A Page from North Quabbin History: Remembering New Salem Academy

  • New Salem Academy football team, 1925. File photo

  • Blackboards inside the old New Salem Academy. File photo

  • New Salem Academy buildings in New Salem. Staff file photo/Paul Franz

  • New Salem Academy buildings in New Salem, MA. Paul Franz

  • New Salem Academy Museum building in New Salem, MA. Paul Franz

  • New Salem Academy building in New Salem, MA. Paul Franz

Published: 8/15/2022 5:34:57 PM
Modified: 8/15/2022 5:31:29 PM

In 1795, Samuel Adams, then governor of Massachusetts, signed the charter that created New Salem Academy, according to Daniel Hammock, New Salem Academy Class of 1968 and New Salem Academy Trustee. “We were the ninth academy in the United States,” he said.

The reason for forming the academy, according to Eleanor McGinnis, whose late husband, Paul McGinnis, was in the Class of 1949, was a lack of district teachers. “There was a lack of district school teachers in the towns around New Salem. New Salem itself had six district schools It was difficult to find that many school teachers and other towns were the same,” she said.

By 1810, the school was facing a financial struggle and applied to the state for a grant. Rather than receive financial assistance, the state gave the school a piece of property in Maine that they could sell. Several intrepid travelers from New Salem went to Boston and sailed up the coast to Maine to inspect the property, with several of them founding what is now Houlton, Maine, according to Hammock.

The school over the years thrived, offering a college preparatory track, and in 1915, according to Hammock, adding agricultural, home economics and eventually automotive tracks and continued to thrive.

Students from more than 10 schools attended the academy, according to Chet Lubelczyk, New Salem Academy trustee. Among the towns whose students attended the school were not only New Salem residents but also students from Hardwick, Belchertown, Warwick and the lost Quabbin towns. There were two dormitories in the center of New Salem for those students living further away, according to McGinnis.

Lubelczyk, a 1962 graduate of the academy, remembers New Salem Academy’s agriculture teacher coming to his school in Hardwick when he was in eighth grade. “The principal invited anyone interested in attending the school to come to his office. Six students came in and five (of us) ended up attending the academy, ” he said.

Lubelczyk said he was an athlete, playing on both the baseball and basketball teams at the academy.

“I had no intention of going to college until an Agriculture teacher and an English teacher persuaded me to go. I went to Stockbridge for two years. Then two professors talked me into going to university. I joined the ROTC and I got a degree in animal science. I did not know at the time it was one of the hardest degrees to get. I graduated and spent 21 years in the Air Force and then became a logger,” said Lubelczyk.

Hammock has memories of being part of the agricultural track as well, including one particular Future Farmers of America (FFA) meeting. “The meetings had to be run according to Roberts Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procedures. The only parliament that I knew of was in England. So I raised my hand and said, If I promise not to go to England, can I just not learn this parliamentary stuff?” He continued, the club advisor responded the club would continue to use Parliamentary Procedures but that he did not have to that day as he could go to the office. “Since then, living 50 years in Erving and serving on various boards, the Parliamentary Procedure knowledge is the most useful thing I have learned in my life. It moves along meetings while ensuring the meetings are fair to everybody and run in an orderly fashion,” he said.

“My late husband, Paul,” said McGinnis, “learned an amazing amount of mechanical education there. Lots and lots of boys learned to fix their own cars and build their own houses and the basis for that education was New Salem Academy,” she said.

Those in vocational tracks were also involved in competitions. “There was poultry judging, cattle judging and an automotive troubleshooting competition. Chrysler would make something wrong with a car and students had to figure out what was wrong with the vehicle. Those on the automotive team attended several national competitions,” said Hammock.

As for the atmosphere at the school, McGinnis said, “There was a very positive atmosphere there. It was a very pleasant place to go to school. It was very small and intimate. Everyone cared about each other, ” said McGinnis.

Among the famous alumni of the school were Harriet Giles and Sophia Packard, founders of Spelman College.

New Salem Academy closed in 1969; however, the academy buildings are still in use today. The Stowell building, originally the agricultural building, is now town offices. The current fire station was once the automotive building.

A third academy building located in New Salem center has been designated as a National Treasure. The building was built in 1909 after the original building at that location was destroyed in a fire. When the old building was destroyed, neither the town nor trustees had enough money to build a new school. To solve this dilemma, citizens came together and donated lumber for the building. Thus, rather than the building being timber framed, it is built with stack plank construction with each wall constructed of 5- to 6-inch-wide boards laid on top of each other. “It is the largest stack plank building in the United States. That’s why it is considered a National Treasure,” said Hammock. Currently on the second floor of that building is the New Salem Academy Museum, which houses artifacts related to the school.

The proceeds from the sale of the academy property to the town were invested and proceeds from these investments are used to this day provide educational scholarships to descendants of any student who attended New Salem Academy, as well as grants for educational and cultural uses, said Hammock.

Reunion: Sept. 9

Every year, the alumni of the school hold a New Salem Academy reunion. This year’s reunion will be held at the American Legion in Orange on Sept. 9 at 5 p.m.


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