REMINISCENSES OF EARLY FAIRFIELD ACADEMY
Fairfield, Herkimer County, N.Y.
Contributed by BetteJo Hall-Caldwell
An Old Letter
Written by the Noted Botanist, Asa Gray, Some Sixty Years Ago.
Ilion Citizen, Friday, January, 9, 1903 (Herkimer Citizen)
The following letter, which has recently come to the Citizen office, was written by Asa Gray, who was
educated at Fairfield Academy and became one of the most noted botanists of the country:
Utica, April 13,1834.
My Dear Chum; Yours of March 30 was duly received and shall be promptly answered. If when you have
read it you call me a fickle minded fellow, why I can't help it, that's all. I am always much vexed
when after laying out a fine plan, and communicating it to all my friends, some unforseen event, just
in the nick of time, cuts all short. This frequently happens with me. The plain English of this is, I
shall not go to Georgia this summer, and now that is decided, though I regret the disappointment, I am
not, upon the whole very sorry. By the postponement until next spring, I can get there earlier in the
season, with much less danger of ill health, and remain longer. My means, I may hope with ordinary
good fortune, to be more than ample. This season I should have been obliged to stretch my slender means to the utmost.
The cause of the change in my plans is this. Dr. Hadley, who wishes to remain at Fairfield this summer,
insists that I shall act as his substitute this summer at Hamilton college and lecture on Mineralogy
and botany. I consented to the arrangements. How could I do otherwise. You know that Dr. Hadley has
been, and is, one of my truest friends and would, I think, do much to serve me. I suspect that he has
contrived his plan and given up a part of his salary there to me, on purpose to oblige me. He says he
will take it as a great favor if I will act for him there, where as I suspect the object is to confer
a favor upon me. I have wanted for sometime to complete this arrangement so that I might apprise you
of it. Dr. Hadley was here yesterday and my plans being arranged I write you forth with.
I am now engaged in preparing some mineralogical and geological lectures. This will absorb all my
leisure until the close of the present term, the 23d inst., and perhaps a few days longer. I shall
commence at Hamilton College about the 20th May and be engaged until the middle of July or
thereabouts. I shall have a few weeks leisure very soon, and as I cannot afford to be idle even for a
day, I have decided on going to Watertown and making another short mineralogical excursion into St.
Lawrence county for minerals. I also must collect all the early plants and grasses for the second number of my grass book.
My object this summer is to make money, so that I shall perhaps, if they pay well, conclude and
engagement for a few weeks at the gymnasium in July and August. Unless you leave home and your
business some time in April, which I ought not to ask, we shall not meet immediately. You see fate
decrees that you shall be spiced without the aid of my countenance. It is no such serious matter
after all, something like a cold bath, one feels a little skittish but after making the plunge finds it no killing matter.
You must let me know when you return with the fair intended, which I think will be late in May, when I
have returned to Utica where I will contrive to meet you. It is a little strange that you have never
told me anything about her. I don't see why you should keep so close now, when I about to go the way of
all well disposed persons. I shall tell you all about the lass and give you a regular inventory of all
her attractions, qualifications, etc., etc.
If I do not see you, which I can hardly expect when you go down, I can leave a bundle for you here.
But as you must return via. Utica and will not I think want to lug anything down to New Jersey and
back again, we will let everything remain until you return, when I must see you before that time, I shall of course hear from you.
If you bring bundle of plants for me, you can leave them at Craft's & White's office, next door to
Shepard's hotel, where I think you called with me once to see Babcock. When you get comfortably settled down I should like to pay you a visit.
When you return I will let you know whether it can be done in the coming summer, but of that
hereafter. The coming fall and winter, I of course intend to spend in New York and to be engaged much as during the last season.
By the way, notwithstanding your misgivings, I never enjoyed better health than at present.
I believe notwithstanding the advantages in your favor, I have since our acquaintance, enjoyed more
uniform good health than yourself. To be sure I should run some risks at the south, but I have not
been much concerned about the matter. The best way to avoid danger (as they say) is to meet it plump.
