.

The files of the Salmon Brook Historical Society had bits of information about a school for higher education in North Granby, located near the First Congregation Church on North Granby Road. The school was confusingly called either the Granby Academy, the Granby North Academy, The Granby Central Academy or (for some obscure reason) the Plainville Academy.

A circa 1890 photo album yielded a pictured Granby Central Academy that tantalizingly resembled the present Grange building—but not quite.

Several months of research led to the records of the First Congregational Church, a book of Allen family papers compiled by Charles Allen, the diary of Eliza Ann Colton and the selectmen’s records. But the puzzle did not fall into place until a cryptic notation in our files was interpreted correctly and a newspaper clipping supplying the missing link of information was found by chance.

Public school education in the 19th century stopped at the eighth grade. Those desiring a high school education were sent to private select schools or academies.

The first North Granby Academy was built by Truman Allen in 1833. It was paid for by subscription and by issuing stock to stockholders. There was a very strong connection to the First Congregational Church. The church was a stockholder and the records of stockholder meetings were kept in the church records. Church leaders were instrumental in organizing and building the school. The Academy was there before the present church was built in 1834.

According to an 1855 map, the Academy was located between the church and the parsonage, but to the rear of both. The original parsonage, now gone, was located on today’s Stratton Road. This location fits other documentation. At that time the road between the church and the parsonage did not exist and horse sheds were also located behind the church.

Jefferson Cooley, Granby native and Yale graduate, was the first teacher. Luther Allen paid him $1.83 in 1834 for seven weeks tuition and fuel. Tuition was $3 a quarter.

The diary entry of Eliza Ann Colton for March 25, 1834, states “attended an examination in the Academy, heard Watson speak a peace and all the Gentlemen spoke peaces, the ladies read compositions. At noon the Gentlemen laid a cornerstone to the new Meeting House.” Eliza Ann lived at 249 Granville Road and her brother Watson was a student at the Academy.

The school building was used for First Ecclesiastical Society business meetings until the new meeting house was completed. It was also used evenings for lectures and other meetings. Eliza Ann’s diary tells of attending an anatomy lecture in January 1835 given by Dr. Jairus Case; a February lecture on astronomy by Jefferson Cooley; and in March, a history lecture by Rev. Charles Bentley.

During the summer vacation of 1835, the Academy was finally completed. Twenty-nine citizens subscribed amounts ranging from $10 from Deacon Bethuel Holcomb to 50 cents from Hiram Chapin. Most of the men gave $5.

The Truman Allen papers include an expense list for completing the school. Although no pictures exist, the list provides information about the physical appearance of the Academy. There was a cellar for $12, partitions for $8, chimney for $3.62½, fence for $3, three doors, plaster walls and the aptly named “necessarium” or outhouse cost $5.37½. 

Also in 1835, the stockholders of the Granby Academy met and elected Cullen Hayes as chairman, Anson L. Holcomb secretary and Levi Rice treasurer. They voted “the Prudential Committee be directed to act discretionary with regard to procuring a teacher and use of building for the year ensuing.”

Although many select schools were for one sex only, the Granby Academy was co-educational. The students in 1835 included 15 girls and 15 boys. Most were local students, but some came from other towns and boarded in the area.

The Connecticut State Library has a “Catalogue of Granby North Academy 1837-1838 Oliver S. St John, Instructor.” The list of 16 girls and 17 boys indicates 26 from Granby and others from Hartland, West Hartford, Haddam, Sharon, Southwick, Mass. and Elizabeth R. Baldwin from Forest Lake, Penn. On the back of the program is a farewell poem from the teacher.

Willard Griffin of West Granby was the teacher in 1844. Truman Allen paid him $1.50 for half of son Henry’s tuition and $2 for 2/3 of son Lewis’s tuition plus 50 cents for fuel (wood).

By 1859, the Academy was in need of repair and the prudential committee, or board of trustees, tried to solicit funds for this purpose. They were evidently unsuccessful, because in 1861 the stockholders debated whether to repair, rebuild or sell the school. They also considered building a room in the church basement for a school.

