It Takes a Village

by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
July 19, 2022

Corner of South Street and Madision Avenue, 1874

In Summer 1861, construction began on a new school in Morristown, the Morris Female Institute. Eight local builders and masons were contracted to erect the three-story building on South Street: Cyrus Pruden, Silas Norris, Ira J. Lindsley, Oswald J. Burnett, Silas D. Cory, Edwin L. Lounsbury, William G. Sayre, and Joel W. Muchmore. A 60-page contract in the Morris County Heritage Commission’s archives  signed on July 19, 1861 describes in (extremely) fine detail the work that was to be done by the local men. Adding yet another layer of insight into the community endeavor are four daybooks from one of the builders, Ira J. Lindsley, recently donated to MCHS by his descendant, the Reverend Canon James Elliott Lindsley.

August 1861 page in Ira J. Lindsley’s daybook. Lindsley began work at the “Seminary” early that month and the rest of his team gradually joined him.

According to the daybooks, Lindsley and his partner, Silas Norris, had a nine-man team working at the institute (“seminary”) throughout August and September 1861. In that time, their men clocked the equivalent of 204 days at the school with further work continuing into the Fall. That December, Lindsley noted the receipt of the fourth of five expected payments laid out in the contract, which was to be delivered when the building’s windows were installed and trimmed. The final dated entries in the books labeled “seminary” were made on January 22, 1862 adjacent to notations regarding “St. Domingo mahogany” rails, balustrades, and an octagonal newel post— matching the very exact specifications of the contract.

Mary Crane’s geography book from the Morris Female Institute

Work was to be completed by April 1862, and the school welcomed students from near and far that May. Mary and Julia Crane of Acorn Hall were some of the earliest attendees and a textbook in MCHS’s library lists their classmates on one of the pages. Most were Morris County girls who likely attended as day pupils, but the institute operated as a boarding school as well. John Hone, another of Ira Lindsley’s neighbors on Morris Ave. served as its first Vice-President. One of Lindsley’s last major projects before he volunteered for the Union army and left for service, the school lived on for 50 years, first as the institute and then as Miss Dana’s School for Young Ladies from 1877 to 1912.