In 1863, the year Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn was founded, the American Civil War was raging. Queen Victoria was on the throne of England and Alexander III was “Tsar of all the Russias.” Four years earlier, Charles Darwin had rocked the foundations of scientific and religious dogma with the publication of “Origin of the Species,” and four years later Karl Marx would similarly shake the economic order with his publication of volume one of “Das Kapital.” It was twenty years before the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, and travel to Manhattan was by steam ferry and, within Brooklyn, by horse-drawn trolley. On the home front, business was booming and good schools were much in demand for the sons and daughters of the prospering middle class.
Two teachers at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute – Aaron Chadwick and Dr. Edward S. Bunker – decided to resign their jobs and take advantage of this burgeoning market by setting up a school for boys. They opened in February 1863, under the name Adelphi Academy. (The word “adelphi” translated roughly from the Greek as “brotherhood,” but the origin of the name almost certainly comes from the first location of the school at what is now 412 Adelphi Street.) It is not recorded why Chadwick and Bunker became disillusioned with their venture, but toward the end of the first term they decided to return to Polytechnic. They had gathered a student body of sixty boys.
Enter John Lockwood. A Columbia graduate, gifted in mathematics and astronomy, Lockwood was also a literary man who had served as editor of the Brooklyn Home Journal and written a well-received series of articles on astronomy for the New York Tribune. A Quaker, he nevertheless volunteered for the Union Army and served with the 23rd Brooklyn Regiment against Robert E. Lee in Pennsylvania. In 1863, Lockwood decided to merge his diverse talents in the role of educator.
“I bought the furniture and took my chances,” he wrote. “In September following, I opened it with eleven boys — if my memory serves me — some eight of whom were a legacy from the Chadwick and Bunker school. The name ‘Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn,’ I retained.”
The school was operated under the joint proprietorship of John Lockwood and Truman J. Ellinwood, a graduate of Dr. Dio Lewis’ Normal School of Physical Culture in Boston, who instituted a program of calisthenics — then unusual — in keeping with Lockwood’s philosophy that education should encourage parallel development of body and mind. These exercises were, according to the 1867 catalogue, “light, elastic and graceful” and “no less pleasing than useful.” They were considered vital, along with rigorous academics, to the formation of disciplined, moral values, which was a key goal of Lockwood’s program.
As Charlotte Morrill, who wrote a history of the origins of Adelphi, said of Lockwood, “In his scheme of education, character was the thing placed above everything else. This was the rock on which he built and the great secret of his success as a teacher.”
In 1869, Adelphi received a certificate of incorporation from the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York. A twenty-four member governing Board of Trustees was organized and the corporate seal and motto “Life Without Learning Is Death” (copied from the Derby School in England) were registered.
Despite the acquisition of two more buildings adjacent to the original one on Adelphi Street, the Academy’s rapidly expanding student population required more space. Plans were made for the construction of a new building at Lafayette Avenue and St. James Place, financing to be undertaken by a committee of leading Brooklyn citizens led by Charles Pratt (later founder of Pratt Institute) and supported by renowned preacher/orator Henry Ward Beecher (brother of author Harriet Beecher Stowe) and newspaper publisher Horace Greeley. The committee began necessary financial and legal proceedings in May 1867, and in February of the next year the new building was ready for occupancy by the academic department.
At the laying of the cornerstone on July 23rd, 1867, Beecher, in his address, took up the then-controversial subject of coeducation. His remarks presaged the admission that year of young women to the Adelphi preparatory department — the first high school in the New York metropolitan area to do so.
“It seems that no man can give any reason why a woman should not be educated as well as, and in the same respect which, a man is educated,” Beecher said. “…I hold that boys and girls instructed together, exercise, even in childhood, that reciprocal and beneficial restraint on each other which God designed that they should exert when they become mature and stand in their places in society.”
Adelphi continued to grow. A western wing was added to the Lafayette Avenue building in 1873 and an eastern wing in 1889.
In 1888 a building on Clifton Place, given to the school by Charles Pratt, was completed. This building, which contained the first gymnasium in the city, made possible the enrollment of all classes of the Academy on the same premises. Pratt also aided the school by endowing a scholarship fund and a number of prizes for academic excellence. After a fire damaged the Lafayette Avenue Building in 1889, he arranged for Adelphi to temporarily use three apartment buildings while the burned classrooms were being repaired.
Colonel Homer B. Sprague, who was installed as headmaster in 1870, is reported to have invented and first put into action at the Academy the system of fire drillsnow in use worldwide. He stepped down in 1875 and was succeeded as Headmaster by Stephan Gale Taylor (1875-1883), Albert Cornelius Perkins (1883-1892), John Samuel Crombie (1892-1893) and Dr. Charles H. Levermore, who guided the institution into the twentieth century (1893-1909).
In 1884, in cooperation with Pratt Institute, Adelphi opened the first Kindergarten in Brooklyn. Although it was allowed to lapse at various points in the Academy’s history, the Kindergarten reopened in 1975 and is currently flourishing.
