Phipps Union Seminary, Part 2

April 25, 2018

In my previous post I introduced you to Jeanie Torrey Wendell and the Phipps Union Seminary. This post gives an account of the history of the Seminary according to Hon. Isaac S. Signor’s 1898 publication, “Landmarks of Orleans County, New York,” This particular book contains a wealth of information for the early years of Orleans county, and a full copy is it available online.

My third great-grandfather, Abel R. Torrey, was an original donor to the establishment of the school, as noted below.

Following is an excerpt for Phipps Union Seminary.

PHIPPS UNION SEMINARY, 1837 – The founder of this once famous institution was Miss Caroline Phipps, daughter of Joseph Phipps, one of the early pioneers of Orleans county. She attended the district school at Eagle Harbor, and at the early age of fourteen taught her first school in Gaines Basin. In 1832 she attended the Gaines Academy and later the Nichols Ladies’ School at Whitesboro, N.Y. In 1833 she began a select school in the old Eagle Tavern building in Albion, on the lot where her seminary afterwards was built (now a part of the Court House Square), near where the county clerk and surrogate’s office now stands. She was an ambitious woman, with progressive ideas and great self-reliance.

In August, 1833, she boldly issued a circular letter announcing her intention of founding a female seminary in character similar to the famous Willard Seminary of Troy, N.Y. She met with considerable opposition from leading citizens, who believed it better to establish an academy for boys and girls. It was not until April, 1836, that a subscription of about $4,500 was raised for the purpose of founding the seminary.

The amount was loaned to Miss Phipps, who gave a mortgage on the seminary property and subsequently paid the debt in full.

Following is the original subscription, containing the names of many citizens who have been conspicuous for good works in Orleans county.

Alexis Ward, $200 Franklin Doty, $100 James Stevens, $100 Hugh McCurdy, $100 Henry J. Sickels, $50
Freeman Clarke, $200 Norman Bedell, $50 J.J. Orton, $50 William James, $100 Franklin Fenton, $100
James Hazen, $75 Seymour Treadwell, $100 O. Nichoson, $100 D.Holt, Jr., $25 Alpheus Barrett, $25
George Champlin, $50 Abel R. Torrey, $50 David Swan, $50 E.T. Noble, $25 Alderman Butts, $75
Sheldon Hopkins, $25 Moses Bacon, $50 Andrew Wall, $25 Benjamin Greig, $25 John B. Lee, $100
Samuel Fitch, $30 William Fisher, $30 John Henderson, $25 Pierpont Dyer, $25 Lansing Bailey, $50
Jacob Iden, $25 Hiram S. Goff, $50 T.H. Blackwell, $25 Samuel Whitcomb, $25 Roswell S. Burrows, $200
Thomas C. Fanning, $100 Harvey Goodrich, $100 C.W. Swan, $100 Joshua Bathbun, $100 A.H. McKinstry, $100
Roswell Clark, $100 Elizur Hart, $50 Thomas S. Clark, $100 Abram Cantine, $100 T. and S. Burrell, $100
James Holmes, $50 A.B. Mills, $100 F. Holsenburg, $25 Cyrus Farwell, $50 Eliza Dana, $25
Harvey Ball, #50 Lorenzo Burrows, $100 Hiram Sickels, $25 Rice Warner, $50 Lewis Warner (goods), $100
Calvin Church, $50 Oliver Brown, $25 N.M. Miller, $25 J.M. Andrews, $25 William H. Watson, $25

Some more subscriptions were afterwards made, and by this fund and the public spirit and liberality of the above named citizens of Albion, the seminary and Albion Academy grew.

Miss Phipps erected a four-story brick building, 40X60 feet. The cost of the real estate was $14,000, and the school furniture was valued at about $3,000. The school opened in January, 1837. It met with signal success from the beginning. It soon had an attendance of 100 boarders and 100 day scholars. They came from far and near from all parts of the country. Miss Phipps was married in 1839 to Henry C. Achilles and they, assisted by her two sisters, Misses Mary and Sophronia Phipps, conducted the seminary about nine years. In July, 1848, it was sold to Rev. Frederick James, but soon reverted to its first managers. They continued again with flattering success until July, 1866, when it was sold to Rev. G.A. Starkweather. Three years later it again came back into the hands of its first managers. It steadily increased in popularity, and for over twenty years it ranked among the first institutions of its kind in the State. They employed ten teachers, whose salaries amounted to $2,000.

In 1857 a large addition was made to the seminary building to meet the needs of the school on account of the increased attendance. The grounds were also enlarged.

A fire occurred in the seminary building in the autumn of 1874, and another in the spring of 1875 which so crippled the institution that it was discontinued. The property was purchased by the county and now forms a part of the Court House square.

Following is a list of teachers of the seminary, as nearly as could be compiled by Mr. E.R. Reynolds:

Caroline Phipps, Sophronia Phipps, Mary A. Phipps, Martha A. Ballard, Helen Phelps, C.E. Church, Amelia F. Barnard, Damie A. Colburn, Jane M. Cole, H.M. Ellsworth, Martha Everts, L.H. Reed, Mary Jane Pratt, Alzina Farr, Mary White, Helen Doty, Jane Seaton, Harriet Stewart, Sarah Green, Charlotte Crittenden, Louisa Metcalf, Mary F. Waterbury, Maria Sheldon, Carrie Anderson, Louisa F. Sawyer, Minerva O’Harrow, Caroline B. Hoyt, Etta Alderson, Harriet M. Marshall, Francis H. Miller, Julia Paine, Mary Ingoldsby, Sarah Smith, Mary Jane Anderson, Minnie Hodge, Harriet Smith, Charlotte Goodell, Sarah Stewart, Anna P. Sill, Abba Barnard, Sarah E. Baker, Pamelia Grey, Catherine C. Abeel, Maria Pollock, Ellen A. McKinstry, Mary Everts, Mary Salisbury, Camelia Leach, Mary Buell, Mary Howland, Martha Achilles, Anna C. Peak, Ellen H. Avery.



Hon. Isaac S. Signor. “Landmarks of Orleans County.” (Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Company, Publishers, 1894), Phipps Union Seminary, p. 199-201.