Nine Partners School

In 1794, the New York Yearly Meeting appointed a committee of 25 to establish a school, with a first meeting scheduled for January 13, 1795. On May 1 of that year, the group purchased a house and ten acres from Joseph Mabbet, a Quaker from Connecticut, for 1600 pounds. A down payment of 214 pounds was made by a donor group consisting of Tripp Mosher, Isaac Thorn, William Thorn, Joseph Talcott, Shadrach Richetson and Jonathan Deuel. On December 20, 1796, in Mechanic, New York (currently in South Millbrook),to serve the children of nearby Quaker families, the facility opened under the name of Nine Partners School, founded as the state’s first co-educational boarding and day school. The school’s first superintendent was R. Tripp Mosher and its first principal Jonathan Talcott, a children’s book publisher. The school began with a total of one hundred students, 70 boys and 30 girls between the ages of 7 and 15. Jacob Willets, one of the first pupils on its opening day, ultimately became the head teacher in 1806 and taught until 1828. Willets authored an atlas and textbooks in geography and arithmetic, which were extensively used throughout the academic day. He and his wife Deborah, also a former pupil, taught grammar and mathematics, and together became head teachers who significantly advanced the success of the school during its early years. Another teacher was Lucretia Coffin Mott, also an attendee as a former pupil from1806 to 1810. While there, she met teacher James Mott, son of one of the founders, whom she married in 1811. Lucretia became a teaching assistant and went on to become a leader of abolition and women’s suffrage campaigns. Also during that era, a notable student of the school was Daniel Anthony, who would become the father of Susan B. Anthony, another famed early advocate for women’s voting rights.

Friends Academy and Oakwood Seminary

In 1853, the school and its land were sold to a private party who kept it until 1863. In 1857, the New York Yearly Meeting was eager to open a boarding school in Union Springs in central New York. Later that year, on September 1, a property southwest of the town of Auburn was purchased for $9,842. Under the name of Friends Academy, classes for grades 1-12  launched on May 11, 1858, with only four boarders and twenty day students, later that year changing its name to Friends Academy. On March 23, 1876, the school officially changed its name to Oakwood Seminary, the name derived from the massive oak grove on the grounds. The school offered regular classes with, at extra cost, optional courses in areas such as commerce, literature and science, with the addition of biblical classes by 1896. Around the same time, the school dropped its lower grades and offered grades 8-12 for both boarding and day students over the age of twelve.

In 1915, English teacher Eliezer Pattington was acting head of school while the board searched for a permanent replacement. In 1916, William J. Reagan was appointed Principal of the school, consisting of sixty-one students. His first months were far from easy, as on January 2, 1917, a fire damaged the upper levels of the main building, to the extent that the board needed to give considerable consideration to the future of the school.

Oakwood School

In 1918, the board decided that, in view of the fire damage and the declining population of Quakers in the Union Springs area, the school needed to be relocated. Following a final graduation in 1920, the school was moved to the 75-acre Coleman Farm in Poughkeepsie, New York. Its first day of operation was on September 28, 1920, with a total of one hundred and twelve students from grades 1-12, of which under half were Quaker. Although proper, code-compliant buildings were not ready for opening day, the school made do and quickly reorganized to comply with the regulations of New York State.

The large racehorse stables were converted into the Main Building, with the upper floors made into the girls’ dormitory. The doors had no knobs and the stairs between the floors were yet to be built, with wooden ramps used for the first months of operation. The Meeting Room, as it is known today, was called the Assembly Room and was nearly completed the first year of school. However it was soon realized that the room violated a building code, which mandated a several-inch drop of the floor (and explains why the windows are up so high today!). The Assembly Room was redone in 1965 and renamed the Meeting Room, with nearly 30 years passing before the Room was remodeled to include carpeting and laminate flooring.

The summer of 1920 saw the beginnings of a new 2-story building, but the school had insufficient funds to complete the construction. Instead, they attached World War I army barracks to both sides of the preexisting building, as noted in a 1921 article of the Oakwood Bulletin: “As temporary quarters for boys, two army barracks have been secured and are to be joined to a permanent, bell-built center. This will contain boys’ dormitories, apartments for teachers, and a large reading room for the boys, in addition to toilets, showers and lavatories.” Purchased directly from the US Government, the two army barracks were transported to the campus by train from Massachusetts.

The first building to actually be built by the school was Lane Auditorium, with construction beginning in March 1923 and an announcement that it would be named for Aaron H. Lane, the president of the board of managers. When completed in the autumn of 1924, and the school could not afford both plumbing and electricity in the building at that time, only electricity was installed, followed by plumbing in 1927. Serving as a gym until 1959 under the name "Fine Arts and Student Recreation Center," the named was changed back to the Aaron H. Lane Auditorium and has been used as a theater ever since.

The coming years saw steady growth of the campus. In 1927, a faculty cottage was built on the north side of the dining hall, also serving double-duty as the infirmary. In 1928 the Gulley House was purchased, renamed Henderson Cottage, and set up to house students. That same year, the structure later known as Craig Cottage was given to the school and the Assistant Principal, Ruth Craig, moved in the following year, with some students also housed. Also in 1928, the lower seven grades of the school were discontinued and the school served only grades 8-12.

1929 saw the addition of the boys’ dormitory – the so-called “Boys Barracks,” renovated with two wings replacing the old army barracks, could house sixty-four boys and all single male teachers. That same year, the Wallace Dempster Williams Library was conceived, opening early 1930 in the Main Building. That year saw other major enhancements, such as the construction of cement pathways and athletic fields, the latter created by mowing down the front hay field. The school had acquired the campus property as a farm, which to some degree was maintained and, in 1931, had “six cows producing 75 quarts milk per day, ten pigs, sixteen head of sheep and twelve lambs,” and was farming potatoes.  Pigs and lambs were cared for by students and sold at the end of each year.

In 1933, a landmark decision was made that created controversy between faculty, students, parents of students, and alumni alike. Yet, headmaster William Reagan was all in favor and took the major step of accepting the school’s first African American student, enrolled as an eighth grader who went on to graduate in 1938.

During the mid-30s, rows of maple trees were planted near the dining hall. When the hurricane of 1938 toppled the shallow-rooted poplar trees that lined the drive to the main building, board of managers president John I. Lane donated broad-rooted Schwedler maples to be planted in their place. These trees line the entire driveway, changing from a deep purple in the Spring to vibrant yellow in the Fall. Twenty years after the move to Poughkeepsie, the school underwent a major renovation that changed mostly the exterior of the main building, and the school store called “The Dug-Out” was created in the space that is the dining hall today.