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Meservey Hall: a history

BY JASON ALEXANDER ’13

Standing for 155 years, Meservey Hall remains the historic center of scholastic life at New Hampton School. It has endured numerous phases of structure and function. The revered building has weathered both renovation and destruction, but Meservey’s core has maintained a significant presence in community life. Over the decades, continual attention has been paid towards keeping Meservey fully updated and surpassing the needs of the School. As we reflect on its rich history and promising future, the brick front of Meservey stands as a poignant metaphor for New Hampton School and its evolution.


2 The fire of 1935

1 Chapel Hall Chapel Hall, the original building, was constructed in 1858. A new three-story brick front formed the main part of Chapel Hall, and the existing wooden village church was annexed to become the back wing of the building. Chapel Hall was the third building constructed on the campus of New Hampton Literary and Biblical Institution (NHLBI), after Hamptonia Hall and Randall Hall. Students prayed daily in the chapel, and since the male and female students were not allowed to interact, they kept to separate sides of Chapel Hall. The space was usually busy, holding laboratories, libraries, and classrooms. The 16 rooms were designed with high-quality standards, agreed upon to be convenient and pleasant to use, and unsurpassed in the region. At the time, NHLBI was a six-hour ride from Boston and well-connected with New England universities. Approximately 100 students graduated each year. Generous patrons and the School invested in upgrades over the next few decades, adding to the teaching capabilities of Chapel Hall. Scientific equipment, collections of geological and biological specimens, and an attractive library were added. A new museum held stuffed birds, minerals, biological material, shells, fossils, and Native American artifacts. By 1903, new steam heating and electricity made the building more comfortable. However, from 1904 to 1910, Chapel Hall underwent massive renovation. The 13 rooms focused on science labs with running water for extensive experimental work, offices, and modernized classrooms. In autumn of 1910, the state-of-the-art building was officially renamed to be the Meservey Building, commonly called Meservey Hall. This was in honor of recently deceased Principal Atwood Bond Meservey. The NHLBI was renamed New Hampton School in 1925. The extensive scientific curriculum in Meservey’s classrooms covered Zoology, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, and Anatomy. Further renovation in 1930 expanded Meservey’s uses to the athletic realm. It sported a gymnasium with lockers and showers, fulfilling a 20-year-old need for a new gym. In addition to games, the students convened in the gym for school meetings, theatrical and musical performances, social dances, and commencement exercises.

Meservey Hall caught fire the night of May 1, 1935. Faulty wiring sparked a dangerous blaze, fanned by the wind, that consumed the wooden back section. The New Hampton, Bristol, and Ashland fire crews siphoned plentiful water from the pond-fueled hockey rink. They were able to protect the rest of Academic Row from being harmed, but only the brick front of Meservey was saved. Meservey lost its Belfry—its bell became a “melted mass in the ruins”—along with the labs, most scientific equipment, and facilities. The great loss of most of the building resonated in New England; the Boston Herald even picked up the story. Sympathetic companies immediately met to amass the funds to rebuild. Alumni living as far away as a missionary serving in India and a 91-yearold Californian sent gifts to rebuild. Meservey Hall was repaired by the end of 1935.

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REV. A.B. Meservey

Reverend Atwood Bond Meservey, born in 1831, hailed from Maine. Meservey was ordained after attending New Hampton, Bates College, Brown University, Bowdoin Medical School, and Andover Theological Seminary. In 1862, he began teaching math and science at New Hampton, until he became the School’s Principal in 1868. Meservey worked tirelessly and devotedly for 30 years in this position. An intensive scholar, he led a trend of teaching bookkeeping and economic accounting, publishing textbooks on the worldly subject, and stimulating a Commercial College department. He impressed and inspired, keeping an “affable disposition” with “phenomenal tact.” Meservey’s grand lectures and clear vision inspired great respect in his personality and abilities. He died from kidney disease in 1901, three years after finishing his career as Principal. Respected and treasured for his memory, Meservey’s work had a lasting effect on the School’s health, growth, and trajectory into the 20th century.

3

Rebuilding

The transformed Meservey Hall lived up to its old claim to be “the center of student life,” an academic, athletic, and social hub. The laboratories were restocked with experimental equipment and outfitted to teach. An indoor running track was installed in the back section of Meservey, along with jumping pits, boxing and wrestling rings, with practice space for basketball, tennis, badminton, and baseball. In 1942, the School formed an accelerated Wartime Program to train willing students, using Meservey’s facilities to improve their fitness and readiness for the world. A large trophy and lounge room housed clubs and provided a popular space for students to relax. In 1947, the School invested in a new assembly hall with a modern motion picture theater. This auditorium replaced Meservey’s old chapel. New technology helped teach through educational films, but the more exciting use for the “thoroughly-modern” projectors was to show students new amusing motion pictures every Saturday night. After the 1950s, as the School’s campus grew and newer buildings sprung up, the uses of Meservey slowly dwindled to only classrooms and offices. The Frederick Smith Gym, complete in 1961, made Meservey’s gym into a temporary secondary practice space. There were plans to convert it into a dining hall, but Frederick Smith Hall was expanded for this purpose while McEvoy Theater provided a better auditorium. In the past decade, the science labs moved to the Pilalas Center, and the History Department remained in Meservey Hall’s aging classrooms.

Want more Meservey? Follow progress as the restoration nears its completion in the Spring of 2014 at www.newhampton.org/meservey.


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Future Plans Academic Row currently includes a construction site. Cranes, bulldozers, and crews are chipping away at the most comprehensive restoration of this historic building yet. Scheduled to be completed by Summer 2014, the Meservey Restoration will provide a new home for the History Department and the Academic Support Program. Historically, Meservey Hall has been home to the math and science departments. With the dedication of the Pilalas Center in 2009, these two disciplines moved next door on Academic Row, creating an opportunity to restore Meservey Hall into a home for two critical departments. The front portion of Meservey will be restored in keeping with its original, historic style. The front doors will be opened once again as the main entrance and create a welcoming entry. The back wing of the building (pictured above), a major campus transformation, will allow a connection to the inner campus and provide supporting exterior spaces and walks. Follow progress as the restoration nears its completion in the Spring of 2014 at www.newhampton.org/meservey.

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Meservey Hall: A Historical Look  

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