Brief History of Elder's Ridge Academy

"Back in 1832 a few persons began reciting privately to Rev. Alexander Donaldson in the second story of a log springhouse at Elders Ridge. This was the beginning of the famous Elders Ridge Academy. With no thought of an institution evolving from the lessons he gave, Rev. Donaldson agreed to give private instruction in the classics and other branches to young men preparing to enter college. However, during the winter and spring of 1847, the number of applicants for instruction had so increased that Rev. Donaldson was faced with the decision of either giving up the instruction or obtaining assistance in teaching. J.M. Barnett of Blairsville, then an undergraduate in Jefferson College, was engaged as an assistant. On April 16, 1847, the academy school was opened in Rev. Donaldson's study with 16 pupils. 31 were admitted during the first two sessions, with a total of 62 students being taught in the 7th year.

The first schoolroom was a small one-story frame building designed to accommodate from 20 to 30 students. Rev. Donaldson built the schoolroom at his own expense for $320. Later in 1852 at a cost of $2000 he erected a two-story brick building.

The purpose of the institution from the first was twofold; to prepare young men for entering college and to provide properly qualified teachers for common and other schools. In both of these aims the academy had considerable success. The academy came to have representatives from Pennsylvania and the surrounding states, principally the middle and western, but also Mississippi and Louisiana.

About a dozen families within a radius of two miles, for a few years at first accommodated the students with boarding at one dollar per week. Within ten years, John Smith, Christopher Iman and John Thom had erected boarding houses. During the same time boarding rose to $1.25 and increased from year to year until it was raised to $3.50.

In 1849 a woman's department of the academy was opened under the care of Miss Martha Bracken but it was abandoned in 1858 because of the difficulty in securing suitable boarding places for them. Some years later the academy admitted females upon condition they would keep up with the males in class work and its doors were never closed to women after that.

In 1876 Rev. Donaldson, wishing to secure in a legal way the perpetuation of the academy after he would be separated from it, selected a board of 19 trustees from the different religious denominations in the vicinity. The agreement contained the condition that in selecting the faculty, the principal should always be a Presbyterian.  To this board of trustees, Rev. Donaldson conveyed all his right, title, interest and claim to the academy building, its grounds, etc. asking in return that whenever any of his descendants should be sent to it as a pupil, no charge should be made for tuition. In 1885 he sent a letter of resignation as principal of the school to the board. It was accepted and Professor T.B. Elder who had been associated with him as assistant for nearly half the time since the school's organization was chosen principal.

Around 1910 the school ran into financial troubles and was about to be sold when Lucius W. Robinson, president of the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company agreed to give the school $3000 to help pay off the debt and turn the school over to a board of trustees in five years, provided it could be conducted in a self-supporting fashion.

In 1914 the Elders Ridge Vocational School was established. It was the pioneer school of its type in the state. On October 31, 1932, the gymnasium with the original log academy burned. In 1933, a large yellow brick building was erected on the site of the old gym. Most of it was destroyed by fire on March 4, 1951."  

Article courtesy:  Indiana Gazette, Indiana, Pennsylvania. 
Photo courtesy:  Indiana Historical Society, Indiana, Pennsylvania.

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