Erskine Academy: A Heritage of Providing Independent High Schooling in Central Maine
The founding of Erskine Academy dates back into the 19th century when the town academies were the primary high schools in Maine. Today in Maine, only ten town academies exist, with Erskine Academy being the second largest with an enrollment of 600 students.
- Founded in 1883 by Mary T. Erskine, the Academy is governed by a five-member board of trustees responsible for the overall management and mission of the school. Since its inception, Erskine Academy has been, and continues to be, an independent high school option for any qualified student who can benefit from the established school program.
In September 1883, Erskine Academy officially opened the doors of its single building (a converted former church purchased for fifty dollars) to 52 students and a single teacher. Mrs. Erskine declared the Academy’s opening day to be the happiest day of her life. By 1885, the school had proved to be so successful and in demand that Mrs. Erskine set aside additional funding for the school. The number of students increased during that time, so the school building was raised ten feet to accommodate more classrooms underneath.
By 1891, it became apparent that the school needed to grow in proportion to an increasing student enrollment. Because students did not necessarily attend consecutive years of schooling, it would be 1892 before there were four students who had completed four years apiece. The first formal graduation was then held that spring. Growth continued. Girls’ and boys’ dormitories were added; students brought their own food and fuel from home and prepared their own meals. Having been renovated and preserved over many years, these dormitories are used today as classroom space.
Tragedy struck in 1926 when the school building burned and was a total loss. Classes resumed that next Monday in the gym, where they were held for the next ten years. The new classroom building (today’s main building) was completed in 1936. In 1950, an expanding campus and program saw more building construction for needed classrooms, kitchen, cafeteria, library, offices, and science laboratories. Groundbreaking ceremonies for a new gymnasium were held in May 1982.
Erskine’s history has been marked by a steadily increasing student body and subsequent expansions to program and facility. Concurrently, the Academy encountered adversity in the form of fire, the advent of municipal public high schools and school districts, fierce competition for students, difficult economic times, and less than friendly public policy. All the while, the school has stayed true to its original mission: to provide students with a quality education that will enable them to achieve their goals and realize their potential. Historically and today, Erskine Academy serves eight sending communities—school choice towns—that tuition their students for secondary school services. The academy has long been recognized and praised for its heritage of delivering a private school education to public school students who otherwise would not have the opportunity. In addition to serving the youth and families from the Maine towns of Chelsea, Jefferson, Whitefield, Windsor, Somerville, Palermo, Vassalboro, and China, the Academy admits private pay students and an increasing international student population.
Present day enrollment, school facilities, and academic and extracurricular programming are quite different from that first class and school in 1883. The school has outgrown the facility to the extent that graduation exercises are now held at the Augusta Civic Center. Reasons for the Academy’s growth differ, although it is agreed that course offerings in a comprehensive and diverse curriculum, a broad range of extracurricular activities, a safe and secure learning environment, a highly qualified and caring faculty, and continuous school improvement efforts are in part responsible.
The traditions, changes, and developments that have occurred over Erskine Academy’s history reflect the community’s’ desire for an educational experience for their students that will best prepare them for the future. Local citizens founded Erskine Academy in 1883 to fill a void in the educational opportunities available to students living in the rural areas. Today it continues to serve as the choice school for the many students from surrounding towns that do not maintain their own high schools. Today, as in 1883, the intent of the school has not changed substantively: Erskine will provide a quality, independent secondary education to the area’s public school students by blending traditional values with contemporary programs.