The following Worcester Evening Gazette article of Thursday, Feb. 12, 1959 copied a parts of Headmaster William S. Piper’s letter that was sent to the “The Friends of The Academy” which touched on highlights of the school’s then 125 year history.
In it, Piper wrote that the Academy “was founded in 1834 as the Worcester County Manual Labor High School, and 13 years later the present name was adopted. The Academy then went through a series of trials that several times brought the school to the brink of abandonment.
“In 1854, the first site, a 60 acre farm on what now is Main Street was sold by the trustees. They bought the abandoned building of the American Antiquarian society at Belmont and Summer streets. For the next 10 years, the school was conducted on what would today be considered an extraordinary and eyebrow raising basis: the principals received a pittance for pay and were given a free hand to charge whatever tuition they could get, pay the expenses, and pocket the profit.
“At the close of the Civil War, the trustees moved to close up shop, but friends rallied and somehow the Academy stayed open. In 1869, Isaac Davis, president since the founding, bought the present site including the building now known as Davis Hall. The structure, then 17 years old, had been built as a medical school by a doctor who wanted to reform the practice of medicine. He died almost immediately (perhaps of self-treatment) and the building was purchased as a Ladies Collegiate Institute. This vanished in the panic of 1857, and the building’s next use was as a Civil War military hospital.
“Principal William C. Poland, 22 years old, presided over the move to the abandoned hospital. “It was a cold winter,” he reminisced later, “and I remember that the unoccupied parts of our big building were very chilling to my enthusiasm.. (Friends) urged me to make the building my monument; but I tended at times to become disillusioned, and to whisper that I feared it might become my sepulcher.”
“Somehow the Academy struggled through a succession of cold winters. In 1882 the principalship went to Daniel Webster Abercrombie, a frail-looking young man with hair parted exactly in the middle and a moustache that looked as if it were there to stiffen his upper lip. As it turned out, young Dr. Abercrombie was as tough as a steel spring and his lip was stiff enough to carry him through 36 years of amazing accomplishment.
“Over and over again during those years he engaged in titanic battles of will with tough, belligerent Joseph H. Walker, president of the board. Abercrombie would propose vast improvement, and Walker would shout, “Impossible!” Then the principal would discreetly imply that the president probably couldn’t handle it after all, and Walker would charge into the problem like a roaring bull. The strange partnership first tackled renovations, than steam heat and electric lights. Walker Hall was dedicated in 1890. Dexter and Adams Halls followed two years later. Year by year Dr. Abercrombie pushed his beloved Academy along. In his 36-year tenure, the school grew from 76 students to 317.
“He was also an inspiring teacher, and brought to the Academy new ideas of democracy. Private schools in those days were almost exclusively for the sons of the well-to-do. Dr. Abercrombie didn’t like that lack of means alone should not be a deterrent to entrance.
“After his retirement in 1919, Worcester Academy continued to prosper. However, debts incurred for buildings had not been paid off; in a prosperous era, banks were content to ask interest payments only and let principal ride. With the crash of 1929 and the Bank Holiday of 1933, the economic roof fell in. The loans were called in, the school’s cash seized to apply against them, and (as one trustee said), “There we were, without funds and without the ability to borrow- and obligated to furnish schooling to 200 boys.”
“This was a time when loyalty was put to the acid test. The alumni conducted an emergency drive for funds, and made a compromise payment on current bills. A centennial appeal was also conducted. The Bank Commissioner and Attorney General were lenient, and the Academy kept going. It took 15 years more to do it, but the trustees and one anonymous donor eventually wiped out the mortgage and put the school back on the track again.
“Since then Worcester Academy’s economics have been managed with skill and good sense by the trustees under the leadership of Presidents Warren A. Whitney (1935-43) and F. Harold Daniels, and Treasurer Warren G. Davis. Everyone felt that the Academy must prove to the alumni-having once appealed to them so desperately- that the school could be conducted with wisdom, and advance steadily. This we feel has been done.
“In the last five years there have been a number of plant improvements and renovations, although no major effort has been undertaken despite many manifest needs. Enrollment is now at 350, an all-time high, which testifies to the school’s growing reputation as one of the leading preparatory schools.”