by Clark Groome

The 2010-2011 academic year marks a major milestone in Chestnut Hill Academy’s history: the school’s 150th anniversary.

CHA Pre-K with 150th anniversary banner

To celebrate CHA’s sesquicentennial, a history has been commissioned, special events have been planned, a new musical piece has been composed, and a special ice cream flavor has been created by the students that will be produced this spring.

Co-chairperson Melen Boothby, former CHA parent and wife of alumnus Richard Boothby ’66, said, “It’s a celebration of all the history, all the people who’ve been involved – how we’ve changed from a small little school to [where] we are now.”

“It’s entwined in the life of Chestnut Hill [which also] has changed over the years,” she added.

Boothby’s co-chairperson is Laine Jacoby, a CHA parent and Springside’s interim head of Lower School.

“To have a school be in existence for 150 years and to do so well is impressive,” Jacoby said. “Our focus is to make it a community-wide celebration. That includes the boys’ experience as well as family, alums, faculty – past and present.”

The first anniversary project undertaken was the commissioning of a new CHA history. (Full disclosure: this author was engaged to write the school’s story.) The first five chapters of the eight-chapter project have already appeared in the school’s alumni and parent publication, CHAnnels, and are available on the school’s website  HYPERLINK “http://www.chestnuthillacademy.org” www.chestnuthillacademy.org.

The final three installments will be published in December, March and July. When the history is complete, all eight chapters will be collected into a book. The history began when a Presbyterian minister named Roger Owen founded a school named Chestnut Hill Academy in 1851. That institution disappeared after a few years. The CHA we know today was incorporated in 1861.

CHA moved into its current home, the Wissahickon Inn, in 1898. The first couple of years there the school shared the building with the inn, taking it over for good in 1900.

The Houston family built the inn and created the neighborhood surrounding it. This building, now on the national historic register, is one of the focuses of the school’s sesquicentennial celebration.

When CHA students returned from summer vacation this past September, they were greeted by an exhibition in the school’s main entrance, known as The Exchange. It features pictures of the old school, a CHA timeline that includes dates of major historical events and a series of architectural drawings – prepared by architects Courtney Kapp and Jeff Krieger – showing how the school’s campus has changed over the years. The exhibit, open to the public during school hours, will be used to help students relate CHA’s history to what was going on in the rest of the world.

On Oct. 12 the entire CHA community gathered on the school’s baseball field (the oldest in continuous use in the Philadelphia area) to form the number 150. CHA alumnus Duncan Pearson ’97 took an aerial photo of the formation.

The Original Wissahickon Inn

The Exchange exhibit was the central focus of a tour led by the Chestnut Hill Historical Society for the Chestnut Hill community and CHA alumni returning to the school for Homecoming on Oct. 30. The tour included the Wissahickon Inn as well as parts of the St. Martin’s neighborhood.

The night before Homecoming, CHA celebrated its athletic history with the induction of the Chestnut Hill Academy Athletic Hall of Fame’s fourth class. The inductees included two teams and seven individuals, bringing the total membership in the hall since it was founded a decade ago to eight teams and 47 individuals, ranging from Olympians to professional athletes, and coaches.

As a Thanksgiving contribution to the community, students collected turkeys and canned goods for the Germantown Avenue Crisis. The goal was to collect 150 turkeys. Thanks to the generosity of so many CHA families, the school was able to donate 291 turkeys and a van full of canned goods for local families in need.

CHA’s drama group, the Players, is also celebrating an anniversary this year, its 75th. The Players’ fall production, which ran from Dec. 9 to 11, was Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s Brigadoon. This show was the first musical the Players ever produced. It was mounted in 1961 during the school’s centennial observance.

On Jan. 17, 2011, as part of the Martin Luther King Day of Service to the Community, the entire student body, Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade, will perform a day of service as a 150th birthday present from CHA.

Music has always been a huge part of CHA’s history. The school’s choral group (variously known over the years as a choir, chorus, or glee club and originally founded in 1903) will take part in the celebration on April 26 when it sings CHA Music Department Chairman Roland Woehr’s setting of the 150th Psalm, Laudate Dominum.

Blue and Blue Day, the school’s annual field day and color war, will be held on April 29. In addition to the regular student competition, there will be a special alumni and faculty light blue/dark blue tug of war.

On Blue and Blue Day, students will also get their first taste of the ice cream they created this fall with the help of CHA alumnus Michael Strange ’76, president of Bassetts Ice Cream, whose family business is, coincidentally, celebrating its 150th anniversary. In September, teams of CHA students came up with suggested names and ingredients for a 150th anniversary flavor. The proposed names included “CHAcolate Devils Food Swirl,” “Devil Berry Swirl,” “Blue Devil CHA CHA,” “Chocolate Hill,” “Super Duper Blue Devil Monstrous Blast Supreme,” “Devil Mint Gummy Deluxe,” and  “Bleeding Blue.”

And the winner was: “Devil’s Delight,” made up of vanilla ice cream, caramel swirl, chocolate fudge, and light and dark blue M&Ms. Strange will return to CHA on Blue and Blue Day with gallons of the ice cream to share with the school community.

The largest single event of the yearlong celebration will take place during the school’s spring Reunions Weekend, May 13 and 14. On Saturday night there will be a gala, chaired by tireless CHA parent Kim Banks. Its theme is “Visions and Dreams,” based on the words inscribed in the school chapel: “Your Old Men Shall Dream Dreams and Your Young Men Shall See Visions.”

All CHA headmasters, board chairmen, trustees, current and former faculty members, parents and former parents, alumni, members of the Springside family, and friends of the school will be invited to the party. A dinner, dancing, and fireworks will make up the evening.

Six days following the gala, students will celebrate the 150th day of this special school year that ends with the Class of 2011’s commencement on June 14.
Sesquicentennial co-chairpersons Boothby and Jacoby describe the entire yearlong anniversary as an opportunity “to celebrate the past while looking forward to an exciting future.”

For more information about CHA and its sesquicentennial call Diane Drinker at 215-247-4700, ext. 1113.