But I will of course be as prudent as may be and not run needlessly into danger of any kind.
You will write me soon I hope and for the present direct your letter here. I shall answer all your
epistles promptly. If you have time please collect all the early grasses of your region, on large scale and bring on with you.
One of these days I may hope to repay you for the trouble you have taken and I hope will still
continue to take on my account by making some considerable accession to your herbarium, if you still
continue to be botanically disposed, but time presses so for the present adieu.
Letter From Aner Sperry.
Pranks of Students at Fairfield Academy 80 Years Ago
Lively times In the Old Town.
Ilion Citizen, Friday, January 16, 1903
Referring to a letter of Alexis L. Johnson recently published in the Citizen. Aner Sperry, who by his
writings and gifts to Herkimer co., NY charities has become well known to all of our readers, writes
as follows of the pranks played by students at Fairfield Academy many years ago:
Hartford, Conn, Jan. 10, 1903.
Editor Citizen: When Mr. Johnson made his trip over the hills I guess he did not have time to tell us
about Fairfield. I had a sister who died two years ago at Taunton, Mass., aged 95 years. She was
employed at the Fairfield College boarding house, and she told us the following story: It was about
1820, Mr. Bradley manufactured furniture there and one of his apprentices was a son of Squire Graves
of Russia. I have a trunk that was made there. Mr. Bradley had a fine top carriage, and one Sunday
morning he missed his carriage, and upon looking toward the college he saw it on top of the chapel. He
went there and told the students that his carriage had got up on top of their chapel and would they
help him to get it down. They quickly responded and it was taken to pieces and each part lowered to
the ground and soon put together and placed in Mr. Bradley's carriage house. He said, "Boys, come over
to the hotel and take something," and he told the landlord to give them what they wanted; and the next
morning the landlord wanted $40 of Mr. Bradley and he paid it.
One night the church bell rang; people left their beds and went into the church and found a white
horse with the bell rope tied to his hind foot. The next day was Sunday, and many people were late to
church because the bell did not ring. After the horse was taken away the bell was turned up and filled with tar.
Hooks were baited and thrown out of the window and lots of chickens pulled in. A man lost a little
pig, and he searched the building but did not find it, and as he went down stairs the pig was taken
out of a straw bed and tumbled down after him.
A sign was taken from a store and carried to a student's room and placed upon the fire, and students
commenced a loud prayer. A search was made by the faculty, and when they came to the room they had to
wait until the prayer was ended as it was against the rules to enter a room when a prayer was being
said, and as they waited they heard these words; "A wicked and adulterous generation seeking for a
sign, but there shall be no sign given them but the sign of Iona the prophet." The prayer was ended
and they entered, but no sign was found.
Card playing was not allowed, but it was done. One evening the faculty decided to make a search. The
students got a tip and were all ready for them. Four of them carried some Indian meal to the room and
made a hasty pudding. In those days they wore two large pockets in the back of their coats with pocket
lids over them, and one of the pockets was filled with hot hasty pudding. When the faculty came in
they were all seated at the table but no cards were seen. A search was made without success. Finally
they discovered a large pocket and they said, "What is in that pocket?" The answer was , "hot hasty
pudding," but that was doubted and the professor made an attempt to put his hand into the pocket, but
the students said. "Don't you do it, if you do you will get burned for it is filled with hot hasty
pudding." He said, "Hot hasty pudding, you rascal you," and he then plunged his hand into the pocket
and was badly burned. His next search was for a doctor.
Sam Perry was a cheese buyer in that section of the county and lived at Newport. Squire Graves sold to
him for four to five cents a pound. In the fall I carried the cheese to Little Falls, leaving home at
midnight and generally finding from 30 to 40 teams ahead of me and it would be midnight when I got
home. My pay was $7 a month in the summer and work for my board in the winter. Where is the other
fellow that wants the job? Mr. Perry of Newport cut his throat and Mr. Burrell of Fairfield then
bought cheese. They paid something down and the balance when the cheese was sold in New York. Mr.