Finally, a decision was reached and on May 19, 1866, the Academy was auctioned off to Harvy Godard for $26. Godard owned the cider mill, grist mill and sawmill at the Crags in North Granby. What disposition Godard made of the building was a mystery, until the chance discovery of a 1934 newspaper clipping provided the answer. It was moved to 264 North Granby Road and attached to a Colton family house. Later, Edward R. Rice lived there and the house (including the old Academy) burned to the ground around 1930.

In 1868, Rev. Thomas D. Murphy came to the First Congregational Church. Sometime in this period (1868-1871), the second floor of the parsonage (now torn down) was used as a select school. By 1872, Murphy was teaching a different select school on the second floor of the library building in Granby Center (this building later was South Congregational Church and burned in 1917).

However, in 1871 the Granby Central Academy Association was formed under the leadership of Levi Rice, Jr. He lived on Creamery Hill Road, was the father of 12 children and was eager for a school. The association bought ¼ acre from Albert S. Wells on the northeast corner of Sakrison and North Granby Roads for $25.

Again, money was raised by subscription to build the school. Watson Colton, who attended the original Academy in 1835, was involved in building the Granby Central Academy in 1871. His account book lists such items as foundation brick, 8,500 shingles for $56.98, front door for $25, eight windows and frames for $72, window blinds for $60, three small windows, four inside doors, blinds for the tower, a front circular window and 14 sheets of roofing tin.

The Granby Central Academy was located north of the present Grange building, directly across from Stratton Road. Jennie Griffin of the Hungary section of Granby taught there several years. The school yard was fenced in 1878.

The Academy thrived for over 20 years, but interest apparently waned because in 1893 the building and furniture were auctioned off. The historical society has a poster listing “One large desk and chair and 27 school desks and chairs to be sold.” The school building was sold to Albert Latham and William Stults for $200. They, in turn, sold it to the Town of Granby for $300 to be used as a town house or town hall.

The town voted in 1893 to “fit up the building this fall suitable and convenient for town purposes.” In 1896 it was voted to build a “suitable fence around the Town House and also to build a water closet.” 

The building was again used for a “Special School” in 1899, with the permission of the Town. School trustees had to “put the room in condition for school use and restore it for town use at the close of the year, free of expense to the town and in good condition.”

The historical society has a program for the closing exercises of the Granby Select School in 1901, so it seems the town continued to allow this use of the town house. 

The differences in construction between the old Granby Central Academy or town house and the present Grange, were explained by a note in the history files saying the town house burned in 1901. Selectman records verified this fire, which took place in November or December of 1901. 

The voters of Granby promptly decided to build a new town house on the same site. The building was to be 30 by 40 feet with a 10 by 28-foot addition. The planner was local carpenter Albert H. Gillette. 

The new town hall was under construction in 1903 when plans were amended. Voters decided to enlarge the anteroom to 16 by 30 feet and equip it as a school and build a “suitable woodshed” outside the building. “Said room always to be subservient to town purposes.” The building was finished in the summer of 1903.

In 1905 and 1906 the town hall schoolroom was used as a public-school ninth grade. This is the last recorded use of the building for a school. Granby high school students were then bused to Simsbury High School.

The Grange started meeting in the town hall in 1929 and about 20 years later, they bought the building. It was raised and moved a little south to a new foundation with a cellar to provide a basement dining room and kitchen. 

The building was no longer needed for a town hall because, in 1947, the Granby Memorial Consolidated Elementary School was built and the town hall was moved to the old 1st District School in Granby Center. That building later became Old Town Hall Kindergarten until summer 1992, then was used by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and now belongs to South Church.

It is a rare and happy experience to tie up all the loose ends of research on a specific quest. This saga of the select school search ends with the discovery of three different buildings used as academies (plus the second floor of the old parsonage). For nearly 75 years Granby parents built and subsidized private high schools because they believed in the importance of education.


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