Hampton Academy Celebrates Bicentennial

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Old-fashioned Fun is Theme of the Day

By Melanie Gray

Hampton Union, Tuesday, June 22, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Above: Brenda Shepard, Russell Merrill and Stan Knowles ring the school bell.
[Melanie Gray courtesy photo]

HAMPTON -- When Principal Dave O'Connor and Vice Principal Andrea Shepard became administrators at Hampton Academy last year, the two realized that 2010 was a special year for the middle school.

"All of a sudden, we realized, 'It's the 200th anniversary.'" Shepard said. "It kind of took on a life of its own, and here we are."

Hampton Academy celebrated its bicentennial on Saturday, June 19 to the sounds of the oldies band The Spectras filling the air.

"This campus is absolutely a phenomenal campus, and we know things change, but we want to leave our mark on Hampton Academy for future generations, just like the prior generations have done for us," said Shepard of the decision to plant a tree on the front lawn in celebration of the anniversary.

"It's about celebrating the history of the place," said O'Connor. "Our society doesn't seem to value that much, so we like to take every opportunity we get."

O'Connor said the board of trustees, which was established in 1821, played a big role in the planning and funding of the celebration.

For eighth-grade language arts teacher Lorie Cotter, who has been teaching at the academy for 26 years, the bicentennial holds special meaning.

"The connections run deep," said Cotter, whose mother graduated from the academy in 1955. "It's a special connection because it's a family connection."

According to Cotter, her family was instrumental in the establishment of the school, and she said her great-great-great-great grandfather, Edmund Toppan, started the propriety school with the goal of competing with Phillips Exeter. In addition, her great-great-great uncle, Christopher Steven Toppan, started the endowment fund, and her great-great-great grandfather donated the land that the school is located on.

"I just think 200 years is remarkable for an educational institution, helping people to learn," said Shepard.

In keeping with the theme, the celebration featured an antique car display and a makeshift museum of Hampton Academy memorabilia, including trophies from field days, old school desks and photos of the school throughout the year.

An 1860s baseball game, in which players used a rag ball and a shorter stick than today's game, also took place during the event, along with a performance of the play "Fannie," by the James House players.

"It's a walk back in time," said Cotter.

Though alumna Brenda Shepard said the school has changed immensely since she graduated from the 8-room high school in 1950, one thing remains the same.

"It's just as clean as it was then," she said. "It just looks great. Hampton keeps up its schools."

A trustee since 1963, alumnus Russell Merrill, who graduated in 1944, said he was very pleased with the celebration.

"I've known much about the school throughout the years," he said. "It's been a wonderful time."

As the two gathered on the front lawn with two other former students, Nina and Stan Knowles, who graduated in 1955 and 1953 respectively, to ring the school bell that had been in the original building, Brenda joked that what made the celebration so special was that she was there to see it.

"Sixty years ago is a long time," she said.

The Spectras, with Richard Ray in dark glasses.
[Melanie Gray courtesy photo]

Essex Baseball Club members Brian Sheehy, Patrick Cook and Chris Sheehy.
[Melanie Gray courtesy photo]

James House players Steve Jusseaume, Loris Burbine and Skip Webb.
[Melanie Gray courtesy photo]
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