The beginning of independent school education in Millburn Township dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century. As early as 1880, before Mr. Stewart had purchased large tracts of land in Short Hills, the Rev. Horace Reid, Rector of St. Stephen's Church in Millburn, feeling the need of a school for his parishioners' children, started one in a colonial building in the rear of a house. This school ran until 1870 when the Reverend Mr. Reid moved nearer his church and started St. Stephen's Parish School. It was located At the corner of Old Short Hills Road and Hobart Avenue, and was called "Hobart Hall". A small school, called "Washington Hall" was held over McCullom's store at the "Four Corners."
About 1879, a building constructed and supported by Stewart Hartshorn, known as "The Heights Academy, Short Hills" was directed by Dr. Julius R. Rose, Rector of St. Stephen's Church. A Miss Sarah Bailey was one of his teachers. The Heights Academy was a boarding school for boys and young men from ten to twenty years of age and a day school for both boys and girls.
When Dr. Rose closed his school about 1883, it was taken over for a girls' school known as "The Bacquet Institute". Situated on the highest point in Short Hills, and directed by Miss Harriet Stuart Bacquet, the course of instruction included all branches of study necessary for a thorough education in English, German, French, and other modern languages, music, art, and the classics.
The "Music Hall" now known as "The Racquets Club" had become useful for many purposes and in 1882, Mrs. George Rose opened a school in a room in the basement which had been furnished for that purpose. There were about fifteen children in her group and at a later date, another school occupied other space in the basement. In addition to these, two sisters had started a school in a small house on Knollwood Road. A history of Short Hills published in 1884, says "In the basement of this striking and unique structure (Music Hall) near the tasteful little station, are kept two select schools." Who ran which school and when has not been recorded, but it is known that in this period Miss Curtiss, Mr. Runyon, Dr. Rich and Mr. Arnold all held sway at various times. Dr. Rich also conducted Presbyterian Church services in the same over-worked basement, and Mr. Arnold shortly became the first principal in the new school building constructed by Mr. Hartshorn directly above Christ Church.
The Budget, dated September 15, 1886, ran the following advertisement "Wiliston Seminary, Short Hills, New Jersey, Mrs. H.M. Willis, principal, Fall Term begins, Wednesday, September 15, 1886. Examinations for arrangements of classes Monday and Tuesday, September 13 and 14. All applications for boarding or day scholars should be made September 8th as the number will be limited."
Any further information about the Williston Seminary is not known as is the case of the "Short Hills Classical School." An announcement concerning this school appeared in "The News Item" dated March, 1888, as follows:
"The following is a list of the Scholars in the order of advancement:"
2d Form. 1, Charles
Langdon Perry; 2, Fred'k. Bartholomew; 3, N. Harvey Stabb; 4, Charles
Y. Wemple; 5, Frank T. Perry; 6, Jas. Robert Pitcher; Shell Form, 10;
Lyman T. Perry; 11, Egbert B. Perry; 12 George L. Kobbe.
Marks were listed in French, Algebra, and Arithmetic and the final paragraph read as follows:
"Principal?Percy R. Harrison, M.A., late scholar of Pembrooke College, Oxford. The Easter success Recess of this School will commence on Good Friday, and end with the following week."
Today, Millburn Township has three independent elementary schools, namely: St. Rose of Lima Parochial School, The Short Hills Country Day School, and Far Brook School.
St. Rose of Lima School probably came into formal existence about 1869, although as early as 1852 some classes were held intermittently in the home of Daniel Coughlan of Springfield. Two of the first teachers were M. R. Plunkett and Miss Emily Salt. About 1879 the newly formed religious order, the Sisters of Charity, were engaged to teach here. Before a school building was built, classes were held in an altered hat shop, and also in the church rectory. Sister Frances Dougherty was the first nun in charge of the school, The foundress of the Order Mother Xavier, spent two weeks here with the first Superior Sister. A succession of these women was to continue down through the years until they were replaced in 1952 by the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. These nuns now assume the responsibility of caring for the children of the St. Rose of Lima School.
