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Early school pioneered education: Muskingum Academy taught classical subjects

January 5, 2008
Marietta Times
Marietta College and nearby Ohio University pride themselves on their early educational history in the area, but only the Muskingum Academy in Marietta can lay claim to the Northwest Territory’s first higher education institution.

In 1797, community members organized the academy, chaired by Rufus Putnam. Even though the school only lasted about 30 years, it symbolized the importance of education during the early pioneer days, said Marietta College history professor Jim O’Donnell.

“The Muskingum Academy represents the desire of education in the West while they were still trying to survive,” O’Donnell said. The city of Marietta itself had been settled nine years before in 1788.

In 1800, the Muskingum Academy erected its building between Front and Second streets where the First Congregational Church is today. It was a wood building, about 24 feet by 40 feet in size. From the school’s original donor list, O’Donnell said it is clear that Rufus Putnam believed in the need for a strong local education presence.

“He donated $300, which was quite a bit of money back then because no one else pledged more than $40,” O’Donnell said. Putnam also went on to help found Ohio University in 1804.

Historian and author Robert Cayton said the Muskingum Academy taught the classical basics of reading, writing, mathematics, Latin and Greek, but in a less rigid way than some schools in the east. While most students of the time learned primarily by memorization and recitation, students at the Muskingum Academy were learning how to apply their academics to life.

“It enabled them to read and write and do something in life,” Cayton said. “I wouldn’t call it a vocational school, but that’s kind of what they were aiming for.”

This style of education brought in a variety of students, O’Donnell said.

“The academy could take you in to learn how to read and write or it could take you in to get ready for college,” O’Donnell said.

However, Muskingum Academy didn’t last long. Starting in 1816, the building went through several educational renters and eventually was abandoned and destroyed.

Marietta College later became the area’s main higher institution of learning, but Cayton stressed that the 1835 founded school had no link to Muskingum Academy.

Cayton authored the book “A House Suitable for Instruction, A History of Muskingum Academy,” which is available at the Washington County Public Library.



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