One of the useful and cherished institutions of Mercer, and one
which did much to stamp its youth with proper conceptions and laudable
ambitions for life’s great duties, was the old Mercer Academy. Around
its name cluster some of the most precious memories. Though the material
structure is entirely gone, there being, as in the case of that grand
structure of the Jewish people--the Temple, not “one stone upon
another,” the fabric of character and intellectual training which it
wove in the days of long ago still remains, an imperishable heritage. Many
a youth looks back to his alma mater with all the pride that ever
characterized the loyal sons of the ancient and highly endowed
institutions of more highly favored times and localities. Mercer Academy
still lives in the labors of her children. This institution was
established by virtue of an act of the Assembly passed on the 30th of
March, 1811. The act stipulated that the annual income should not exceed
$2,000; that poor children should be taught gratis, and that the name
should be Mercer Academy.” An appropriation of $2,000 was granted by the
State for its erection. The records seem to have been lost or destroyed,
and hence but an imperfect sketch can be presented. The first account of
actual work is shown in a report of the following trustees, viz.: Rev.
Samuel Tait, Joseph Junkin, Frederick Menner, John Hamill, Hugh Bingham,
Robert Patterson, Dr. Epaphroditus Cossitt and T.
S. Cunningham, made March 10, 1820, and covering the period from
the 30th of March, 1811, to the 31st of December, 1819. It was published
at the time in the Western Press.
To State appropriation, $2,000; to interest on same to December 31,
1819, $1,016; to donations from former trustees, $65; total, $3,081.
By investment in N. W. bank, Meadville, $1,000; by amount paid Thomas
Templeton for building Academy, $1,500; by balance on hand, $581;
This report reveals
the cost of the structure, and the name of the contract or, one of
Mercer’s honored citizens. At the same time Rev.
Tait, Hugh Bingham and Mr. Cunningham
advertised for a person “capable of teaching reading, writing,
arithmetic, the mathematics and geography.” Who responded to this call
is not known. The academy proper did not open until some time afterward.
The first principal was Prof. John Kelley. He
was a good mathematician, but no linguist. He must have commenced as early
as 1824 or 1825, and continued until about 1830, when he was succeeded by Prof.
D. B. Cook, who was assisted by his wife, Mrs.
Mary Ann Cook. In an advertisement found in the Press of the 28th
of July, 1832, Mr. Cook gives some idea of the rates of tuition, and line
of studies pursued. The following is the tuition per quarter: Reading,
$1.50; writing and arithmetic, $2.00; algebra, surveying, navigation,
rhetoric, mensuration and bookkeeping, $3.00; Latin and French, $4.00. Mr.
Cook was succeeded in 1834 by William M. Stephenson
and a Mr. Matthews, the former in charge of
the English and the latter of the classical department John
Keck was president of the board that employed them. In December,
1835, Mr. Stephenson alone was in charge of
the institution. After a vacancy of about a year, Rev.
D. H. A. McLean, then a student in the theological seminary, at
Canoneburg, was secured, his work beginning in May, 1837. During the
winter months the academy was idle, be spending his time at the seminary,
but returning in May, 1838, to resume his work. Mr. McLean was succeeded
by Rev. Mitchell and an associate, who seemed
to be unable to work together harmoniously,
and finally separated. The board likewise was divided. After they
had been in charge a short time McLean taught a third short term in the
summer of 1839. He leaving, they secured the services of
John W. Duff, a recent graduate from Jefferson College. After Duff
the principalship devolved upon Rev. D. R. Harper,
D. D., then a student in theology. Rev. G. C.
Vincent, D. D., now located at Latrobe, Westmoreland County, became
his successor. He was pastor of what became the First U. P. Church, of
Mercer, and remained in charge of the academy for several years. The
following named gentlemen were also connected with the academy as
principals or instructors: Hon. Samuel Griffith, J.
