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History of Proctor: Origins

Over the past year, a History of Proctor slideshow has been enjoyed (at different times) by faculty, parents, trustees, students (in assembly) and alumni at Reunion. Over the next few weeks, we will post an amended version on this site. This week's installment is entitled Origins.

The school that was to become Proctor Academy was conceived in the living room of attorney Samuel Butterfield, on Main Street, Andover, in the spring of 1848. It was here, in a sewing circle--a gathering of ladies whose business was as much chatter and gossip as needlecraft--that Mrs. Eliza Butterfield shared her strong conviction that the village of Andover needed a school for its growing population of children. So convincing was she, and so animated did the ladies become, that Mr. Butterfield--who was a member of the Governor's Council--was motivated to draw up papers of incorporation.

The second floor of the old Union Church in the center of the town green was deeded to the corporation; citizens raised money to floor over the balcony, and Mrs. Butterfield donated the desks, chairs and chalkboards necessary to run a school.

One hundred and eight students enrolled at "Andover Academy" in September, and within four years the population grew to 252. But this was the largest enrollment the school would enjoy for the next 100 years, for most of the history of this school is not one of prosperity, but of financial struggle bordering on desperation. In 1855, a smallpox epidemic forced the school to close, and over the next three decades the school repeatedly opened under the auspices of new, different religious organizations.

In 1857, it opened as the New England Christian Literary and Biblical Institute. In 1860, it became the Andover Christian Institute. In 1865, the school in Andover was closed, and opened in Wolfboro as Wolfboro Christian Institute.

This brings us to John Proctor. The son of the village blacksmith, John Proctor left his hometown in 1822 at the age of eighteen to seek his fortune. He started as a second hand sledgeman at an iron mill in Rhode Island. But by the time he returned thirty-five years later, he had invented the threaded wood screw; he owned the controlling interest in the American Screw Company, and he had a fortune in the bank. He dedicated the remaining twenty-six years of his life to building up the Town of Andover. By 1873, within a mile of the town center, he had built or renovated twenty-six residences, stone dams to power a saw mill and a grist mill, the municipal building known as Proctor Block, the Proctor Cemetery and a stage coach shed. His greatest passion was not the school (which he helped return to Andover debt-free,) but the 125-room Proctor House hotel, located on the site of Maxwell Savage Hall.

Over seven highly successful seasons, the Proctor House placed Andover on the map as one of the elite tourist destinations in the north country. Patrons--many of them from Cambridge and Boston--took the Great Northern Railroad to Andover Station (now the site of the softball field) and rode up Lawrence Street in grand coaches drawn by six horses. Here is a view into the front parlor of the Proctor House which is decked out for the holidays:

With Proctor's support, the academy building was improved and a coal-heated dormitory was built on the site of Gannett House.

In 1879, the Unitarian Church sought to establish a school "free from...theological dogmatizing and unnatural religious methods." Andover was a hotbed of Unitarian thought, and the citizens approached the denomination and facilitated purchase of the property. On September 1, 1881, the school opened under the name Proctor Academy, in honor of its most generous benefactor. Unfortunately, Mr. Proctor did not believe in fire insurance, and when the Proctor House went up in flames in 1881, his years of philanthropy were done.

The next chapter in this history will appear Friday, June 30.

With the railroad coming through town, Andover needed a school for its growing population of children. The village was a staunch outpost of Unitarianism.
While students from distant states attended while boarding with local families, the school first served the people of Andover.
A postcard of the old Union Church, the original home of Proctor Academy. The bell in the belfry had been forged by Paul Revere.
North Street. What we now know as Slocumb Hall was a livery stable for coaches serving railroad passengers.
John Proctor. Many of the buildings he constructed or renovated became school property, including Carr House, where he lived, and the Head's Residence, which was his brother William's home.