(Above: The Wasatch Academy Admin Building before it burned)
Wasatch Academy is in Mt Pleasant, Utah.
The Reverend Dr. Duncan J. McMillan, began his missionary work in central Utah and, on April 19, 1875 opened a free school that eventually became the Wasatch Academy.
Buildings and places that are part of Wasatch Academy:
- Alice Dormitory
- Centennial Dormitory
- Center for Evolving Technologies
- Coffee House
- Commons area
- Craighead Industrial Building
- Craighead School Building
- Darlington Hall
- Finks Dormitory
- Gymnasium / Brunger Wilkey Center
- Hamlet Field
- Hungerford Hall
- Indiana Hall (Pierce Hall)
- John’s Gym / Tigers Den
- Joseph Loftin Jack Lewis Student Center
- Joseph R. Loftin Fieldhouse
- The Liberal Hall
- Martin & Beverly Pierce Administration Building
- Physical Arts Center
- Presbyterian Church
- President’s House
- Reemtsma Math-Science Building
- Sage Hall
- Skate Park
- Wellness Center
- Zoe Frost Bonderman Hall
Wasatch Academy is located at 200 South 100 West (it covers multiple city blocks) in Mount Pleasant, Utah and it was added to the National Historic Register (#78002690) on October 2, 1978.
Wasatch Academy occupies two connecting square blocks plus a few parcels of property on parts of two other blocks located in the southwest corner of Mt. Pleasant, Utah, population 1,500. The Academy includes buildings constructed specifically for academic purposes as well as older residences purchased for use by the Academy- Together, the buildings date from the 1890’s to the late 1930’s. They are basically one to three stories in height and include buildings of both masonry and frame construction. Several different building styles are also represented, many of which are vernacular or eclectic or non-descriptive. The buildings have not been extensively altered as the campus population has not increased enough to warrant changes. The larger buildings were built during the 1920’s and include the gymnasium, administration hall and the church. The campus is situated around a large commons area (as indicated on the map) and is enhanced by mature landscaping including large Lombardy poplars and fir trees. To date, little restoration has occurred although plans are underway to restore some of the buildings.
This map (below) of the contributing buildings to the historic site was included in the nomination form when the academy was submitted to the historic register in 1978:
Key to Map:
A: Presbyterian Church
C: Alice Dormitory
D: Craighead Cottage
E: Commons area
F: Indiana Hall
G: Lincoln Hall
H: Craighead School Building
I: Craighead Industrial Building
J: Finks Dormitory
K: Johns Gymnasium
L: Thompson Infirmary
M: Sage Dormitory
N: Darlington Hall
O: McMillan Hall
P: Hungerford Hall
Q: President’s Home
R: Ericksen House
S: Hafen House
T: Ulbrich House
U: Thrift Store
(more from the NRHP nomination form…)
Wasatch Academy is the oldest continuously operating high school in the state of Utah. Founded in 1875, by a Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Duncan J. McMillan Wasatch Academy is significant for its role in a major late 19th century Protestant missionary effort aimed at converting the Mormon inhabitants of Utah. The Academy also made important contributions in helping to develop a “free school” system, precursor of the state’s present public school system,
Wasatch Academy was founded on April 19, 1875, by a Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Duncan J. McMillan who had come west to regain his health. He had been assigned by his religious superiors only a month earlier to take up his missionary work in the Mormon community of Mt. Pleasant in Sanpete County. The Presbyterians hoped to capitalize on the hostilities remaining from an apostacy that had divided the community over the issue of Mormon Church authoritarianism. The protesting group had expressed their defiance through the construction of a lumber building known as the Liberal Hall. By the time McMillan arrived in Mt. Pleasant, the apostacy had ended with the conciliation of some of the protestors and the excommunication of the unrepentant. From former Mormons, McMillen purchased the Liberal Hall for use as a mission headquarters and from: among this same group, McMillen acquired his first converts.
