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History Timeline

100 Years of Rectory School


1920-1922First Students

The Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Frank H. Bigelow’s cherished ideal of founding a school for young boys becomes their reality in 1920 when they take into their home (the rectory of Christ Memorial Church, Pomfret, CT) for the school year, George Chandler Holt, II, son of Dr. Hamilton Holt, then Editor of the INDEPENDENT in N.Y.C. and later President of Rollins College, FL. George and the Bigelow’s son, John, are the first Rectory students. Sargent’s Handbook of American Private Schools advertises Rectory School as “a small home school for a limited number of boys between six and twelve years of age.”


1923-1925The Harrison Estate

By 1922 there are six boys living and learning in the rectory of Christ Church, so in 1923 the Bigelows, with the financial backing of a parishioner, purchase a former golf club house, Greystoke, located just yards north of Christ Church. In summer 1925, the Harrison Estate, situated across the street from Christ Church, becomes available, and the Bigelows acquire the approximately 160 acres, with its c.1795 Thomas Grosvenor House (Main House), barn, several large buildings, and various outbuildings. This property in the “Quiet Corner” of northeast Connecticut continues to be Rectory School’s campus today.


1927No Longer An Experiment

Father Bigelow resigns the rectorship of Christ Church to devote himself full time to the growing school. With this decision, Father Bigelow writes, “The School now is established.  Six years ago it was an experiment.” Joining Father and Mrs. Bigelow, amongst the earliest faculty members are the Rev. John Lee Roney, Miss Annie Ashe, Miss Elizabeth Bigelow, Miss Gertrude Jones, Miss Marion Branch, Mr. Robert Merritt, and Mr. Earl Wood.


1929First Major Campus Construction

Construction of the first major campus addition is an “educational project” within an education project. Rectory teams up with the Connecticut State Trade School in Putnam, CT to erect a Refectory Building consisting of two floors of dormitories over dining and kitchen areas. At the dedication—“This new building is a monument to Father and Mrs. Bigelow who have labored so hard and long, and at last have their dreams realized.” The first-floor “kitchen and large dining room with a beautiful open fireplace” today is the School’s Student Center, the Wolf Den.


1930sAn Early Interest In Reading Difficulties

In 1927, Elizabeth Bigelow, the eldest child of Rev. and Mrs. Bigelow, graduates from Smith College and comes to teach at Rectory. Finding that there always are a few boys who have difficulty with reading, she is interested in this subject and establishes a Remedial Reading program. Miss Bigelow, by now Mrs. Abbott, consults with Dr. Durrell of Boston, and from 1935-1943 works closely with the Durrell-Sullivan Clinic, pioneers in the research and remediation of language disabilities. During this time, many of Rectory’s teachers study at Boston University’s Educational Clinic under Dr. Durrell.


1935Rectory Incorporates

Rectory is incorporated as a non-profit organization with a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees, thus ending the founders', Rev. Mr. Frank and Mrs. Mabel Bigelow, personal ownership of the School.

An old barn is converted into a small gymnasium, sports fields are landscaped, and three tennis courts built along with two cottages and several outbuildings.


1937An Unexpected Change

After graduating from Harvard in 1933, John B. Bigelow, the Bigelow’s eldest son, returns to the School and subsequently assumes the various positions of teacher, registrar, and Assistant Headmaster.  In April 1937, “Mr. John,” as he affectionately is called, is appointed headmaster by vote of the Board of Trustees after his father, Frank Bigelow, passes away unexpectedly while visiting his brother in Wilmington, DE. Mabel Bigelow remains in place as headmistress. Samuel L Abbott, Jr, Frank and Mabel’s son-in-law, married to Elizabeth, is appointed as Assistant Headmaster.


