- Formative Years 1900-1906
- Cornwall Years 1906-1949
- Early Washington Years 1949-1985
- Rumsey Hall Today
On October 1, 1900, Mrs. Lillias Rumsey Sanford of Seneca Falls, New York founded the second private nondenominational pre-preparatory school in the United States. It was called “The Terrace: Mrs. Sanford’s School for Boys” and was located in a mansion which Lillias Sanford’s father had built called Rumsey Hall. In its inaugural year there were seven students. This was to be a “home school” for boys under thirteen years of age. Its purpose was to prepare students for the new private secondary schools, many of which had been founded during the preceding fifteen years.
The 1900-1901 admission catalog described the program: "Great care will be taken to make the home life bright and happy, to cultivate in the young boys high ideals, and to control them by judicious means without harsh measures."
For the first year Mrs. Sanford acted as Head of School. Walter B. Wildman was hired in 1901 and served as Headmaster until 1906. Mr. Wildman was a classical scholar who in 1898 had graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, at the top of his class. He was a young man with a great deal of energy and strength of character.
For the next five years Mr. Wildman remained in Seneca Falls, working with Mrs. Sanford to develop a suitable curriculum for the school, one which would establish Rumsey Hall's reputation in the eyes of prep school headmasters. Requirements for each of the school's five forms were carefully worked out and implemented. The youngest students, those in the "Preparatory Form", were introduced to English, mathematics and geography; Latin was added in the Ist Form, mechanical drawing in the IInd Form, and US history in the IIIrd Form. In the IVth (and highest) Form students studied English composition and rhetoric, prose literature, algebra, spelling, French or Spanish and Latin. In addition, they were expected to learn manners and etiquette, formal dancing, and piano, harp or violin. There was also an athletic program, which included contests with Seneca Falls teams and other schools in the area.
The catalog for 1904-1905 lists 22 of "Our Boys," a half dozen or more were day students. Most of the boarders were from New York and there were three from Pennsylvania, and one each from Utah, Alabama, Maryland and North Carolina. When Mr. Wildman left Rumsey in the spring of 1906 for a teaching position at the Mackenzie School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, Rumsey was well established both in size and reputation.
In 1906, Mrs. Sanford, who held the title of Director, would profoundly influence the course of Rumsey Hall School for the next forty three years. First, she moved the school from Seneca Falls, NY to Cornwall, CT, where it would remain until 1949. She hired Louis Henry Schutte as Headmaster, replacing Walter Wildman. During Mr. Schutte's longest standing tenure as Headmaster, serving from 1906-1941, enrollment had grown to 65 students.
The unique working relationship forged by Mrs. Sanford and Mr. Schutte became the cornerstone of Rumsey Hall School in Cornwall, the embodiment of two passionate educators who shared the same vision. Many traditions still survive today: a prize for Declamation has been a Rumsey standard since the earliest days and Track and Field Day has been a yearly event since 1912.
Mrs. Sanford died in 1940. Her daughter-in-law, Helen Greves Sanford, took over as Director until 1941. Headmaster Schutte declined an option to purchase the school, and in 1941 it passed into the hands of John F. Schereschewsky Sr., popularly known as “Mr. Sherry." Mr. Sherry and his wife, Betty, came to Rumsey Hall from Suffield Academy, where he had been Headmaster.
No sooner had the Sherrys purchased the School than World War II broke out. The country was in turmoil, and in 1943 Mr. Sherry left Rumsey Hall to join the Navy for two years. He served his tour of duty with the amphibious forces and commanded a landing craft during the Normandy invasion. During this time, David Griffin Barr, a devoted faculty member since 1914, was appointed interim Director of Rumsey Hall. Together with Mrs. Sherry, he led Rumsey Hall until Mr. Sherry returned. Mr. Barr remained as Headmaster until 1956. Carrying on the precepts developed by the School's early administrators, the Sherrys and Mr. Barr further defined and practiced the philosophy of educating the whole child. They are credited for first establishing the Effort List as a measure of students' success—a fundamental hallmark of a Rumsey Hall education even today.
