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Ashfield school exhibit

The school exhibit includes memorabilia related to Sanderson Academy and the various one-room schoolhouses that were once scattered throughout the town.

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Watson schoolhouse around 1898. (Howes Brothers Photograph).

Sanderson Academy was established by the Rev. Alvan Sanderson in 1816. He supervised the school for only a year before his death. His will left a fund for support of the school. Mary Lyon (founder of Mt. Holyoke College, the first institute of higher learning for women in America) entered the school as a pupil in 1817, was afterwards employed as teacher for several years, and eventually served as principal. At first, Sanderson Academy occupied a building across from the Ashfield House. (The original building, much altered, still stands, but is in a different location.)

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The first Sanderson Academy around 1898. (Howes Bros. photograph.)

By 1877 activity at the school had slackened off. The building was still in use, but usually as a private enterprise or storehouse. At that time, Professor Charles Eliot Norton and George William Curtis spearheaded an effort to raise funds and awaken interest in the neglected institution.

As part of the fund-raising effort, Charles Eliot Norton organized a series of dinners, the Ashfield Dinners as they were called, that brought famous speakers to Ashfield. The food was provided and cooked by local people, with tables set with the finest china and linen of local families. These events became famous nationwide and for a period of 25 years from 1879 to 1903 the dinners supported Sanderson and provided lively discussions of world events and issues of the times.
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The second Sanderson Academy. Built 1888, burned in 1939. (Howes Brothers Photograph.)

In 1887, a bequest from John W. Field of Philadelphia, who spent summers in Ashfield, allowed a new building to be built. This became the second building to house Sanderson Academy. That building burned down in 1939. In 1940, a third building was built to house Sanderson Academy, and in 1954 it became necessary to add on more rooms to that building. Finally, in recent years, a fourth building has been built to carry on the traditions of Sanderson Academy.