A Brief History of Brooks Academy
Sidney Brooks was born in Harwich in 1813. He was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, and went to Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. After graduation, he taught at Chatham Academy. In 1843 he began plans to establish a private academy in Harwich. There was no public higher education beyond the elementary level in place at that time.
The school was to be built in a pine grove opposite the First Congregational Church. The architect for the project was Sidney’s cousin, Luther Gifford. The plan was for a restrained and elegant Doric-style Greek revival building. After teaching all day in Chatham, Sidney worked, mostly by moonlight, laying out the grounds and walkways and selecting the trees to be removed.
The ceremony laying the cornerstone for Pine Grove Seminary was held August 3, 1844. In the cornerstone, under the northeast corner, was deposited a glass jar containing the names of the building committee, copies of Cape and Boston newspapers, and a list of the original subscribers. Subscribers each had bought shares in the school to finance its construction.
The Seminary opened December 14, 1844 with 45 students, mostly from Harwich. The two-room school was presided over by Sidney Brooks, and an assistant Samuel Miller. The school was open to both sexes and offered courses typical of a high school curriculum at that time. The school year consisted of four quarters of 11 weeks each with two weeks of vacation between terms. Higher mathematics, at $4, including surveying and navigation, was the most expensive of the courses offered. English, French, Latin and Greek were also offered, as were piano and drawing. Students boarded with local families for $1.25 to $1.75 per week.
In the schoolroom there was a large blackboard at the south end, and blackboards filled the space between the windows on both sides. Compasses, quadrants, chronometers, surveyors’ chains, and such were kept for student use. An opening in the south wall housed a sundial to aid navigation pupils in working out equations of time, etc.
Initially the building’s exterior was white but was later repainted lilac with white trim. Many trees, flowers and shrubs were planted.
In 1869 Pine Grove Seminary was sold to the Town for $1,000 and operated as a private school until 1880. In that year Harwich High School was established in the building. The Class of 1884 was the first to have a formal graduation ceremony. The building served as a high school from 1880-1937.
In 1909, at a cost of $650, a one-story addition, 20’x26’, was added to the south end of the building.
In 1927, during the addition of two rooms to the west side, the cornerstone was opened and the contents of the time capsule were found to have turned to dust. Brooks Academy was closed from 1940-1952. It was reopened in 1953 as an elementary and junior high school due to a substantial increase in the school age population. The building was closed permanently as a school in 1963 but was used as office space by the town for several years. In 1988, Harwich residents voted to designate Brooks Academy a town museum. The building is now home to the Harwich Historical Society, which preserves, collects and exhibits Harwich history.
Brooks Academy is located in the Harwich Historic District, the first historic district on Cape Cod to be accepted into the National Register of Historic Places.