No history of this county was prepared by the proper officer. The same is true of the schools in its various town systems. The history of Hiawatha Academy, located in this county, was written by its principal, A. H. Cowles.
Hiawatha Academy.-Biography has been defined as the history of a single soul. It is considered one of the most interesting departments of literature, chiefly because men appreciate the truth expressed in Faust's words-"Man alone is interesting to man." This maxim, however, has a broad interpretation, and applies as much to the institutions and exploits of men as to the men themselves. We propose to present to the reader not the history of a single soul, but some historical facts in the life of an educational institution, well known as Hiawatha Academy, which, although young, has made for itself an enviable reputation. We believe this record will show that the early faith and high expectations of the original movers in the enterprise are being abundantly realized.
As early as the year 1881, an ideal conception of an endowed seminary of learning to be planted at Hiawatha, the leading city of the foremost county of Kansas, existed in the mind and was upon the heart of that generous and public-spirited citizen, Hon. Edmund N. Morrill. At this time there was not a so-called academy in the State, though there were a number of schools doing merely academic work, under the delusive names of colleges and universities. Major Morrill pondered upon his plan for several years, and awaited a favorable opportunity for bringing it before the people. In the summer of 1884, a meeting was held at the residence of Doctor Pratt, where, to a few interested citizens, proposals of substantial aid for the founding of a Congregational preparatory school were submitted by Pres. Peter McVicar, of Washburn College, seconded by another proposition of a land gift from Mr. Morrill. The condition attached to these offers was that $20,000 be raised by the people. Although all felt that this was a fine opportunity to secure much-needed assistance, the matter was at length dropped, because of the uncertainty of obtaining the stipulated funds for a denominational school.
Finally, in the year 1887, the subject of an academy for northeastern Kansas was again revived, and discussed with renewed earnestness. The project seemed more and more feasible. An ideal institution was presented to the citizens. It was felt that it should be a school which in time would emulate perhaps the far-famed academies of old England, or the not less reputable institutions of Puritan New England.
The Hiawatha Improvement Association began to agitate the matter. As a result, great enthusiasm was aroused. Major Morrill was appealed to, and, although Washburn College was unable to renew its proposal of endowment funds, he willingly donated the land for the site, and subscribed $10,000, one-half to be paid in cash and the balance in five annual installments, the condition being that the people raise $20,000 more. Mr. C. H. Janes immediately subscribed $1,000; others followed, and the sum was at last raised through the energetic efforts of such men as Rev. J. B. Richardson, Hon. M. S. Smalley, and other prominent citizens. Washburn College generously paid in $500 towards the current expenses of the first year. Thus the academy was born - a possibility at first; a probability, later; finally, a reality. The commodious new brick building, located on a commanding eminence in the eastern part of the city, was formally and suitably dedicated August 21, 1888, with an excellent address by Chancellor J. A. Lippincott, of the State University, and other appropriate exercises. September 11, 1888, the academy began its work, having about 90 pupils in attendance and an efficient corps of instructors, with Prof. J. Edward Banta, an experienced teacher and an Amherst graduate, at the head. From the outset the work in all the departments was very successful. The pupils were active and enthusiastic. In those early days of 1889, a paper called the Academic Acta was published for three months by the students and faculty. A literary and debating society was established, and flourished. Christian work, under the auspices of Y. M. C. A. and Y. W. C. A. organizations, was carried on just as vigorously as at present.
The first class, of two members, was graduated June 14, 1889, the young lady carrying off the valedictory. Of the eight students in the next class, the young men were in the majority, and so quite easily secured the honors. Large classes were graduated in 1891 and 1892, and the alumni list now numbers 45 members. Every one of these, as a loyal son or daughter, gladly greets alma mater with heartiest good wishes for the present and the future. Besides this strong band of alumni, the institution has sent out many others, even to the number of 250, who, though unable to graduate, feel that their brightest school days were passed within the walls of this academy.
During this, the fifth year of the institution's life, is it not wise to take a retrospective view? May we not praise the past, endeavor to improve the present, and invoke blessings upon the future? Aye, we can certainly do this. The history of the past is made, and well made. The present, with its increased attendance of pupils, its corps of earnest and faithful teachers, devoted to their work in the several departments, and its board of trustees, well represented by such business men as Smalley, Adams, Morrill, Bierer, and Wilder, is writing notable lines of history.
Source: Columbian History of Education in Kansas, Compiled by Kansas Educators and Published under the auspices of the Kansas State Historical Society for the Columbian Exposition, 1893, Commemorating the Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Discovery of America, 1893, pages 102-103)