Adelphi also claimed another first, this time on the national level with the establishment in 1904 of Kappa Sigma Epsilon, an honorary scholastic society for the secondary school. In 1916, Adelphi was invited to join the national society Cum Laude. The Cum Laude Society still functions at Adelphi with new members inducted on an annual basis.
In 1891, enrollment at Adelphi reached a peak with 1,291 students. At this time the Academy was sharing its building with Adelphi College, which was incorporated as a separate entry by the New York Regents on June 24, 1896. Although both institutions retained their separate identities, Dr. Charles Herbert Levermore served as Headmaster of the Academy and President of the College through his tenure. A single Board of Trustees administered both institutions until 1925, when separate Boards were established. Four years later, Adelphi College (now Adelphi University) moved to its present location in Garden City, New York and the separation was complete. The Academy and the University enjoy a special relationship to this day.
Not unlike the present day, the 1890s were a time of great unrest in the world of education. Under the rubric of progressivism and experimentation, reform flourished, and Adelphi under Dr. Levermore was one of the leaders. Chief among Dr. Levermore’s innovations was the introduction of language study — German, French, Latin and Greek — on a lower grade level. It is worthy of note that these courses emphasized conversation and vocabulary rather than grammar, again a decidedly modern approach.
Another innovation was the correlation of studies in English, History, Geography and Natural Science. This sounds remarkably similar to “The Adelphi Plan,” initiated by Adelphi in 1984. For instance, under Dr. Levermore’s plan, a student would learn the geography, zoology and botany of Europe and Asia. Then he/she would read, in his/her English classes, historical stories of European and Asian countries. The plan is currently still in use at the Academy today and has been strategically refined for the modern student by current Head of School Ms. Iphigenia Romanos.
During Dr. Levermore’s tenure, biology was introduced into the collegiate course and textbooks on all grade levels were modernized. A plan was also evolved for broadening the collegiate program to prevent over-specialization in classical or scientific studies unaccompanied by sufficient training in the humanities.
With the disbanding of the collegiate department in 1904 came the discontinuance of such advanced subjects as logic, psychology and astronomy. The high school set out to provide a broad college preparatory curriculum, which included studies in English language and literature, ancient and modern languages, mathematics and science. Although there have since been numerous changes in curriculum, this is essentially the philosophy which has been followed to the present day.
Demographic and other changes contributed to the declining enrollment at the Lafayette Avenue location in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By 1965, only 300 students were enrolled in facilities originally designed for 1,000. This was a plant that had been described in Harold Amos’ day as having “…in addition to sixty-three classrooms, a visual education room, two art studios, three offices, four faculty-student conference rooms, a woodshed, a wardrobe room, a sleeping room, fourteen rest rooms, a printing shop, a sewing room, two cooking rooms, four lunch rooms, two student newspaper offices, a student hospital, a rifle range, two outdoor playgrounds, a large auditorium, a two-story field house and twenty-three acres of playing field.”
In announcing the move away from Lafayette Avenue in 1965, Headmaster Edward M. Hathaway stated, “…Constantly rising costs of building maintenance as well as steadily increasing payroll expenses demonstrated clearly that we must either be a very large school here (at our present location) taking all comers, regardless of quality, or go to quarters better suited for a limited student body of higher caliber. We have decided to do the latter.”
Since 1965, Adelphi has continued its traditions at 8515 Ridge Boulevard in the historical Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, New York. Formerly the Kallman Home for Children, the five-story building that now houses the school had been used as a clinic by Lutheran Medical Center before being leased and purchased by the Academy. In addition to five floors of offices, classrooms and labs, spread out over three separate but attached buildings, a basement floor contains a spacious cafeteria and a library of over 25,000 volumes. The regulation size Dr. Edwin N. Beery ’27 Gymnasium with 70 x 100 feet of playing space was added in 1978.
Yet again in 1987, the Adelphi community called for growth and change. At the time demographic trends – the baby boom of the baby boomers – made it an ideal time to expand the lower school. Under the leadership of Board of Trustees Chairman Henry D. Chandler ’37, the new building consisting of five classrooms, office and storage space, bathroom facilities and an art gallery opened in 1990.
More recently, Adelphi has made some of its most technological advances and upgrades, including: new computer facilities, a state-of-the-art science laboratory, a theatre, building and campus renovations and upgrades and newly established offices and student centers.
In 2003, Adelphi debuted a new and exciting educational program: Adelphi’s Project Succeed for College Bound Students with Special Needs.
In 2013, Adelphi celebrated her 150th Anniversary and an incredibly innovative and shared history and partnership with her sister institution of higher education Adelphi University.
In 2015, Adelphi celebrated its 50th year of service as a part of the historical Bay Ridge community and continues the growth of some of the Academy’s exciting new programs, including Adelphi’s International Scholars Academy, the Academy’s Theater Arts Program and a college credit-bearing program for students with Adelphi University.
More than a century and a half after its founding, Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn is a healthy, superior institution of learning and an exciting place to be. As a founding member of the Coalition of Essential Schools it remains in the forefront of educational reform.
Clearly, traditions of excellence are being carried forward. As they have for more than 154 years, Adelphians are making their mark on the world!