In the late 40’s Mr. Sherry and Mr. Barr found themselves faced with a momentous decision. In Washington, CT lay the vacant campus of the former Romford School for Boys, a casualty of wartime hardship. A Washington consortium formed by several prominent citizens of the area was seeking a new occupant for the campus and they approached Mr. Sherry to see if he might consider it as a home for Rumsey Hall.
This vacant Washington campus held several attractions. In Cornwall, limited space had always been an issue, preventing any further expansion of the School. Also, Rumsey Hall did not own the buildings it occupied and had to lease them from the town of Cornwall.
When the Washington consortium proposed to underwrite the cost of moving the School from Cornwall to Washington, Mr. Sherry and the Board of Trustees accepted the offer. Rumsey Hall’s Class of 1948 was the last to be educated in Cornwall as the School headed for its third and final location.
Co-education was introduced in the 1949-1950 academic year, with Rumsey Hall becoming one of the first schools of its kind to discontinue an all-male enrollment. New building projects continued through the 1950’s and 1960’s as the enrollment of the School steadily increased to 175 students.
In 1965 Mr. Sherry’s son, John F. Schereschewsky Jr. ’47, became Headmaster. A Harvard graduate like his father, Mr. Sherry Jr. eagerly embraced the Rumsey lifestyle as a teacher, coach, and administrator. For four years, Mr. Sherry Sr. and Mr. Sherry Jr. led Rumsey Hall as Director and Headmaster, respectively, bringing Rumsey Hall to unprecedented heights of enrollment and reputation.
Their collaboration ended in 1969 when Mr. Sherry Sr. died from a heart attack and Mr. Sherry Jr. succeeded his father as Director. Louis G. Magnoli, a teacher and administrator at Rumsey since 1957, was appointed Headmaster. Mr. Sherry Jr. and Mr. Magnoli held firm to their beliefs in the value of a traditional education during the turbulent early 1970’s. By 1977 this belief, combined with sound leadership, earned them widespread respect and admiration, as well as a resurgence in applications for admission. The untimely death of Mr. Sherry Jr. during a hunting accident in 1977 left Mr. Magnoli at the helm alone, a position he filled admirably.
Mr. Magnoli was well-loved as a teacher, coach and Headmaster. He oversaw the renovation of the Main House and construction of a new gymnasium. With an eye to the future Mr. Magnoli inaugurated a mandatory course in basic computer literacy. He also instituted the advisor program wherein each student was assigned a faculty member as his or her permanent advisor. From 1957 until 1985, Mr. Magnoli played an integral part in every aspect of life at Rumsey Hall.
Mr. Magnoli’s successor, Thomas W. Farmen, preserved the traditions of Rumsey Hall while responding to the challenges of educating children in today’s world. Mr. Farmen came to Rumsey Hall in 1974 as a science teacher. He occupied several positions of responsibility before becoming Headmaster in 1985, including Chair of the Science Department, Director of Athletics and Director of Secondary School Placement. Under his administration, Rumsey Hall continued its tradition of providing a challenging program in a supportive, family-like atmosphere. Enrollment in 1985 stood at 155 students.
In 1995, a village-like architectural scheme was initiated. The Upper School courtyard replaced the existing driveway, the Dicke Family Library project was completed and a host of facility improvements were initiated. In 1997, the J. Seward Johnson Sr. Fine Arts Center, Garassino Family Classroom Building and Satyavati Science Center were completed. In 1999 the School purchased 47 acres of adjacent property and a gift of 14 adjacent acres was given in honor of Rumsey’s Centennial. These two gifts doubled the size of the campus and inspired the creation of the current campus master plan.
Since 2000 the School has engaged in an ambitious program to improve its facilities, including the construction of the Dane W. Dicke Family Math and Science Buildings, Cutler Cottage, Scott Evans Seibert ’92 Memorial Field and Roy Football Field. The Cornell Field, Pavek Field and New Dorm field were rebuilt to accommodate the School’s growing enrollment. The Maxwell A. Sarofim