Old Miller Place Academy

Footnotes to Long Island History

Old Miller Place Academy



Thomas R. Bayles


          An educational landmark in Brookhaven town a hundred years ago was the Miller Place academy, which was organized and built in 1834.

          A meeting of the residents of Miller Place was held on April 8, 1834 “For the purpose of Taking into consideration the building of an academy in this village.”  At that meeting a committee was appointed to circulate a subscription paper, and the appointed men were Samuel Hopkins, Charles Miller, Conklin Davis and Thomas Helme.  A meeting held May 17 in the same year appointed a building committee consisting of Nathaniel Miller, Thomas Helme, Joel Brown, Charles miller, Samuel Hopkins, Charles Woodhull and Horace Hudson.

          Fifty-six shares were subscribed at a value of $25 each, and each shareholder had as many votes as he held shares.  The shares were mostly taken by the people of the village, but among the original stockholders appear the names of Thomas S. James, Benjamin Strong and Samuel Thompson of Setauket, Caleb and Albert Woodhull of New York city, John Roe of Patchogue, and Nathaniel Tuthill of Greenport.

          The building committee, who were empowered to “circulate a subscription academy, pay off the bills and complete the work,” promptly went to work and engaged the services of Isaac Hudson of Middle Island to erect a two-story building, which is still standing.  The cost of the building was $1,600, and it was completed and school opened on November 1, 1894, only seven months from the date the first meeting was held.  Frederick Jones was the first principal.

          The need for such an institution must have been appreciated by the residents of the surrounding villages as well as those of Miller Place, and in 1835 at the opening of the second term, the students included Joel L. G. smith and Moses R. Smith of Smithtown, and Floyd T. Floyd of Mastic.

          The academy was the pride of the residents of Miller Place, for they had invested not only their money, but also their hearts in the enterprise, and their reward came in seeing their young people well educated for those years, and fitted for the various positions in life they had chosen.

          Orlando Hand of Amagansett was one of the pupils in 1839, and he was taken there at the age of 13 by his father in his buggy and boarded at the home of Colonel Charles Woodhull, who lived opposite the academy.  Five boys boarded at the hospitable home of Colonel Woodhull and his wife, Aunt Polly, who was a noted housekeeper.  Their only son, Merrit Woodhull, was a student at the academy, and in later years became a steamboat captain on the run from New York to Savannah.  Two brothers of the Colonel were prominent men in New York.

          The principals of the academy were mostly young college men and their terms of service were usually not very long, although J. Bryan Marshall taught for ten years.  As public schools improved, the usefulness of the academy passed, and the winter of 1867-1868 was the last term for the school.  From 1902 the lower room of the building was used for a public school, until the present schoolhouse was built a few years ago.

          During the 34 years of its operation the number of pupils attending the academy varied from 25 to 60.  Tuition was $10 per term, and the out-of-town boys were boarded in local homes for $1.50 per week.

          In 1839, $100 was appropriated “to purchase chemical, philosophical and mathematical instruments.”  The trustees at the annual meeting in 1859 decided that “algebra, navigation and surveying shall be included with the languages for $10 per term.”

          The roll of students at the academy included the names of many who in later years became prominent in Suffolk county.  Among these are the names of James H. Tuthill, county judge and surrogate for 10 years; of whom his biographer says, “James won distinction in the Miller Place academy, where he studied for three years.”  Benjamin K. Payne, recognized as the father of the Suffolk county bar, Edward L. Gerard of Yaphank, Charles S. Havens, for several years Supervisor of Brookhaven town.  Dr. Charles S. Robert and John S. Robert of Mastic.  Robert R., James W., and John F., sons of William Sidney Smith of Longwood, Dr. Gilbert Swezey of Yaphank, T. Benjamin Wood and Elliott R. Smith of Smithtown and Benjamin F. Jayne of Setauket.

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