Starting with forty students, the school now has an enrollment of four hundred. Classes range from kindergarten through the eighth grade, and teach such subjects as drama, art work, physical education, basic skills and French. Ten nuns, two full and three part-time lay teachers instruct the courses. The Principal, Mother Saint Isabelle Marie, is also the Mother Superior of the Convent.
It was during the late 1880's that The Short Hills Country Day School began to emerge out of the mass of small independent schools. The present school building on Highland Avenue, was started in July, 1891, by Mr. Stewart Hartshorn. It is presumed that with the growth of this new community, Mr. Hartshorn saw the need of a definite and central school building. It was subsidized by Mr. Hartshorn, with Mr. Arnold acting as headmaster. He was followed shortly by Mr. Allen, during whose mastership the school was run on a military basis with wooden guns used when the student drilled.
On April 2, 1898, the school was incorporated and its name changed to The Short Hills Country Day School. In 1901 Mr. Twitchell rented the building from Mr. Hartshorn and ran it as headmaster until 1918. During that time the school prepared pupils directly for college. However, the War brought such a dearth of pupils that in 1918, Mr. Twitchell stopped renting the building from Mr. Hartshorn and a board of trustees was formed who kept Mr. Twitchell on as a salaried headmaster for one year more. The school has been organized in this manner every since that time.
George A. Land followed Mr. Twitchell as headmaster for only two years, and was succeeded by Harold B. Lance for four years.
In 1924 Mr. Albert E. Benning was appointed headmaster and his successful reign lasted for twenty-five years until the time of his retirement in 1945. Among other things, this period was marked by two important gifts. In 1930 the Hartshorn Estate gave the School Corporation the deed to the land on which the Lower School building stands; and in 1936 Uts Geberiyskt gave the School the deeds to the original building built in 1891, and to the land on which it stands.
Mr. Edward R. Kast, the present head, was appointed headmaster in July, 1949, after serving as an assistant to Mr. Banning for three years. Since that time, the school has grown steadily to its present capacity enrollment of over two hundred boys and girls from Pre-Kindergarten through the Ninth grade, and in its physical plan which has been completely renovated and modernized, including the addition of a nine classroom building.
The School, with a teaching faculty of twenty and an administrative staff of two, offers to its students the traditional sound education, which prepares them for the better secondary schools.
FAR BROOK SCHOOL, is the third co-educational independent school in Millburn Township located on Great Hills Road, where The Buxton School, founded by Mrs. Danforth Geer in September, 1928, was established. The history of Far Brook School began in the Spring of 1948 when a group of parents, interested in a very special kind of education, bought the property of Buxton, an experimental and popularly-labeled "progressive" school, which had moved to Massachusetts.
Mrs. Winifred S. Moore, the present principal had directed the Lowe Buxton School from 1946 and had created such dynamic enthusiasm among parents that this group raised a substantial amount of money toward the purchase and renovation of a school which she was asked to direct.
In the Spring of 1948 the new, cooperative, parent-owned Far Brook School elected its first Board of Trustees, who were to be responsible for the business management of the School, the educational philosophy and practice clearly defined as the prerogative of the director and the faculty. From the outset, Far Brook set about to develop its chosen responsibility in the community in the education of the gifted children regardless of race, religion or economic strata. The enrollment of the school was stabilized at about 165 students through the eighth grade. Gradually, a ninth grade is being established as a roundout of the Junior High School level.
Although Far Brook's chronological history is short, this parent-owned school has from the start been supported with enthusiasm and tremendous generosity, and not only in terms of financial support but in actual work of renovation and building, in skillful business management and in future planning.
Independent schools have served the citizens of Millburn Township for the past one hundred years. Their role in the community and in American education is a most important one and their contributions to all education are not inconsiderable, nor do they diminish with time. They share in common, along with better schools everywhere an interest in the individual student, the goal of stimulating the student's mind and molding his character, and a sincere dedication to a liberal arts education. Many include a study of religion and of non-dogmatic ethical and moral values.