Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Incarnation of Fort Crailo into a 19th Century Boys Boarding School

Crailo State Historic Site, or Fort Crailo, as it is sometimes known, was built by Hendrick Van Rensselaer in the early 18th Century. Located in Rensselaer, New York, Crailo sits across the Hudson River from New York State’s capital, Albany.

 The word Crailo means “crows’ woods” and was the name of an estate the Van Rensselaers owned in the Netherlands.  The beautiful brick house grew in size and changed in stlye with each succeeding  generation of the  Van Rensselaers who lived at Crailo.

                In 1834, Dr. Jeremiah Van Rensselaer rented Crailo to be used as a boarding school for boys. The Rev. Hiram Worthington Bulkeley, of Williamstown, MA was the owner of the school. Named the Mansion School, it catered to boys aged 14 years or younger.   

                An advertisement for the school in the Albany Argus, dated May 22, 1835, stated that, “It has an elevated situation in a healthy part of the town, commanding an extensive prospect of the adjacent country. In this institution boys will be prepared for college, the counting room, or other active business of life. . . The manners and morals of pupils will be objects of special regard. . .Terms per year from $125.00 to $150.00, varying with age and studies.” (#2)

                The school’s faculty included the Rev. Bulkeley, a French instructor named Isadore Joshua DeLussa, and Dr. Alvan Wheeler. Dr. Wheeler was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Williams College – he attended the Pittsfield (MA) Medical Institution and practiced medicine in Great Barrington,MA.  Dr. Wheeler was forced to leave his medical practice due to an extreme case of asthma. He was married to Harriet Amelia Bulkeley, which may have been his entry into Rev. Bulkeley’s  school.

                As to the Rev. Bulkeley’  system of education – “A beautiful feature of his system, is one, which ought to be prominent and permanent in every seminary of learning. . .he believes. . .that a teacher’s business is but half performed, who does not strictly insist on habits of sound morality, on the part of his pupils, and duly urge upon their attention the precepts of our pure and holy religion.” (#3)

                The Mansion School taught a classics curriculum. Classes included: Reading, Spelling, Grammar, Arithmetic, History, Latin, Virgil, Cicero, Bookkeeping and Natural Philosophy.

                In the News/Opinion section of the Albany Argus, Oct. 20, 1837, the “Mansion School, kept by the Rev. H.W. Bulkeley, of Greenbush (is spoken of) in terms of high commendation, both as to the care and attention paid to the personal comfort of the scholars, and the course of instruction pursued therein. It’s location is undoubtedly desirable, being on the east bank of the Hudson River, a few rods south of the village of Greenbush, and directly opposite the city of Albany.” (#4)

                Under the title “Bulkeley’s Mansion School, Greenbush” in the News/Opinion section, of the October 10, 1838 edition of the Albany Evening Journal, the praises of Rev. Bulkeley’s school for boys in Greenbush were sung. The writer of the article had been invited by Rev. Bulkeley to attend “the school’s  examination and exhibition of his scholars.”   The students “. . .were probed upon every point properly connected with the subject in hand, and gave unequivocal proof of their own improvement and the salutary and successful discipline, both moral and literary, of their able preceptor.”   The writer of the article concluded, “. . .from what we saw of Mr. Bulkeley’s school during the examination in question – and we attended two days – and had a fair chance for critical and accurate observation – we do not hesitate to commend it decidedly as among the best institutions of the kind.” (#3)

                Apparently, the Mansion School, in Greenbush, was very highly thought of by a number of people.  “Nevertheless, in 1839, Reverend Bulkeley and his wife moved to Ballston, NY where he became principal of Bulkeley’s Family School at Ballston Spa.” (#1,p.90)  Perhaps, one reason for the move was the location of Ballston Spa, “. . .within a few rods of Saratoga and Schenectady and Saratoga and Troy railroads.”  (#5)  In 1858, Rev. H.W. Bulkeley wrote the book, A Word to Parents , which gave parents advice on disciplining their children.

                “The house may have remained vacant between 1840 and 1843 . . . In May 1843, the Crailo school reopened as the ‘Mansion Hall School’ under the direction of James T. Foster and Richard L. Ross”  (#1,p.91) The Albany Argus, dated October 15, 1844, stated the Mansion Hall Boarding School in Greenbush is described as “ This flourishing school is situated on the banks of the Hudson, just below the village of Greenbush, nearly opposite the city of Albany, immediately within the advantages of both city and village, while it is sufficiently distant from their temptations.” (#6).