Burrell went down and made a sale and, returning in the stage with $3,000 in his pocket says he went
to sleep and the money was stolen. He died, and later on his barn was taken down. A brace did not fill
a mortise and in it was found $3,000.
Fairfield in a nice little village surrounded by a fine dairy country, is on high ground and in winter
they have snow to sell.
Our Oldest Correspondent.
William Smith 94 Years of Age Writes of His Acquaintance With Asa Gray
and of School Days at Fairfield in 1825
Ilion Citizen, Friday, January 23, 1903
The Citizen is becoming noted for its aged correspondents. We have on our list Aner Sperry of
Hartford, Conn., Alexis L. Johnson of East Schuyler and Hiram T. Horton of Chicago all of whom are past the
90 year mark. This week we publish a letter from William Smith of Arlington Heights, Mass. Mr. Smith
was born in Norway in December in 1808 and is now in his 95th year. He is a son of Josiah Smith and in
his boyhood days was known as "Bill Si." Mr. Smith attended the Norway Centennial in 1887 and the Pan
American Exposition at Buffalo in 1901. On his return from Buffalo he visited in Herkimer, at J.D.
Henderson's and addressed the County Historical Society. He was made an honorary member of that
society. The letter published in the Citizen January 6th written by Asa Gray in 1834 brings forth the following from Mr. Smith:
Arlington Heights, Mass.,
Jan 17, 1903.
Editors of the Citizen: Let me thank you for printing that old letter of Asa Gray. It brought back old
times of great interest to me, and I added to it the thought that the dear chum it was addressed to was
no other than Eli Avery, the room mate and class fellow of Asa Gray at Fairfield Academy in 1825. I
may possibly be mistaken as to the person, but the whole letter sounds as if written to Eli. I doubt
if Asa had any other chum so near and dear. Rev. Chas Avery, Eli's uncle was principal of the
academy, and Eli's father, of Paris, Oneida county, was reported as money man, in which regard Asa packed.
The boys were up to all manner of "shines" in those days as for instance, painting the janitor's cow
to make her right color. In October, 1825, we students hired a barge to carry us to Little Falls to
see the first canal boat go through ; with DeWitt Clinton aboard. Asa rode down with us but not back,
showing thus early his drift by footing it back so as to botanize. But we had a fine interview with
Gov. Clinton, and to at least one of us remains to this day the image of his fine face. Clinton's big
ditch, then thought too big for the country, is now too little for anything. So much for the growth of
the country. The Dr. James Hadley alluded to in the letter, was Fairfield's pet, and beloved by all.
He was dean of her medical college, for Fairfield once boasted of a flourishing medical college
attracting students from distant Buffalo even, for in those days Buffalo was much further off than now.
In 1883, fifty seven years after our life at Fairfield, a fellow student of Asa wrote him asking if he
was the boy that cut up certain carpets at Fairfield in 1826, and this prompt reply came: "Yes, I'm
the boy and very much of a boy still. Come and see me." This was at Cambridge and thus our old
acquaintance was renewed. He was living at and presiding over the great Cambridge botanical gardens.
Evidently he had ripened in Character and the hidden honey of the flowers had found its way to his
heart. He had practically observed and adopted the old adage: "drink deep or taste not the Pierian
spring, her shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, but drinking largely sobers us again." The London
Spectator places him at the head of Systematic Botanists. At one of my calls I found him mourning over
the death of his dear chum and life long friend, Eli Avery, of which he had just heard as occurring in
Europe. I doubt if he ever recovered from the shock. For at my next and last call he confessed wanting
strength, but was busy on a new book and when he was told that he must stop work or obtain more
vitality he replied I can't stop work but he had to and was soon among those that had gone hence.
Old Yale College Writes the Citizen His grandfather D. James Hadley was once a Teacher at Fairfield.
