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Farmington: Franklin County's Shiretown

Founding of the Farmington State Normal School

Normal Schools (the now-obsolete term once used to describe institutions whose purpose it was to train school teachers) first appeared in the United States in 1839, where their success influenced their establishment throughout the nation. These first normal schools sprung up in Massachusetts, quickly followed by other New England and Midwestern states, but the need for such schools in the state of Maine was not officially recognized until 1847. In this year, the Secretary of Maine's first Board of Education, William G. Crosby of Belfast, called for the need of a Normal School in Maine in his first report.

Mark H. Dunnell, the State's Superintendent, wrote in 1857 that, “there have been, at one time, not less than twenty teachers from Maine in the different Normal Schools of Massachusetts.” The urging of the State's Board of Education was paired with a fervent outcry to the Maine Legislature for the establishment of Normal Schools by the State's teachers. The teachers of Franklin County passed a resolution at their convention in 1857, that said:

Resolved : That the interests of of our common schools, and the teachers having them in charge, not only require the fostering care of the State, but most imperatively demand the immediate establishment of that long neglected source of improvement, a State Normal School...

Farmington State Normal School, 1870
Farmington State Normal School, 1870Farmington Historical Society

For seventeen years, pressure was placed on the Maine Legislature toward this end, and in 1860 an act was passed that established Normal Departments in eighteen existing academies of the State of Maine. While only fourteen of those academies, of which Farmington Academy was not one, chose to follow through with the State's plan, after a year State Superintendent E.P. Weston wrote that the program “may be safely charged with a fatal incapacity to meet the demands of the age and the State.” Through his investigation, he found that thirty students from Maine were enrolled in the four Normal Schools of Massachusetts, while Maine itself possessed fourteen schools within its own borders! The system was repealed by the Legislature in 1862, who also ordered the Superintendent of Common Schools to look toward the establishment of “a more efficient system.”

A report outlining such a system was prepared and, along with a petition submitted by the Trustees of Farmington Academy and Principal A.P. Kelsey, presented to the State Committee on Education. The Committee held several public hearings and deliberated on the case before issuing a statement and proposing a bill to the Maine Legislature in favor of the establishment of independent Normal Schools in Maine.

The First Four Principals of the FSNS
The First Four Principals of the FSNSThe First Four Principals of the Farmington State Normal School. Pictured, clockwise from bottom-left: George M. Gage, Ambrose P. Kelsey, Charles C. Rounds, George C. Purington.

The bill presented by the Committee was enacted in a slightly amended form by the Legislature and approved by Governor Abner Coburn on March 25, 1863. It called attention to the suffering of public education in Maine due to an overwhelming amount of “incompetent teachers,” and set out terms for the establishment of two Normal Schools in the State, one located in its eastern region, and one in its western. Stipulations for any locality hoping to secure one of these schools included a willingness of the town to fully furnish “without expense to the State, suitable buildings for the instruction of two hundred pupils for the term of at least five years.”

Philip Eastman of Saco, Henry Williamson of Stark, and Ephraim Flint of Dover were the three Commissioners appointed by the Governor to determine a location in the western region of the State, based on proposals received from locations wishing to be considered. The Commissioners received viable proposals from Paris Academy, Gorham Seminary, Farmington Academy, and Litchfield Academy. Soon thereafter, the group issued a report announcing the selection of Hampden Academy in the east, and Farmington Academy in the west as the locations of the State's first Normal Schools. The Commissioners outlined several reasons for choosing Farmington in their report, citing that the Trustees of Farmington Academy pledged their existing building to house the School and also proposed to erect an additional building to be furnished with permanent seats, blackboards, a library, and other amenities. Arrangements were also made for boarding students with “respectable private families, from $1.75 to $2.50 per week,” and with the Androscoggin Railroad to transport students to and from the School.

While the decision to locate the Normal School in Farmington was made in the summer of 1863, its actual establishment was postponed until the fall of 1864 due to a lack of funds pledged by the State. The construction and renovation of the proposed buildings for the Normal School commenced in early 1864, but the facilities were not quite ready for the beginning of the fall term. The first classes of the Farmington State Normal School began in Beal's Hall, located in downtown Farmington, on August 24, 1864. The Normal School's first faculty consisted of Principal A.P. Kelsey, the Principal's assistants, Mr. George M. Gage and Miss Annie E. Johnson, and lecturer Walter Wells.

The Farmington State Normal School admitted thirty-one pupils on its first day, and this number increased to fifty-nine before the close of the fall term. At the beginning of the winter term, the School moved into its new buildings. By the end of its first year, one hundred and thirty students had entered the school, the largest number the School saw in its first twenty-five years of operation.

A.P. Kelsey, the first principal, declined re-election to his position at the beginning of the second academic year, as he accepted a professorship in western New York. George M. Gage, one of the Principal's assistants in the School's first year, succeeded Mr. Kelsey as Principal until 1868. At the close of its second year, the Farmington State Normal School graduated its first class of ten young women. Following the graduation ceremonies, the Rev. Dr. Ballard, State Superintendent of Common Schools, made the following comments:

Our Normal School at Farmington is rapidly coming to its promised usefulness; and its record for the first two years, though some of its lines may tell of uncertainties, trials, and anxieties, yet in its present results will speak of success and encouragement.

By Peter A. Osborne, Secondary Education major, Social Studies concentration; University of Maine at Farmington Class of 2009


Purington, G. C. (1889). History of the State Normal School, Farmington, Maine. Farmington, ME: Knowlton, McLeary & Co.