13 October 2020

The Somerville Academy

On July 4th, 1801, in observance of Independence Day, some number of men from Somerset County gathered in Somerville to celebrate. Among them was Colonel Peter D. Vroom of Hillsborough and his nine-year-old son of the same name. The festivities of the day included public speeches - including one on the discovery of America given by the son of J.R. Hardenburgh, Esq. and one on the death of George Washington by young Peter.

Plan of Somerville showing the location of the Academy.
From the 1850 map of Somerset County

Colonel Vroom, who had served under Washington during the Revolution, was no doubt moved by his son's tribute to America's first president - but he was bothered by something. After the orations were complete, the men adjourned to the local hotel and the subject of education came up. Vroom and many of the others had sons between eight and twelve who were bright and would need to be educated beyond the log cabin schoolhouses of the rural county. They decided that day to establish a classical school - one where Latin and Greek, as well as the usual academic subjects, would be taught in preparation for a college career. On July 18th the group met again and adopted a constitution. Abraham Messler describes it in his book, "First Things in Old Somerset":

"[On] the eighteenth of July, at another meeting, a constitution was adopted, which provided for the erection of a building and the organization of an association aiding in its support and patronage. The preamble recites that 'whereas, an attempt made by the inhabitants of Somerville and vicinity, to raise by subscription in shares of ten dollars each, a sum sufficient to erect a suitable building for a classical school, had succeeded so far as to warrant the commencement of such building; that, therefore, it had become necessary to form a constitution for the government of the said association. The first article fixes its name as "The Proprietors of the Academy of Somerville", and defines it as an institution expressly set apart for the instruction of youth in the learned languages, the English, the arts and sciences, and public speaking.'"


At their December 1801 meeting, they fixed the price of tuition at $4 per quarter and authorized an additional $50 to attract a teacher. By March of the next year, the school building was nearly complete and the school had hired its first teacher, an Irishman by the name of Luca George.

Newspaper ads for the Somerville Academy from 1811, 1824, and 1833.

The only other "high school" in the area was the academy at Basking Ridge (known today as the Brick Academy). The school building was located on the west side of North Bridge Street (then called Jersey Street) between Main Street and High Street. Many scholars attended the school in the more than 50 years of its existence, including that nine-year-old boy - Peter Dumont Vroom - who grew up to be governor of New Jersey.

The school was discontinued in 1855 and the property sold to prominent landholder S.S. Hartwell.

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