Clinton Academy was constructed in 1784 and modified in 1887 with a rear addition called the village hall. The architect and builder of the the three-story building with a gambrel roof and cupola are are not known. Clinton Academy was the first academy in New York to be named for the first governor of New York State, George Clinton; the original name was East Hampton Academy. The academy began as a pre-college school for boys and was incorporated by the Regents of the University of the State of New York on November 1st 1787 as one of the two first academies in New York State (the other was Erasmus Hall in Flatbush/ Brooklyn). There were 90 pupils by 1786. The academy continued until 1868. The building's owners then rented the upper floor to private tutors while the ground floor room was used for town meetings. A town library and a newspaper occupied parts of the building in the late 1890s to 1912. The structure was restored in 1921 and leased to the newly-formed East Hampton Historical Society for 99 years. The society's offices are in the building, as well as art and local history museum exhibits, a Visitor Center, and a gift shop. A gate to the left of the front porch leads to a flower garden, open to the public; the Mimi Meehan Native Plant Garden is maintained by the Garden Club of East Hampton. Clinton Academy is one of dozens of buildings within the East Hampton Village Historic Distirct, one of eight National Register historic districts in the village.
Front and south side of Clinton Academy in 1934 photo (HABS NY 4-24)
Measured drawing of front (E) elevation of Clinton Academy in 1934 (HABS NY 4-24)
Measured drawing of N elevation showing original building and later addition in 1934 (HABS NY 4-24)
Rear (W) elevation of Clinton Academy in 1934 HABS drawing (NY 4-24)
Clinton Academy (red circle) on N half of inset map of East Hampton Village in 1858 (Smith)
Backstory and Context
Construction of Clinton Academy was overseen in 1784 by Reverend Samuel Buell, pastor of the East Hampton Presbyterian Church and a Yale graduate. Buell wrote in October 1784 of having to frequently answer questions from the group of teenaged boys doing some of the construction. Buell was among a group of locals who raised funds to build the school. The school was situated on a donated lot of one-quarter acre. There were plans to have the building finished and open the academy for classes in November 1784 but this was delayed until January 1785. The first instructors were Jabez Peck as master of the classical department and William Payne as master of English and writing and the first principal. Governor George Clinton, the academy's namesake, presented a bell to the school for its belfry and the school was renamed in his honor. Early advertising promoted the building as "spacious and elegant and perfectly calculated for the design."
The school building and lot were valued at $2,000 in 1805. The contents (library and "apparatus") were worth about $400. The apparatus consisted of a telescope, microscope, air pump, small hand orrery (a mechanical model of the solar system), two globes, a compass and chain, and a quadrant and prism. Tuition in 1805 was $1.50 for reading and writing; $2.50 for English grammar and ciphering; $5 for mathematics and book-keeping; $5 for dead languages; $5 for logic, rhetoric and composition; $5 for moral philosophy; and $5 for French language. Teachers were paid from the students' tuition. Pupils found accommodations in the homes of locals for $1 per week; this went up to $1.50 by 1827. The winter term began in early November and the summer term in late April. Students were mainly from Long Island, but some were from the Caribbean, likely because of the frequent ship traffic between the locales. Students were required to pay for damage to furniture or walls or for breaking glass. No games, wrestling. or scuffling was allowed in the building. The school became co-educational at some point; the future wife of U.S. President Tyler, Nancy Symms, was a pupil at the academy.
Locals called the former academy building by August 1919; this is when talk of restoring the building to its original appearance was reported in the local paper. The East Hampton Historical Society was just in the organizing stage then, and planned to use one of the second-floor rooms for exhibits and for the "edification and instruction of the public.". Local artists could have space in the building to display artwork. Architects J.C. Lawrence and J.G. Thorp drew up plans for the restoration, using the original building plans from 1786 as a guide. The architects were looking for photos or drawings from the public of Clinton Academy before the rear addition - called "Clinton Hall" - was constructed.
The restored Clinton Academy building was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in 1934. The flagstone front porch led to a central doorway that opened onto one large room on the ground floor with a brick hearth at either end; the Historical Society used this room as their meeting room. The second floor had a central hall and two rooms on the north and south ends, used by the 1930s as the Americana Museum. Some of the items on display in the museum in the summer of 1959 were a handmade cradle dating to 1793; the clock face, a weathervane, and the pulpit from the local Presbyterian Church, built in 1717; and a Revolutionary War uniform. An old carpenter shop was set up in the museum's attic. The East Hampton Historical Society kept Clinton Academy closed to visitors during the summer and fall of 1977 so a local anthropologist, Dr. Judith Treistman, could conserve deteriorating items in the museum's collection.
Anonymous. "To Restore Clinton Hall." East Hampton Star (East Hampton, NY) August 15th 1919. 1-1.
Anonymous. "Clinton Hall's Early History." East Hampton Star (East Hampton, NY) August 29th 1919. 1-1.
Anonymous. "Clinton Academy and Mulford House Open to Public for Summer Months." East Hampton Star (East Hampton, NY) July 9th 1959. 7-7.
Flower, Kelsey. "From Clinton Academy." East Hampton Star (East Hampton, NY) March 22nd 1973. 7-7.
Flower, Kelsey. "Clinton Academy - Old as U.S.." East Hampton Star (East Hampton, NY) July 31st 1969. 13-13.
Hotchkiss, Thomas W. Volk, Edmund. Field, Newman. Lehti, Emil A. HABS of Clinton Academy, East Hampton, N.Y.. Volume NY 4-24. Historic American Buildings Survey. Washington, DC. National Park Service, 1934.
Norris, Cal. "Clinton Academy Project." East Hampton Star (East Hampton, NY) May 12th 1977. 3-3.
Phillips, Ebenezer. "Clinton Academy. Advertisement.." The Corrector (Sag Harbor, NY) November 10th 1827. Classifieds sec, 4-4.
Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/ny0771/