HISTORY OF RUMSEY HALL SCHOOL
THE FORMATIVE YEARS 1900-1906
On October 1, 1900, Mrs. Lillias Rumsey Sanford of Seneca Falls, New York founded the second private non-denominational pre-preparatory school in the United States. It was called “The Terrace: Mrs. Sanford’s School for Boys” and was located in a mansion which Lillias Sanford’s father had built called Rumsey Hall. In its inaugural year there were seven students. This was to be a “home school” for boys under thirteen years of age. Its purpose was to prepare students for the new private secondary schools, many of which had been founded during the preceding fifteen years.
The catalog for 1900-1901 begins with these words:
will be taken to make the home life bright and happy,
to cultivate in
the young boys high ideals, and to control them
by judicious means without harsh measures."
Lillias Rumsey Sanford
1850 ~ 1949
THE CORNWALL YEARS 1906-1948
In 1906, Mrs. Sanford, who held the title of Director, took two actions, which would profoundly influence the course of Rumsey Hall School for the next forty three years. First, she moved the school (now called Rumsey Hall) from Seneca Falls, NY to Cornwall, CT. It would remain there until 1949. Second, she hired Louis Henry Schutte as her second Headmaster, replacing Walter Wildman. Mr. Schutte became Rumsey’s longest standing Headmaster serving from 1906-1941. By 1921 enrollment had grown to 65 students.
The unique working relationship forged by Mrs. Sanford and Mr. Schutte became the cornerstone of Rumsey Hall School in Cornwall, the embodiment of two passionate educators who shared the same vision. Many traditions still survive today: a prize for Declamation has been a Rumsey standard since the earliest days, Track and Field Day has been a yearly event since 1912, and the Effort List remains a cornerstone of the Rumsey program.
Mrs. Sanford died in 1940. Her daughter-in-law, Helen Greves
Sanford, took over as Director until 1941. Headmaster Schutte declined an option to purchase the school, and in 1941 it passed into the hands of John Forby Schereschewsky, popularly known as “Mr. Sherry”. Mr.
Sherry and his wife, Betty, came to Rumsey Hall from Suffield Academy,
where he had been Headmaster.
Football season in Cornwall
Tennis Season in Cornwall
No sooner had the Schereschewskys purchased the school than
World War II broke out. The country was in turmoil, and in 1943 Mr. Schereschewsky left Rumsey Hall to join the Navy for two years. He served his
tour of duty with the amphibious forces and commanded a landing craft
during the Normandy invasion. During this time, Mr. David Griffin Barr, a devoted faculty member since 1914, was appointed interim Director of Rumsey Hall. Together with Mrs. Schereschewsky, he led Rumsey Hall until Mr. Schereschewsky returned. Mr. Barr remained as Headmaster until 1956.
In the late 40’s Mr. Schereschewsky and Mr. Barr found themselves faced with a momentous decision. In Washington, CT lay the vacant campus of the former Romford School for Boys, a casualty of wartime hardship. A Washington consortium formed by several prominent citizens of the area was seeking a new occupant for the campus and they approached Mr. Schereschewsky to see if he might consider it as a home for Rumsey Hall.
This vacant Washington campus held several attractions. In Cornwall, limited space had always been an issue, preventing any further expansion of the School. Also, Rumsey Hall did not own the buildings it occupied and had to lease them from the town of Cornwall.
THE EARLY WASHINGTON YEARS 1948-1985
When the Washington consortium proposed to underwrite the cost of moving the School from Cornwall to Washington, Mr. Sherry and the Board of Trustees accepted the offer. Rumsey Hall’s Class of 1948 was the last to be educated in Cornwall as the School headed for its third and final location.
Co-education was introduced in the 1949-1950 academic year, with Rumsey
Hall becoming one of the first schools of its kind to discontinue an
all-male enrollment. New building projects continued through the 1950’s
and 1960’s as the enrollment of the School steadily increased to 175
In 1965 Mr. Schereschewsky’s son, John Forby Schereschewsky, Jr. ’47, became Headmaster. A Harvard graduate like his father, Mr. Schereschewsky, Jr. eagerly embraced the Rumsey lifestyle as a teacher, coach, and administrator. For four years, Mr. Schereschewsky, Sr. and Mr. Schereschewsky, Jr. led Rumsey Hall as Director and Headmaster, respectively, bringing Rumsey Hall to unprecedented heights of enrollment and reputation.
Students looking for a ride ...
Their collaboration ended in 1969 when Mr. Schereschewsky, Sr. died from a
heart attack and Mr. Schereschewsky, Jr. succeeded his father as Director.
Louis George Magnoli, a teacher and administrator at Rumsey since 1957,
was appointed Headmaster. Mr. Schereschewsky, Jr. and Mr. Magnoli held firm to
their beliefs in the value of a traditional education during the
turbulent early 1970’s. By 1977 this belief, combined with sound
leadership, earned them widespread respect and admiration, as well as a
resurgence in applications for admission. The untimely death of Mr. Schereschewsky, Jr. during a hunting accident in 1977 left Mr. Magnoli at the
helm alone, a position he filled admirably.
Mr. Magnoli was well-loved as a teacher, coach and Headmaster. He oversaw the renovation of the Main House and construction of a new gymnasium. With an eye to the future Mr. Magnoli inaugurated a mandatory course in basic computer literacy. He also instituted the advisor program wherein each student was assigned a faculty member as his or her permanent advisor. From 1957 until 1985, Mr. Magnoli played an integral part in every aspect of life at Rumsey Hall.
RUMSEY HALL TODAY 1985 - 2009
Magnoli’s successor, Thomas W. Farmen, has managed to preserve the
traditions of Rumsey Hall while responding to the challenges of
educating children in today’s world. Mr. Farmen came to Rumsey Hall in
1974 as a science teacher. He occupied several positions of
responsibility before becoming Headmaster in 1985, including Chair of
the Science Department, Director of Athletics and Director of Secondary
School Placement. Under his administration, Rumsey Hall has continued
its tradition of providing a challenging program in a supportive,
family-like atmosphere. Enrollment in 1985 stood at 155 students.
Brothers and Sisters ~ 1965
In 1995, a village-like architectural scheme was initiated. The Upper School courtyard replaced the existing driveway, the Dicke Family Library project was completed and a host of facility improvements were initiated. In 1997, the J. Seward Johnson, Sr. Fine Arts Center, the Garassino Family Classroom Building and the Satyavati Science Center were completed. In 1999 the School purchased 47 acres of adjacent property and a gift of 14 adjacent acres was given in honor of Rumsey’s Centennial. These two gifts doubled the size of the campus and brought on the creation of the current campus master plan.
Throughout the 1999-2000 year Rumsey Hall hosted a series of special events to celebrate its 100th birthday, culminating in a black tie dinner dance in June that over 200 alumni and friends attended. Since 2000 the School has engaged in an ambitious program to improve its facilities, including the construction of the Dane W. Dicke Family Math and Science Buildings, the Cutler Cottage, the Scott Evans Seibert ’92 Memorial Field and the Roy Football Field. The Cornell Field, The Pavek Field and the New Dorm field were rebuilt to accommodate the School’s growing enrollment. The Maxwell A. Sarofim ‘05 Performing Arts Center, a new gymnasium, two new dormitories and the Lufkin Rink are the latest additions to Rumsey Hall’s ever improving campus and program.
Rumsey Hall currently enrolls 314 students from 12 countries, 21 states, and 27 local communities.
(History courtesy of Rumsey Hall)