engraving of Fairfield Academy

These excerpts from Horace Ford's small typed booklet dated 1923 were contributed by Jane Dieffenbacher, Fairfield Town Historian. Jane tells us that this booklet was a speech, delivered at the dedication of the monument erected by the alumni of Fairfield Academy. The monument is still there and gives a history of the school.

by Horace Ford

Excerts from Horace Ford's manuscript written in 1923.

"The first cornerstone was laid on July 4th, 1802, twenty-six years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. One would think that the founders might have had other thoughts than the building of a school, and yet those great and good men, some of whose names presently I shall recall to you, having been denied the privilege of an education, greatly desired that their children, and their children's children, should quench their thirst for knowledge amid these beautiful foothills which God has fashioned. It was the work of patriots who believed that only education could make permanent the young republic's great declaration."

"When there is a great work, there is always a great mind which has dreamed, and then the hands have wrought. Therefore, I wonder who first thought of this school? It seems probable that this honor belongs to Capt. Moses Mather. In any event, tradition tells us that he was one of the leading men of his time, and some old memoranda found among the papers of his son, Dr. William Mather, make certain that he was one of the first trustees of the school, in any event, his is the first name recorded in these memoranda, and the date after his name is September 4th, 1811.

"I was a small boy when Dr. William Mather walked these streets.

"His father's mantle had fallen upon him, and when one in those days thought of Fairfield Seminary, he thought of Dr. William Mather, once a teacher in the medical department, and later a Trustee. The date after his name is January 13th, 1853. I suppose the date of his election to the board. He was a man of the old school and a fine old gentleman he was. I used to meet him, as in his quiet and stately manner he walked these streets. He wore a long coat, a high collar of the period, with the large turned-back cravat, and I can hear even now the sound of his cane upon the flat stone walk in front of his house. I used to go with my mother to call on his wife, and I confess that I was a bit afraid of the doctor, because he appeared so stately, and in years so far away from me. He was a fine type of the men whose sturdy lives helped to do the work of their day.

"And now I want to call a partial roll of those men whose lives were put to this great educational enterprise. These names, which I have selected from the memoranda left among the papers of Dr. Mather, do not represent all of the trustees who held office between 1811, the first date shown, and 1853, the last one. I am giving merely the names of those which were household words in and about Fairfield when I was a boy.

"Moses Mather, Amos Sherwood, Amos Sherwood, Jr., Dr. Griffen Sweet, Nathan Smith, Alden S. Gage, Norman Butler, Clinton Chatfield, David W. Cole, Thomas H. Rice, Westel Willoughby, Jr., Richmond Bushnell, Moses Johnson, William B. Porter, Ezra Graves, Cyrus M. Johnson, James Seaman, Roswell D. Brown, William Alexander, William Jackson, William Mather, William Smith, W.D. Waterman, M.H.C. Favill, Henry Tillinghast, Benjamin Bowen, James Hadley, Jarius Mather, Jeriman Corey, Francis H. Bloodgood, Uria H. Hurlbut, Nathanel Carpenter, Phineus S. Whipple, Jeremiah Smith, Abijah Mann, Abijah Mann, Jr., John Snell, John Herkimer, Henry Coffin, Parley Arnold, Samuel C. Griswold, William Bushnell, G.W. Phillips, Simeon Ford, Asa Chatfield, John Green, Horace Ford, Nathan B. Hildreth, William Griswold, Sidenious Teale."

"I have told you of Moses Mather, the man who dreamed of the Seminary,and that his dream came true, and of his son, Dr. William Mather. Now I should like to tell you of others.

"Amos Sherwood owned the house which was built in 1803 by Robert Knowlton, the house at the end of the "Long Walk" where I lived as a boy. My grandfather, Horace Ford, who lived at Salisbury, bought the Sherwood house and moved to Fairfield in 1833. Mr. Sherwood seems to have been elected to the board of trustees in 1843.

"Griffin Sweet was a physician and surgeon, the country doctor of an early day. He lived alone in the house across the way which for some years had been occupied by Clarence Barnes as a store and post office. His office was heavy with the smell of the healing drugs which he used to cure the ills of the folks who lived hereabouts. He directed the stork who bore me to the home of my mother and father, and carried me through all the litle illnesses of childhood. He was made a trustee in 1848.

"Norman Butler, when I knew him, had retired, and was living alone in the village of Newport. For many years, he and my father, during the summer, bought cattle, and in the fall drove them, a thousand or more at a time, to Utica, where they were slaughtered. That was long before the days of Armour, Swift, and Morris whose great packing houses have made famous the city where I live. His election to the board seems to have taken place in 1864.

"David Cole, elected to the board in 1856. If I am not mistaken he was the grandfather of Canning and Truman Cole. We say 'like father like son,' but heredity also works backward, and sometimes we know the sterling and substantial characteristics of the grandfather through those same qualities in the grandsons.