1938A Memorial To Father Bigelow

The first big event in John Bigelow’s headmastership is the creation of the Father Bigelow Memorial Building. Upon Father Bigelow’s death, a Father Bigelow Memorial Association is established and a drive for funds started to complete a new dormitory-assembly hall. This building complex is ready for the occupancy of 28 boarders in September 1938. A day after the arrival of the students, the great hurricane of 1938 strikes! The bell in Memorial’s bell tower, which is the symbol of Rectory’s logo, was cast in 1867 in Providence, RI.


1940-1945The War Years

During the war years, Rectory has chickens, cows, pigs, and goats on campus; a vegetable garden produces “fresh foodstuffs;” and maple trees are tapped for syrup. A constructive work program for the boys, the Rectory Projects Administration (R.P.A.), modelled after the W.P.A., takes charge of the animals and the various gardens. 

Rectory students and faculty contribute to the defense effort at home and overseas, while the alumni section of The Rectory News tells of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. It also is during this time that several evacuee children find shelter, nurturing, and education at Rectory. As a group they are known on campus as “the English boys.”


1946Infirmary Built

After Rectory receives authorization in 1944 from the War Production Board, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan Witter Rogers pay for, and direct with a noted architect’s assistance, the construction of the Morgan Witter Rogers Infirmary, which is named for their son who had died of a childhood disease.


1949Rectory School and The Orton Society

The Orton Society, later named the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), is founded. Rectory’s work, continuing since the late 1920s, with students with reading difficulties in 1944 connects Headmaster John B. Bigelow with Dr. Samuel T. Orton, a noted psychiatrist and neurologist whose research contributed key concepts to understanding and teaching children with language disabilities. When The Orton Society is founded in 1949, Rectory and many of her faculty are charter members. John Bigelow becomes treasurer of The Orton Dyslexia Society in 1959, a position he holds for fourteen years, and in 1986, he receives The Samuel Torrey Orton Award, the IDA’s highest honor.


1950-1960Dollars For Education

After a financially-challenging year in 1947, the 1950s may be characterized by its vigorous fund-raising efforts. Both the Fathers’ and Mothers’ Associations are quite active and make notable contributions while the Alumni Association increases its support of the School. In 1957 a professional fund-raising counselor maps out a major gifts solicitation, and, from these efforts, the Rectory School Development Program is formed. The Board of Trustees engages Edward J. Bullard as chairman of the Development Committee; a broad range of goals includes faculty salaries, scholarships, an endowment, a new gymnasium, and plant modernization and equipment.


1957Mother Bigelow, "Mrs. Frank"

Co-founder Mrs. Frank Bigelow, having retired in 1943, accepts the invitation of the Board of Trustees to take up residence at the School. The Mabel Brittain Bigelow Dormitory (MBB), named in honor of the co-founder and headmistress emerita, is constructed with living quarters for Mother Bigelow, now addressed as “Mrs. Frank” by the students. For the next few years, she continues her almost 40-year tradition of serving tea, manners, advice, and conversation to a steady flow of “her boys” who vie to visit her in the afternoons.


1963Summer Session Pool

In 1959, concerned about “long and too often wasteful summer vacations” and the “endless fight to preserve democracy in the world,” Rectory receives a grant from the Ford Foundation’s “Fund for the Advancement of Education” to plan a curriculum for a ten-and-a-half-months’ school year. This “fourth term” debuts on June 12, 1960 and calls for academic classes on Saturday morning and evening study periods. Limiting the enrollment allows for “close, individual work with each of [the students].” Despite plenty of outdoor recreation including swimming in ponds and lakes, how delighted the students of the “fourth term” must have been when in 1963 a swimming pool is added to the campus!


1969-1970A Home-Coming

Oak Shaw is re-acquired. Originally purchased by Rectory in 1932 for use as a dormitory and as a residence for the Bigelows, it was sold during the war in 1943. One of five buildings on the Rectory campus in the Pomfret Street Historic District and on the National Register of Historic Places, this Colonial was built in 1792.  Today, known as Brittain House, it once again serves as the Headmaster’s House.

In 1970, the Doris Gardner Bigelow (DGB) dormitory, dedicated to Headmaster John Bigelow’s late wife, is erected.


