by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
January 16, 2024
At the close of the 18th century, there was a new school on the block: the Morris Academy. Organized by 24 local individuals including Gabriel Ford, Caleb Russell and Moses Estey, the institution offered a range of courses and gained an esteemed reputation across the state and nation. Over its tenure, the Morris Academy fostered education among generations of youths through the support of its community.
Opening in November 1792, the Morris Academy was among the first in the area to provide a classical education with a particular focus on preparing its students for college. Indicative of its early success, enrollment increased from its inaugural class of 33 pupils to 269 only two years later – 196 boys and 73 girls. During this time of expansion, the school raised funds for improvements through annual plays performed for the public, whose attendance often contributed to profits of over $200. Despite these successes, upon the opening of Morristown’s first public school, Maple Avenue School, in 1869, the Morris Academy closed its doors.
However, soon after its closure, plans were initiated to ensure that the academy would reopen. By 1878, it merged with the town’s Library and Lyceum, selling the academy’s property on South Street to the Library and Lyceum with the guarantee that rooms would be created for the purpose of the school. Benefitting from its location inside the new community hub, the Morris Academy occupied spacious accommodations on the first floor. Desks for its 24 pupils, now all-male, lined a main room which was adjoined by recitation practice areas. Surrounding them were the library’s 50,000 volumes, a number that only increased heading into the 20th century.
The Morris Academy continued its education of local youths until February 22, 1914 when a devastating fire broke out in the Library and Lyceum, destroying the building and much of its contents. Despite the library’s reconstruction in the years following, the academy permanently closed. However, for over 100 years and with the assistance of its community, the Morris Academy shaped the lives of its students, leaving a legacy that extended far beyond classroom walls.