L. Rogers, William A. Mehard, G. W. Zahniser, Hiram Leffingwell, J. T.
Smith, J. R. Wilson, William Butler, John Armstrong, William Dickson, Miss
Marsh, Miss Greenfield, Mr. McCune and William
The site of the
building was Lots Nos. 249 and 250, lying north of East Market Street,
between Otter Street and the diamond. On the 17th of March, 1849, a
meeting was called at the court-house to take steps to erect a new
building. Hugh Bingham was chairman and William
F. Clark, Sr., secretary. Messrs. Stephenson,
Garvin and Patterson were appointed a committee to prepare an
address to the public on the necessity of such a step being taken. The
address was read at a subsequent meeting. It urged the erection of a new
building, in very decided terms; the scheme met with opposition, and was
finally abandoned. The old structure was from time to time repaired
Finally, by act of the Assembly approved 13th of May, 1856, the Mercer
school district was formed with the view of establishing a union school. Joseph
Kerr, Samuel Giebner and William M.
Stephenson were appointed commissioners to sell the academy
property. The sale was made, Levi Jones being
the purchaser, July 8, 1857. By him it was sold July 19, 1864, to John
W. Parks. On the 15th of April, 1865, it was repurchased by Jones,
by whom it was deeded on the 13th of January, 1868, to Mrs.
Clarissa E. Jones, in consideration of $2,000. The building was
burned down in January, 1879; but in the language of an American
statesman, “the soil still remains.”
Time would fail to
give a full list of the men who, at various times, acted as trustees of
the academy. It would embrace the names of such men as Rev.
Samuel Tait, Frederick Menner, Joseph Junkin, John Hamill, Hugh Bingham,
Robert Patterson, Dr. E. Cossitt, T. S. Cunningham, Andrew Patterson,
Jonathan Smith, John Keck, Samuel Holstein, J. L. Dinwiddie, James
Thompson, William M. Stephenson, Joseph T. Smith, William T. McAdam, B. F.
Baskin, Samuel Giebner, William Stewart, D. W. Findley, A. H. Snyder,
Samuel Woods, John Forker, John Carnes, Henry Forker, John McGill, James
Sheriff, Andrew Harsha, etc.
In like manner the
list of students who have attended the old academy would be a formidable
one, embracing a large portion of the prominent families of the town of
Mercer and other parts of the county. It would not retract from the honor
of having once been a student within its walls to be reminded that it had
afforded educational facilities to Dr. George
Junkin, Rev. D.X. Junkin, Judge J. J. Pearson, Hon. John A. Bingham, and
others of State or national reputation. The old Mercer Academy is gone,
but the young people of today are afforded excellent educational
facilities in the public schools of the town and country. If they shall
improve their facilities as care fully as their ancestors did at the
“academy,” the State will not be destitute of true men and women.
The present Public
Schools date their origin properly from the sale of the old Mercer
Academy, as related in the previous portion of this sketch. The money thus
accruing, the commissioners thus appointed were permitted to augment by
borrowing a sum not exceeding $5,000 for the erection of a suitable school
building, the one now used . The board of directors of the school
district were required to support a school at least ten months in the
year, for the education of all youth from five to twenty-one, “in the
branches of a complete English and classical education; but all students
pursuing classical studies may be required to pay the prices usual for
such branches in academies or private schools; also for those branches
denominated ornamental, such as painting and drawing and instrumental
music;” and it was further declared that “foreign modern languages may
also be taught in said school, but to be considered extra, and to be paid
for by the persons receiving instruction in them.” The projectors of the
common schools of Mercer were liberal in their plans for securing more
than the mere English elements. The principal building was erected in
1867, at a cost of some $15,000. It is a brick structure, three stories in
height, and situated so as to command the town and surrounding country. A
second structure, a two-story brick with two rooms, was erected in 1875,
at a cost of about $4,700. The following have served as principals of the
schools: David Rambo, A. J. Warner, Charles Beemis,
J. G. White, David Blakeley, Robert Murry, John Albin, Robert McFeeter,
Rev. G. Kerr, H. R. Stewart, James C. Graham, Miss Callie G. Forrest and
George H. Lamb.
of Mercer County,
1888, pages 363-365.