13 February 2018

The Neshanic Institute

It was December 1869 and the Reverend Peter Davis "P.D." Oakey wasn't feeling well. The well-known fifty-four-year-old clergyman of both the Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian denominations on Long Island decided to resign his position at the Presbyterian Church of Jamaica, Queens, and relocate to rural New Jersey for his health.
Ad from 1873 Our Home Magazine

What Oakey's Queens congregation may not have known was that earlier that year he had begun to organize a boys boarding school in Neshanic with the intention of beginning the first term in September 1870. Reverend Oakey was no stranger to New Jersey.  He was born in New Brunswick in 1816 and graduated from Rutgers College in 1841. After a three-year divinity course at the theological seminary in New Brunswick, he was assigned to his first pastorate at the Brookville Reformed Church in Oyster Bay. He moved to the Presbyterian Church in Jamaica in 1850, serving there for nearly twenty years, while also helping to start the church in nearby Springfield.

Detail from 1873 map

The site Reverend Oakey chose for his Neshanic Institute was on a hill overlooking the Raritan River near where the Lehigh Valley Railroad bridge would be built two years later.  Despite the religious background of its principal, the Neshanic Institute was non-sectarian. 

Rare postal cover addressed to a student at the Neshanic Institute, 1872

Not much is known about the school itself other than what can be gleaned from ads that ran in the New York Tribune and other publications. The school was touted as offering the "superior advantage of a good home; pleasant, healthy location; solid instruction."

Neshanic Station 1873 map

According to the 1876 Commissioner's Report on New Jersey Schools, during the previous year, there was one female and two male teachers for the seventeen students - all boys - and there had been nine graduates entering college after the close of the last academic year.

2 September 1874 New York Tribune

Reverend Oakey also found time to preach at the Three Bridges Reformed Church between 1873 and 1876 - the year that he was called back to the Springfield, New York church that he had started years earlier. He closed the Neshanic Institute at the end of the 1876 school year, and the building later was converted to a private residence. Unfortunately, it burned down sometime in the early decades of the 20th century and is not at all remembered today.

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