Ilion Citizen, Friday, February 20, 1903
The letter published in the Citizen a few weeks ago written by Asa Gray in 1834 has brought to light
many important facts connected with the early history of Fairfield Academy and Medical College. The
Dr. Hadley referred to in that letter was the grandfather of Arthur T. Hadley; president of Yale
College and the Citizen is in receipt of the following letter from the distinguished gentleman.
New Haven, Feb. 7th
Let me thank you most heartily for your kindness in sending me copies of the Citizen containing the
letters of Dr. Gray and Mr. Smith. Dr. Gray's letter is of special value to me as confirming a fact
which I had hitherto known only by tradition, and of which I am glad to get documentary evidence, the
fact that it was my grandfather's influence which turned him to the pursuit of botany.
I doubt whether the people of Herkimer county appreciate at this date what an important educational
center Fairfield was. The academy was exceptionally good, even among the large number of good
academies which New York had in 1830-40; while the medical school, unless I am much mistaken, was at
one time the largest in the country, surpassing those of Boston, New York or Philadelphia. The men who
worked most fervently to make their faculty what it was were Dr. Westel Willoughby, Dr. Romeyn Beck,
and Dr. James Hadley. Of these three, Mr. Beck was probably the most distinguished by his writings. As
a teacher, however, Dr. Willoughby wielded a yet stronger influence. In fact, he was a man of
exceptional ability in this respect. Dr. Hadley from the nature of his subject chemistry and material
medica had the advantage of being brought in contact with the methods of a science which was then
hardly out of its infancy, and of giving to his pupils the stimulus which went with the awakening of the scientific spirit.
You ask me for facts concerning my grandfather's life. He was the son of Captain George Hadley of
Weare, N.H. and Indian fighter of some reputation and one of Stark's revolutionary officers. He
graduated at Dartmouth College, and not very long after his graduation came to Herkimer county, where
the best part of his working life was spent in the teaching of chemistry. Toward the close of his life
he went to Geneva, and thence to Buffalo where he died at a very advanced age. He was a man of
commanding height, and rugged but very kindly face, exceedingly quiet, but withal full of humor. He
had four sons and two daughters. All four boys, unless I am in much mistaken, were educated at
Fairfield Academy; and one of them, my own father, afterwards professor of Greek at Yale, was himself
a teacher in the Academy about the year 1839.
These details rest for the most part on oral tradition. It is possible that some of your readers may be
able to supplement or correct them from their own close knowledge.
Arthur T. Hadley.
In the Days of Yore
Early Recollections of Fairfield Academy from the Fertile Pen of Alexis L. Johnson
Ilion Citizen, Friday, March 13, 1903
Editor Citizen: In the Citizen of Jan 13 a letter from the aged philanthropies, Aner Sperry, tells of
some of the amusement and pranks of the students who attended Fairfield Academy many years ago. In the
early decades of the last century few academies in New York had a better reputation or a larger number
of students than the academy at Fairfield.
The medical college there at that time had a great number of embryo doctors, two hundred, and some
years more who attended "the lectures" each fall and winter. These medical students were mostly young
men who did not fail to join frolic and fun with the pharmacy and phlebotomy.
At the academy three terms were held each year, the fall and winter terms being largely attended by
sons of citizens of the surrounding country, and often students from other states were found at both
the academy and medical college.
The story of the bell rope being tied to the horse's foot is equaled by another equine feat that some
of the "Academics" performed, that friend Sperry did not tell: no doubt he had heard of but had
forgotten it. The story is, that a horse that was often seen pasturing on the common surrounding the
college buildings, was caught one night by a lot of roistering youths and led to the stairs in the old
chapel, and by pushing, pulling and lifting, the old horse was elevated to the belfry. It was probably
the same old horse that rung the bell with his foot, and the rogues had to help get the horse down
from his elevated position, as they did Mrs. Bradley's carriage.
One Saturday afternoon, in the fall of 1829 while a party of academics were playing a game of wicket
ball on the "green," Philo Petrie, a student, was hit by a bat and almost instantly fell dead. Ozias
Nellis was at the wicket, defending it, and in his playing raised his bat to strike the fall; as it
came he struck but missed the ball, and momentum of the blow swung Nellis and the bat around, raising
the bat as it went, and hit Petrie, who was standing near, on the side of his head. Petrie suddenly
clapped both hands to his head, and in a moment fell headlong to the ground. No blame was laid on
Nellis; the blow was accidental, but fatal.
