Founded in 1744, West Nottingham Academy is the oldest boarding school in the nation. It is also the first of the Presbyterian boarding schools, and was the forerunner to some 1,600 similar academies. Our early graduates include many prominent colonial Americans, including Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton, both signers of the Declaration of Independence.
In 1744, Samuel Finley, an Irish-Presbyterian preacher and teacher, was called to take charge of a newly formed congregation on the lower branch of the Octoraro Creek, known as the Nottingham Lots. Finley, who later became president of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, believed that the task of the church was to not only foster faith, but to teach men and women to think independently by exposing them to the great thoughts of the ages.
When Finley opened his school nearly 275 years ago, it was a crude log structure at his own home, located near the present site of Rising Sun Middle School. Within a few years, both church and school were moved to their present location. A two-story building at what is now the sunken garden housed the main school activities. When it was destroyed by fire, a single-story building replaced it, only to be destroyed again, this time by a storm. In 1865, what is now J. Paul Slaybaugh Old Academy was erected, and stands today.