Thornton Academy News

TA Treasure: There’s No Place like Home

TA Treasure: There’s No Place like Home 
The History of the Alumni House

Thornton Academy’s campus has seen its fair share of renovations and additions. The Alumni House, one of the school’s oldest structures, has certainly been a part of this tradition of repurposing buildings to meet the needs of a changing school community. Originally built by the Emery family in the 1820s, the Alumni House was initially used as a farmhouse, but the property has also served as faculty housing, a half-time huddle-room for the football team, and most recently, offices for faculty and staff. 

Moses Emery, the original owner, practiced law and exercised influence in Maine politics. His wife, Sarah Cutts Thornton, was the daughter of Thomas Thornton, the founder of Thornton Academy. Their son, George Addison Emery, grew up in the house and eventually became a longtime member of TA’s board of trustees; he is also the namesake for the original gymnasium on campus, which now houses the library, dance studio, and classrooms. When the Emery family occupied the house, it was surrounded by farmland. Much of the original structure’s architecture remains, including special shutters on its first-floor windows that could be closed quickly from the inside as a protective measure. The building’s age makes it likely that the shutters were a purely decorative detail, but they hearken back to a time when tensions between indigenous people and European settlers ran high in the area.

In the late 1800s, the house was purchased by the Tuxbury or Tewskbury family. (Even though the house was known by the name of this family for many years, consensus on the spelling of the name of the family does not exist.) The Tuxbury family built an addition on the back of the house, including a large barn. At that time, the school’s athletic fields were situated across Main Street where the Saco Rite Aid is currently located. During half-time at football games, teams would congregate in the Tuxbury House barn to formulate a plan of attack for the second half of the games. 

Thornton Academy purchased the property in the early 1900s and converted it to a faculty residence which originally housed two families: one upstairs and one downstairs. Many well-known TA teachers took advantage of the on-campus housing, including Dick Parker ’60. Parker and his family lived on the first floor of the house from August, 1968 until the mid-1970s. He has many memories from his time in the house—from the time Canadian tourists stopped to eat tomatoes from his family’s garden, to enjoying the farmland and trees that once grew where the arts wing was constructed. He even remembers painting and renovating the house fondly, though his wife’s decision to discard the paper she removed from the walls in the fireplace came close to causing a fire at one point. “She almost burned the place down!” Parker reminisced. 

Thornton Academy continued to grow and eventually more classroom space was needed. In 1998, Thornton Hall was converted into two classrooms and the business and alumni offices were moved to what had previously been faculty housing, earning the property its current name: the Alumni House. Though its purpose has remained as an office building for more than 20 years, it retains the charm and spirit of almost 200 years of lived experiences. Its halls are lined with old photographs and new student artwork, and its offices overflow with conversations and collaborations all meant to enhance the experience of TA students. While we can’t know how Trojans of the future will use this space, we can honor its history by remembering the people who have lived and worked within its walls. 

 

Did you know?

Some believe there is a ghost on the third floor of the Alumni House! Known as “Penelope”, stories abound about her walking across the floors late at night and peering out the third floor attic window. Who is this ghost? Thornton Academy historian Cathy Coffman thinks she may be Sarah Emery, Moses Emery’s sister who died in the house when she was 14. 

 

Story by Katy Nicketakis