The students attended the funeral of Petrie from his home to the "old yellow church" and cemetery in a
body, wearing the usual badge of mourning. Much sympathy was shown by the large congregation and the
students for the sudden and unfortunate death of the promising young man. He was the youngest son of
Maj. Petrie, a wealthy and influential farmer in the vicinity of "Top Notch, " north of Little Falls.
For several years in the fore part of the last century the Medical College at Fairfield was one of the
first in the state. Its reputation was not confined to New York, and the lectures were often attended
by students from other states. Dr. Delemater and James Hadley were reigned professors. The lectures were
held in the stone building called the laboratory, and in this building were the chemical and
philosophical apparatus, also the anatomical and geological specimens.
When Professor Hadley was lecturing on gases on some fair day, an exhibition was given on the green,
of some of the "Medics taking gas" as it was termed. This was done out doors, and work was given out a
day or two in advance, and often quite a crowd would be present to see the show. Professor Hadley
would come out with a bag inflated with the gas under his arm, the bag having an opening secured with
stop cock. Any one who chose could inhale the gas subject to the discretion of the professor. All were
not affected alike. Perhaps one would step away and begin to declaim on any subject that chanced to be
uppermost in his mind. The next might dance and move about as if in time to music, whole another
perhaps would be ready for fighting, and for a minute or two there would be lively times in getting
out of his way. Another would start with stately martial step and march from the crowd till the
effects was past. In one case they stood a moment waiting and then said, "Gentlemen, that is all". The
gas did not effect him. The professor was always very careful in giving the gas and rarely was anyone injured by it.
Friend Sperry tells of Sam Perry, who "was a cheese buyer" and lived at Newport. It was the father of
the buyer who cut his throat. The elder Perry, who had been a "pack peddler" at first, was a merchant
in the village of Newport, having his store and dwelling in the same building. One day in the summer
of 1825, while his wife was ironing some clothes in the kitchen, he with an open jack knife in his
hand came behind her and reaching round her made a rapid cut across her throat, severing the windpipe
and artery from which, after staggering a few steps, she fell and soon died to death. Perry was tried,
convicted and sentenced, but later a new trial or some other legal proceeding was ordered that required
his presence in Albany. John Dygert, the sheriff, had made arrangements to go with Perry, but the
afternoon before he was to start for Albany Perry cut his throat with a razor he had secreted and bled
Since writing the above a letter from Wm. Smith appeared in the Citizen. I remember meeting him at the
Historical Society and am pleased to know he remembered old Fairfield. At present the buildings
formerly used by the academy and medical college are empty and not used. The north and original stone
academy building was burned several years ago, and portions of the wall have fallen. The village is
"yet surrounded by a fine dairy country" and "is on high ground" and this winter no doubt, "has snow
to sell." But the village is no longer a seat of learning, or a place for young doctors to learn their
trade; only a fine, airy, healthy place to live in.
Since writing the above, a letter from Arthur T. Hadley and from Wm. Smith appears in the Citizen. In
1827-30, the writer attended the fall terms at the academy when David Chassel was principal and James
Hadley, a resident professor of chemistry in the medical college. In the early thirties, James Borden
with his team, would often carry some of the resident teachers and students over the hill through
Schuyler to Utica. On one trip he was late and was obliged to stop over night here, as he stopped
sometimes to feed his team, and knew me. He usually stopped with my father-in-law, Peter Finster, with
whom I was then living. Mr. Borden's passengers were Prof. Hadley and David Chassel, A.M. I well
remember both of them and description of Prof. Hadley by his grandson is correct. One of A.T. Hadley's
uncles attended the academy in those years that I remember, and his name I believe, was George.
If Wm. Smith will continue his recollections he will confer a favor on many of the readers of the Citizen.