hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News June 2019


Measuring time as a college shuts down

Maury Thompson


Time has run out for Green Mountain College, which last month held a bittersweet final commencement ceremony.

The college had struggled recently in the face of declining enrollment and operating deficits. With its endowment of $2.9 million dwarfed by a debt load of more than $22 million, Green Mountain’s president announced in January that it would shut down at the end of the school year.
The educational institution at the head of Poultney’s main street actually was plagued by debt from the time of its inception as a Methodist Episcopal school in the 1830s, when it was known as the Troy Conference Academy.

“Everything connected with the Academy was prosperous except its finances, and unfortunately debts incurred in erecting the building continued to embarrass the management,” the Rev. Henry Graham wrote in his 1908 “History of the Troy Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”
But a clock formerly owned by a co-founder of the academy, the Rev. Sherman Minor, might still be ticking -- if one can believe a whimsical prediction published Jan. 3, 1920, in The Post-Star of Glens Falls.

“The running parts are of wood and are apparently good for another hundred years,” the newspaper reported.

The clock, crafted by Russell Whiting of Winchester, Conn., was already a century old and, according to the paper, had made its home in Hudson Falls since 1847.

It isn’t clear how the clock got there -- or how it eventually passed to its owner as of 1920, George M. Watkins of Hudson Falls.

The clock was a wedding gift to Minor and his bride, Sarah Nicholson, in 1820.
Nicholson grew up in Ash Grove, a hamlet near Cambridge, N.Y. She was the daughter of Irish immigrants who came to the United States with Philip Embury, the first Methodist pastor in the American colonies, according to the 1889 minutes of the Troy Conference of the Methodist Conference.

Sarah Minor, who became known in Methodist circles as “Aunty Minor” because of her kind nature, shared with her husband “the harsh experiences of an early itinerant’s life.”

Sherman Minor’s charges include a pastorate at Watervliet, and he became the presiding elder of the Saratoga District of Troy Conference, a position he held in 1835.

He also was one of nine incorporators of Troy Conference Academy when the institution was created in 1834, and he was the school’s financial agent for nine years.

The institution initially was a grammar and high school that offered some advanced, college-level courses.

Later, under the Green Mountain name, it was a two-year and eventually a four-year college.
Poultney was chosen as the academy’s location because of “a deep interest and enthusiasm of the inhabitants, and the good morals of its industrious citizens who earnestly observe the Sabbath” -- and also because residents of Poultney contributed $5,000 (the equivalent of about $127,000 in today’s dollars) to the cause, according to a brief history on the college’s website.
Still, the academy depended from the start on borrowed funds.

“The building cost about $40,000, but there was not enough to complete it, so that embarrassing debt remained, which plagued its trustees for many subsequent years,” Graham wrote in his 1908 history.

At one point the college sought contributions of $1 per person from parishioners of churches in the conference to liquidate the debt.

There is another clock story associated with Green Mountain College.
In May 1940, The Poultney Herald reported that the college was set to dedicate, on June 1, a large electric clock and carillon chimes system that had just been installed in the tower of Ames Hall in memory of a professor, Charles Billings, who taught for nearly 50 years.

“He was a lovable and devoted teacher – a regular Mr. Chips,” said Jesse P. Bogue, the college’s president at the time. “His interest in the school never failed.”

The Herald reported that 325 alumni, ranging from the class of 1876 to the class of 1939, contributed to the purchase of the clock system.

By the late 1950s or early ’60s, someone painted over the face of the clock, and it was forgotten until 2012, when college employees discovered it as they prepared to repaint the domed cupola atop Ames Hall, according to reports at the time in the Rutland Herald. After mechanical repairs, the art deco clock was restored to its place atop Ames Hall in time for the fall 2012 semester.

Maury Thompson is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.