25 September 2019

Reading Academy - Flemington High School

William S. Drake - the son of Hillsborough farmer and Democrat politician JVD Drake - was a well-known building contractor for thirty-five years from the 1930s to the 1960s. He built many buildings in Hillsborough and throughout Somerset County during his long, productive career. He was also one of the founders of the Montgomery Volunteer Fire Company and was involved with many civic activities. But for our purposes, we will remember him as the last Hillsborough student to attend Flemington High School.

The Reading Academy, Flemington, NJ.
Upon his death in 1853, Flemington resident Daniel Kennedy Reading left $10,000 in his will to build a school. The school, known as Reading Academy after its benefactor, was finally built in 1862 and began taking high school students in the 1870s. This made the Reading Academy one of the first public high schools in the area, with the first class graduating in 1880. Students came from all over central and south Hunterdon County, Branchburg Township, and even Hillsborough. Over the decades the school on Bonnell Street was expanded, but eventually was too small and outdated and needed to be replaced.

The new Flemington High School constructed in 1915.

A new high school on the same property was dedicated on December 17, 1915. According to a report in the Courier News, the two-story brick building was planned to include:

"On the first floor of the building will be stenography, typewriting, bookkeeping, history, principal's room, teachers' room, English, miscellaneous, library and auditorium with gallery. The auditorium will have a seating capacity of about 800. On the second floor of the building will be the lecture room, laboratory, mathematics, general study room, language, and two rooms unfurnished."
Which brings us back to the young Mr. Drake. In July 1925 the Hillsborough Township Board of Education voted to approve the transportation of all high school students - including those attending Bound Brook and Flemington - to Somerville High School. JVD Drake - who incidentally was on the Hillsborough School Board at that time - was able to carve out an exception for William to stay at Flemington, where he was a star left tackle on the football team, through December 1, 1925, with the Hillsborough Board of Education continuing to pay tuition to Flemington until that time.

When Mr. Drake continued to send his son to Flemington beyond December 1, a court battle ensued over who would pick up the tuition with the Hillsborough Board of Education prevailing.

Flemington High School graduated its final class in June 1956, after which students attended the new Hunterdon Central High School.

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