50 Main Street
‘This structure stands on a small .6 acre wooded lot on Durham’s Main Street.
- Record ID: 71
- Address: 50 Main Street
- Current Owner: Venuti, Karen
- Name of Building: Durham Academy/Coginchaug School
- Historic Name: Durham Academy
- Download PDF of Original Record
Historical or Architectural Importance
This is one of Durham is most important nineteenth-century public buildings. As built in 1843-44, it was a domestic vernacular structure with Greek Revival features, the most notable of these being a recessed main entry flanked by pilasters and surmounted by a three part entablature and a cornice with a freize. Unlike the churches, however, the use of classical references was restrained, the wide corner pilasters evident on the Town Hall, the Grange Hall, and the United Churches, all of which are more or less contemporary with this structure, being reduced to narrow corner boards and lacking a pediment. The roof of the building was once surmounted by a square louvered bell-tower. This structure has been extensively altered. Its original clapboard sheating has been replaced with aluminum siding, obscuring the building’s original classical ornamentation. It has, moreover, been vacant and deteriorating for many years.
In the spring of 1843, Miles Mervin, Jr., the Rev. Charles S. Mills, Samuel Parsons, the Rev. David Smith and Perez Sturtevant constituted themselves as the Trustees of the Durham Academy. Their plan was to organize a private school offering a higher level of learning than that available in the public common schools of the town. They hoped, in the absence of public high schools in Connecticut (the first one would not be opened until the 1850s), to attract students from all over the state. In 1843, the trustees purchased a lot from Dennis camp. The school building received its first students in the fall of 1844. The school did well at first, serving as a center of village culture–the place where public lectures were held and plays given–as well as of the higher branches of education. But increasing competition from the public schools, particularly the Middletown High School spelled its doom. In 1884, the Academy defaulted on its mortgage and the building was seized by its creditors. The building passed through several hands until 1891, when it was purchased by the Town of Durham and became the Coginchaug School, a consolidated school which joined together the North and Quarry School Districts. The building served from 1898 to 1923 as Durham’s first high school. When the new school was completed, the old academy building was sold to the Knights of Pythias. They used it as their club house until 1973. The building also served as Durham’s Post Office from 1935 through 1958, when the present post office was built. The building passed to its present owners in 1973. Even in its deteriorated condition, this structure is Durham’s most important nineteenth century secular public building. For that reason alone it is worth rehabilitating. Its historical importance as a center of the town’s culture, as school, clubhouse and post office, also justifies its restoration.