"Thomas Rice, "Uncle Tommie," as everyone called him, was a staunch Methodist, stong in doctrine, a defender of the faith, powerful in prayer and testimony. He came, I think, from Scotch-Irish ancestry, with all the strong qualities of that hardy race. As a small boy I used to go to prayer meeting with my father and mother, but at that time I sat with my mother on the left side of the room, while my father and the other men sat on the right. "Uncle Tommie' used to pound the bench in front of him while making his testimony, and always, it never failed, and in a spirit of humble piety and with a broad Scotch accent, he would say: 'My face is where my back ought to be.' In other words he felt that he was not progressing in the faith, that he was 'backsliding' as we Methodists used to say; but he was not because he was one of the great Christian men of this community, a man whose word was even better than his bond."

"John Green, grand old man that he was. He was a Methodist of an earlier day. His pew in the church was immediately in front of our family pew, and sometimes during the sermon he bowed his head on the cane which he always carried. I used to think that 'Father Green' was sleeping, but he was not, because later I used to hear him, and the other brethern, discussing the sermon, and nearly always he could repeat the substance of the discourse. He was a man of few words. I used to think him almost stern and unapproachable, and I feared him, until one day, when I was seventeen, I stood at the Methodist altar and took upon myself the vows of the Church which brought me into 'full connection,' and after that service, 'Father' John Green who that day forgot his taciturnity, laid his hand upon my shoulder, and said three words, 'I am glad,' but that was enough. Those three words meant more coming from a man like John Green, because he lived at a time when our elders gave scant thought to the boys and girls of the community.

"Horace Ford was my grandfather. His name is one of the last which appears in the memoranda left by Dr. William Mather. I never saw him. He died in 1860, before I was born, and although no date of his election to the board is given, probably it was in the early fifties. He and my grandmother, Rebecca Smith Ford, were members of the Presbyterian Church."

"And I should name others who were here when I was a boy and who were interested in the school, either as trustees or patrons. Some of these are the sons of men, who, in an earlier day, made the beginnings of 'Old Fairfield'. Therefore, I want to call this roll of honored names, the names of the men I knew. They were your fathers and mine. I call the roll from memory. I hope I have given their names correctly: George Reed, Cephus LaDue, Watson and Sherman Lambertson, Eleazer C. Rice, once a member of the New York State Assembly, Peter Kilts, George Pickert, Justus Cole, Charles Neely, Martin Barnes, Morgan Reese, E.W. Fairchild, William Whipple, William Lambertson, Milton Ford, my father, and Frank S. Ford, my uncle, William Windecker, Fred A. Morey, Hiram Barnes, John Todd, Daniel and Samuel Wilson, Cornelius Johnson, Willard Ingham, James Ford. And last but not least, Miss Lydia Bailey, the most capable housekeeper, who, by her good old fashioned cooking did much toward the success of Fairfield Seminary."

"The students, in those post (Civil) war days, seemed older than the boys of a later day, and they were older because many of them had gone with Professor-Captain Van Petten to fight the battles of the Union. Some of the men who made this school possible also went, most of them with the 121st NY State Volunteers, and some of them came back to the little old cemetery yonder, where loving hands each Memorial Day since then have decorated their resting place. It was in such an atmosphere that the young men and the young women students of the day grew strong, and went forth to fight the important battles of life.

"I wish I had time to tell you of the principals, preceptresses, and teachers of the days when I was a boy; all I can do is repeat the names of a few.

"The patriotic Van Petten, of whom I have a slight, and only a slight, recollection during the days following the war.

"Prof. Albert Barnes Watkins, the student, the gentleman and teacher, and his charming wife, the daughter of Dr. William Mather.

"Prof. William Brownell and his wife whose quiet and scholarly ways long will be remembered by this community and by the boys and girls of that generation.

"Prof. C.W. Percell, whose full beard made him look like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was a close student, and a natural born teacher.

"I do not remember many of the Preceptresses who had charge of the young women. However, I want to mention the name of Mrs. Jones, 'Mother' Jones the girls called her. Evidently she was a woman of rare tact, because the girls loved her almost as they loved their own mothers. Her son, Lewis B. Jones, was a small boy then, and 'Lew' and I played together on the Seminary grounds, or at the end of the walk. Lew is a big boy now - I should say a big man - He is Vice President and Advertising Director of the Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester."

"But I cannot close this portion of my remarks without paying loving tribute to a man whose entire life has been given to the cause of education. Professor, then Major Hall, was born with a teacher's instinct. When I was a boy in his class, he seemed to know everything and he knew how to impart that knowledge. I received my first electric shock from the Leyden jar in his classroom, and also my first impressions about the structure of this old world in which we live. Hats off, you boys and girls of another day to Prof Hall, the grand old man of Fairfield Seminary.