McMillen had arrived in Mt. Pleasant with the intention of opening a free grade school, an idea at some variance’ 1 with the established policy of his church. Presbyterians- had had along tradition of high educational standards for their clergy and had vigorously supported secondary and higher education. However, by the mid-nineteenth century they had abandoned their parochial school systems, believing that this level of education was properly a function of public, tax-supported schools. In Utah, there were only a few tax-supported schools prior to 1890 and these were of poor quality. Local Mormon ward schools had very short terms and standards which the Presbyterians considered questionable. In addition, Brigham Young had set a tone of church opposition to tax-supported schools which resulted in few districts availing themselves of the right to levy school taxes as provided for by Territorial Law. Young’s opposition was based on his preference for the “fee” schools operating in his native New England. This usually involved community financing of the school building but left the operation of the school to be supported by the per capita fee paid by the student’s parents. This system prevailed throughout Mormon areas in the West and it was this system that McMillen hoped to change through the introduction of free schools which would utilize properly trained teachers and would operate on a nine-month school year. The Presbyterians justified this incredible missionary expense by reasoning that education would free the young from what they believed to be tyranny and superstitious beliefs.
The first school session in Mt. Pleasant was held on April 19, 1875. Before the term ended that spring, the attendance had reached well over one hundred pupils. In 1880 the school was taken over by the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church and continued under the control of that body until July of 1973 when the school became financially independent of the Church.
In its early years the scholastic offerings were restricted to the lower grades. The first high school class graduated in 1887 and consisted of two students. As local public schools developed and improved, the Academy gradually discontinued the lower grades and by 1958 had become a 4-year high school.
In 1888 the building on Main Street proved to be too small for efficient work so a group of Mt. Pleasant businessmen subscribed the sum of $2,000.00 to help complete a new structure which was located on the site of the present Administration Hall. Popular demand soon brought about the establishment of the boarding department and by 1896 there were 24 boarding pupils enrolled.
Charles Lee Johns was appointed principal in 1911. During his tenure, much of the present property was secured, a number of new buildings were erected, and the Administration Hall was enlarged. In 1912 a similar school in Springville, Utah, the “Hungerford Academy” was closed and consolidated with Wasatch. The first important dormitory, Finks Memorial Hall, was erected in 1913 by volunteer gifts from all parts of the nation. During the same year, the commercial and home economics department were added. The next year the manual training courses were offered for the first time.
Mrs. Charles F. Darlington of New York City gave funds in 1916 for the first boy’s dormitory. In 1917 the gymnasium corner was purchased, along with a small cottage from a Mr. Johansen. With these purchases, the holdings now included one and a half city blocks.
The Frances Thompson Memorial Infirmary was built in 1921-22 by church friends in Passaic, New Jersey. Earlier the same year the Johns Gymnasium was erected in honor of the principal who was so active in its construction. The following year the Olivia Sage Memorial Hall was built with funds from the estate of the wife of the internationally famous philanthropist. In 1929 the Duncan J. McMillan Memorial Hall was built to house a number of the teachers and to serve as a home for the superintendent.
On April 4, 1933, the Administration Hall was destroyed by fire and the present Craighead School Building was erected on the old foundation. During the summer of 1934, the Craighead Industrial Hall was built to house the manual arts and homemaking courses. In the spring of 1934 the girl’s boarding and day school at Logan, Utah, consolidated with Wasatch.
Realizing the need for additional space, the school purchased the Climenson home north of the Administration Hall in 1928 and the Barnett home in 1935. During the summer of 1938 both of these buildings were razed and a fine new dormitory for girls was erected on the site. This building was also funded from the Craighead estate. In recent years additional faculty homes and academic buildings were added as funds became available. A large multipurpose building with a new gym, a fine arts area and a choir and band rehearsal room with individual practice rooms was opened for classes in the fall of 1969.
The Academy’s philosophy is unique to this area as it actually seeks students from a variety of religious, racial, cultural and economic backgrounds. For over one hundred years, students have been brought together from isolated inter-mountain regions, Indian reservations of the West, urban inner-city centers, overseas countries that do not have a high school program for children of American parents and from countries that send nationals for an American high school education.
Wasatch Academy is ecumenical, its purpose being “to provide a Christian environment with opportunities for growth in mind, body and spirit.” Many of its graduates have made significant contributions to society.