                Richard L. Ross had definite ideas about the best course of study for his students. “The design of the school is to give a course of thorough English and Classical Education preparatory to business or entering college. The mode of instruction is chiefly oral, the use of such textbooks and apparatus as necessary. . .”  (#7)

                 According to Mr. Ross, there was more to his school than just intellectual achievement “he  (Mr. Ross) will spare no pains to advance and improve his pupils intellectually – and to make them contented and happy – yet he will not forget the higher duty attending strictly to their morals, and keeping constantly before them that the great end of education is to be better prepared to serve God and keep His commandments.”  (#6)

                Mr. R.L. Ross “. . .has the experience of fifteen years teaching, of both young ladies and gentlemen” (#6). Mr. James T. Foster, who ran the school with Mr. Ross, had been the principal at a number of schools in Vermont and upstate New York. As for the other members of the staff,  Mr. Ross promised to “. . .employ none but the most competent teachers as his assistants.” (#6)




                One of those “competent teachers” was the music teacher, Oliver J. Shaw, Jr. In 1848, Mr. Shaw composed a piece of music for the piano forte, entitled “ Mansion Hall, Waltz Brillante”. On the music sheet cover, it states the music is “ composed and respectfully dedicated to his pupils at Mansion Hall”.

                There was more to Mansion Hall School than intellectual and moral instruction. “Several acres of garden, orchard and open ground afford pleasing retreats and fine playgrounds for the pupils. . . Besides the usual plays and callesthenics , Mr. Ross designs occasionally to amuse and refresh his pupils with a pleasant drive in a large, beautiful and commodious omnibus. The ride to be a reward of diligence and good behavior.”  (#7)

                “William Packer Prentice was born at No. 143 Washington St., now Washington Ave., Albany on August 26, 1834. In May 1845 ‘Packer’ and his younger brother Sartell “. . .were sent to the Manor Hall School, in the old Van Rensselaer house in Greenbush. They remained there for about three years, spending five days a week at the school, but Saturdays and Sundays at home.” (#8,p.111)  William Packer Prentice remembered “. . .the old Van Rensselaer mansion was an old building of very substantial construction . . .The fireplaces were deep and wide, and faced with old Dutch tiles of blue. . its somewhat stately style suggested that it had been a house of open hospitality and a liberal manner of living.” (#8,p.112)

                Mr. Prentice stated that, “There was a great old fashioned garden to the south, with lilacs and clumps of other bushes, in which we used to play Indian, as we did also in the fields which belonged to the house, back of it . . .I was president of a debating society, and we also had a congress. Mr. Ross, the proprietor of the school was really something of a genius in mathematics. Every morning we had school prayers, led by Mr. Ross or one of the teachers . . .there was a bountiful table, and . . .buckwheat cakes of a winter morning. They aided to build up pretty good American citizens.” (#8,p.113)

                By 1848, R.L.Ross was advertising for students in New York City newspapers. He wrote that “ the Mansion Hall Boarding School . . is limited to a small number of pupils (and) is decidedly select”.(#9)  He offered references from such substantial gentlemen as the Rev. William B. Sprague, D.D.; the Honorable Erastus Corning: Richard C. Morse, Esq. (editor of the New York Observer) and Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, MD.  The words “decidedly select” were no exaggeration.

                “Richard L. Ross operated the Mansion Hall School until about 1850 . . .Instead of renting the old Van Rensselaer house, Doctor Jeremiah Van Rensselaer moved into the house in 1852 with his large family” (#1,p.97)  Crailo was again a private residence of the powerful Van Rensselaer family.











1.            The History and Archeology, 1974-1994, of Crailo State Historic Site, Rensselaer, NY

                Lois M. Feister and Paul R. Huey,  Division of Historic Preservation,  NYSOPRHP

                Peebles Island, Waterford, NY  2012

2.            Albany Argus,  Albany, NY – May 22, 1835

3.            Albany Evening Journal, Albany, NY – October 09, 1838;   Vol. 9, Issue: 2653

4.            Albany Argus, Albany, NY – Oct. 20, 1837, p. 3

5.            Albany Argus, Albany, NY – April 6, 1839, p.3

6.            Albany Argus, Albany, NY – Oct. 15, 1844

7.            Albany Evening Journal, Albany, NY – March 27, 1846;  Vol.17, Issue:4853, p.1

8.            Eight Generations –The Ancestry, Education and Life of William Packer Prentice

                By William Kelly Prentice,   Princeton, NJ  1947

9.            New York Daily Tribune, New York, NY – August 15, 1848; Vol.111, No. 109,Whole No. 2289,

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