Much of the early educational history of this county was made by
Mercer Academy, the first regularly constituted school in the county. The
legislature in the act of March 30, 1911, provides for an academy to be
called “Mercer Academy,” to be established in Mercer county. “Poor
children to he taught gratis, not exceeding five at any one time.”
The academy was not
opened until after 1820, though the building itself was completed by the
close of 1819. Thomas Templeton was paid $1,500 for constructing the
academy building. It was located on the north side of East Market street,
and the original building, after having been repaired a number of times,
and after having ceased to be a school house in 1856, was finally burned
in January, 1879.
Aside from the
state appropriation, the academy was designed to be self-supporting, that
is, the tuitions were to pay for the expense of maintenance. A price was
attached to each study, so much a quarter. Reading was $1.50, and the
other two R’s were lumped together at two dollars per quarter.
Many of the native
sons of Mercer county now of the generation that is passing attended the
old Mercer Academy. For over thirty years it was the leading educational
institution of the county. The old Greenville academy, the Gamble school
at Jamestown, and the academy at Sharon were each schools of influence,
but not one may he said to have had the standing of the Mercer Academy.
The successive heads of the school were: John
Kelley, U. B. Cook, William M. Stephenson, D. H. A. McLean, John W. Duff,
D. R. Harper, G. C. Vincent. Some of the ablest and most respected
citizens of the county filled the successive boards of trustees for the
academy, and among the students who at various times were within its walls
were some of the names that Mercer county most likes to honor.
The old Mercer
Academy was designed in some measure to supply the facilities of popular
education which the state at the beginning was unable to afford on a more
liberal plan. After the passage of the free school law of 1834 more
attention began to be given to the primary schools of the various
communities, and the importance of the old central academy of the county
somewhat declined. About 1850 the question came up about the erection of a
new building, and it was discovered that considerable opposition prevailed
to such a proposition, and the school continued for several years until a
more definite plan of organization could be found.
legislature, by act of May 13, 1856, created the Mercer independent school
district, with a view to establishing a union school. The old academy had
fulfilled its purposes, and the property was sold in 1857 and the proceeds
turned over to the school district.
What is now known
as the “old academy building,” where at the time of this writing the
principal county offices are located, was the principal school building
erected for the Mercer district. The old three-story brick structure on
the north crest of the Mercer hill has stood since 1867, and to most of
the men and women of the present generation who were brought up at Mercer
it stands out foremost in their recollections and associations of school
days. The original cost of this building was $15,000, and about 1875 the
other school building on the east side, a two-room brick, was built at a
cost of about $4,700.
Century History of Mercer County,
1909, Vol. I, page 93-95