Founded in 1744, West Nottingham Academy (WNA) is an independent boarding and day school - the oldest boarding school in the nation. West Nottingham’s early roster of graduates includes many of the most prominent colonial Americans, and the school has for centuries featured the same interest in each student’s development of excellence that typified those early years. The Academy sees the individual in the midst of the crowd, and goes about making responsible, intelligent women and men from the adolescents entrusted to it. That is the school’s heritage, and the framework from which we teach.
In 1744, a dynamic Irish Presbyterian preacher named Samuel Finley was called to take charge of the newly formed congregation on the lower branch of the Octoraro Creek, a short distance south of what was soon to become the historic Mason-Dixon line. The congregation that called the young Irishman to be its minister lived on the broad, rolling land known as the Nottingham Lots.
Finley, destined in later years to become president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), was a teacher as well as a preacher. Finley held that to be an intelligent Christian one needed to use the mind God provided, and that one’s mind could reach full effectiveness only through training. The task of the church, for Finley, was to administer the sacraments and comfort the sick, to baptize the infants and consecrate marriage, to bury the dead and preach the Word of God. But the task of the church also was to teach men and women to think by exposing them to the great thoughts of the ages in order to produce rational beings capable of creative action in a new and swiftly changing world.
Finley opened his school in 1744. It was a crude log structure at the rear of his own home, located near the present site of the Rising Sun Middle School. The log building on the present campus was built as a replica of the original school building from descriptions in old records and students’ memoirs.
Within a few years, church and Academy were moved to their present location. A two-story building was erected to house the school activities at the site of what is now the sunken garden at Gayley. When it burned, a single-story building replaced it, only to be destroyed some years later by storm. In 1865 the red brick J. Paul Slaybaugh Old Academy was erected and stands to this day.
During its history, the Academy has seen many changes. It was the first of the Presbyterian preparatory boarding schools and the forerunner of some 1,600 similar academies in the country. As public education became the norm, the Presbyterian Church allowed most of its secondary schools to close or converted them to colleges.
West Nottingham dropped its formal ties to the church in 1972. The Academy continues to prepare young men and women for successful living, and confronts them with a vision of purpose toward which life should be lived.
Over the last twenty-five years, the Chesapeake Learning Center was founded, and the school’s long commitment to the education of international students was formalized with the creation of the English as a Second Language curriculum. In addition, we have seen the construction of new facilities, including the C. Herbert Foutz Student Center (1989), East and West Dormitories (1998), the renovation of Magraw Hall (2000), the renovation of Finley Hall (2002), and the construction of the Patricia A. Bathon Science Center (2003). Summer 2007 saw a complete renovation of Rush House and the construction of Durigg Plaza, an outdoor amphitheater and meeting space for our entire community. Complete renovation of Rowland dormitory was completed in the summer of 2008.