"You may not know it but the first country club in New York State had permanent quarters in Fred Morey's store. I think that the charter members were William Whipple, Howard Lambertson, John Starkings, and John Young. In any event, they usually were seen of an evening after a hard day's work in the fields seated about the store's big stove. I was not a member, but I occasionally held a junior guest card, and was present many times to listen to the literary program which included many heated discussions about religion, philosophy, politics, the school, and sometimes they talked about the character of the cheese, hay and grain crops. The club had no dues, but it did have a self service cafe, and thereby it anticipated the cafeteria by many years. The menu was simple, cheese, crackers, and dried herrings, always the same. Like every other well managed club we did not pay cash at the time of service, but unlike the modern club we did not have to sign a ticket describing the character of the food, and the charge, because Fred Morey looked after such details. Therefore, at the proper time, the members would find on their bills the cafe charges for food taken by self service from the cracker barrel, the dried herring box, or the cheese stand. Students were not eligible to membership, only residents of Fairfield Village and vicinity.

"The other day I was eating luncheon at my Club in Chicago. The newspapers that day had told us of the serious illness of President Harding. Seated near me were five business men of an especially alert appearance, and one asked who would succeed to the presidency in the event that Mr. Harding should die. Of course, all five of them said that the vice-president would become president, but someone then asked the name of our vice-president and not one could recall the name of Vice-President Coolidge. I do not believe that incident to be typical of the hurried and strenuous business men of our large cities, but I do know that such gross ignorance could not have appeared in Fred Morey's country club. And not only that, if Howard Lambertson had been present around that big stove, he would have told the plurality, and the number of electors, by which Harding and Coolidge were elected, and not only that, he would have given from memory all that information back to the time of Lincoln.

"What shall I say of the old debating societies, "The Aethenian' for the young ladies, 'The Calliopean' and "The Philoratorian' for the young men. Life was very real and earnest then; and we of the 'Calliopean' Society, and no doubt those of the other two, were powerful in debate. We settled every question of education, politics, and religion, but those questions have not remained settled. Maybe the results would have been different had they lived to finish their work. We always closed our portion of the debate by saying, 'With these few remarks I will leave the floor.'

"And then commencement week. One joyous happy week. Monday, 'The Calliopean' exercises in the old Presbyterian Church; on Tuesday, 'The Philoretorian' exercises; on Wednesday, 'The Aethenians' held forth, and they read literary essays of great charm with such titles as 'Butter Side Down', being a description of the contrary things in human experience. Each evening, the Society whose turn it was, marched in gala attire from the campus, down the street and to the old Church. And Thursday was the big day of oratory from a platform built on the south end of the old campus. A real orator from abroad, graduating orations and essays by the students, diplomas tied with bright ribbon, a brass band from Fort Plain, and then the people who came in carriages from far and near. In those days I drove a team of young horses hitched to a top buggy. The horses were a bit afraid of the band, but I liked to drive them up the street and see them keep step with the music. Talk about your automobile; the feel of the steering wheel cannot equal the delightful thrill that passes from a mettlesome horse up the lines to the driver. Those were the days of real sport.

"I lived at the end of the walk where the hills stand looking down, and where the elm trees grow broad and strong, and where the grass is green, and the maples turn golden in the autumn.

"I lived at the end of the walk where there is a wonderful well, and a mocking echo on a night that is still, when one talks to the hills toward the north.

"I lived at the end of the walk where the sun goes down behind the hill, and where its bedtime rays bathe the fields with splendor.

"And it was at the end of this walk that Prof. Watkins used to come, to look at the trees, the hills, the fields, and the setting sun. Almost every evening, when the day was pleasant, he would come to the gate of my father's house, as a lover would come to his appointed tryst and look toward the west. It almost was a religious rite that was performed by this lover of nature. Albert Watkins was one of the great men of Fairfield Seminary. His wife was most charming and an inspiration to him. She is living on the north side of Chicago. I see her occasionally, as I do her sons, Jesse, Frank, and Charles, and her brother, Alonzo Mather, a loyal Fairfield boy who went forth with an idea which brought him substantial financial gain as President of the Mather Stock Car Company. It was Alonzo Mather who helped greatly to make possible this memorial of granite and bronze." (Fairfield alumni's gift, a monument still on the Fairfield Seminary Campus.)

"And now in closing. The other day I stood at the foot of majestic Mount Shasta in sunny California, and I drank of its healing waters. I journeyed northward and came to see Mount Hood in all its snow capped grandeur. And then I stepped in sight of Mount Tacoma, which the Indians named 'Ta Homa', the mountain that was God, but which the geographers call Mount Rainier; and yet standing with you here today, surrounded by so many pleasant memories, I want to say that there have been moments in my life when almost would I have given all this wonderful mountain scenery along the Pacific slope for one drink of the water from this well at the end of the walk and for one look at our own Barto Hill.

"But maybe that desire came from what a boy saw at Fairfield, a desire which grew stronger as he became a man."

August 25th, 1923.

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