197050th Anniversary Celebrated

Despite intermittent snow showers, Rectory’s Fiftieth Anniversary Founders’ Day is celebrated in conjunction with the annual Fall Parents’ Day on October 17, 1970. The Rectory News of December 1970 laments that the professional photographs “were too poor to be reproduced in the newspaper” and beseeches those attendees with their own cameras to send in their prints. From two such photographs, we know there was a tent and a cake. The Rectory School Archives would be grateful to receive any photographs or memories about the event.


1974End of Bigelow Leadership

After 34 years as headmaster, John Bigelow retires. He continues to support the school founded by his parents by corresponding with alumni and helping to raise funds.

John A. Green is appointed Rectory’s third headmaster. Having taught for six years at Rectory in the early 1960s and encouraged by outgoing headmaster John Bigelow, it is Mr. Green’s recognition that the School will need someone who understands how it has been “loved into life by the Bigelow family” that prompts him to accept the position. This transition is the first time that Rectory’s leadership passes to someone outside of the Bigelow family. Mr. Green serves as headmaster for the next sixteen years.


1981Computers at Rectory

“The computer has come to Rectory, and it looks as though it is here to stay!” so declares an article in The Rectory News. This Apple II Plus “comes with a disc drive and regular color television.“ Students have access to the computer for lessons (such as analogies, spelling, grammar, and math exercises), programming (loops and strings), and playing games (Pacman). 


1983-1987Campus Expansion

Two major campus facilities are built and dedicated during the 1980s: the John B. Bigelow Academic Center in 1983 and the Craig Scott Colhoun Gymnasium in 1987. In addition to classrooms, science laboratories, and study halls, the Academic Center contains a computer room, a darkroom, a shop, music and art facilities, and a day student room. The new gymnasium sports basketball courts, a wrestling room, locker and shower facilities, an exercise room, and a school/athletic store.


1990-2009Fourth Headmaster in Rectory's 70 Years

Rectory welcomes its fourth headmaster, Mr. Thomas F. Army, Jr.  Academic programming burgeons under his twenty-year leadership; new programs include Rectory’s signature March Experiential Learning Program (MELP), academic technology and computer courses, support for professional development and graduate school, writing-across-the-curriculum, rhetoric, health and human relationships courses, RecStory (student literary magazine), new approaches in science and mathematics, expanded opportunities for learning world languages, and private music lessons for Rectory students and local community children (MARS program). In 1993, a day care program, Children At Rectory (CARe) is established.


1994Blue-Ribbon Recognition

Rectory School is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In May, U.S. Representative Sam Gejdensen calls Headmaster Army with the news that Rectory is a school that evidences ”a solid foundation in skills, a high-quality instruction, a strong commitment to educational excellence, and success in furthering the intellectual, social, physical, and moral growth of all its students.” Rectory School is a Blue Ribbon School! 


199575th Anniversary

Rectory School celebrates “seventy-five years of excellence” during a May weekend in 1995. A Friday evening recital and dinner in the Great Hall at Christ Church set the tone. On Saturday morning, the Memorial Bell calls all to a historical procession to Christ Church where a bronze plaque is dedicated to the founding of Rectory School. In the evening, the School Bell once again rings out for a 75th Gala Dinner-Dance in the Colhoun Gymnasium. After an evening of twinkling lights, ice sculptures, great food, an anniversary cake, and dancing, the Memorial Bell once again toils to signal the close to a spectacular weekend.


2001Tang Performing Arts Center

Between 1990 and 2009, the campus complex expands through the purchases of the Murphy, Deal, and Lindgren Houses and with the construction of a new dormitory, a dining hall, an art barn, library addition, baseball field, and a maintenance facility.  Prominent amongst the new spaces is the P.Y. and Kinmay Tang Performing Arts Center, which offers a music classroom, lesson and practice rooms, and instrument storage in addition to the Scripps Auditorium, a 236-seat fan-shaped venue with a stage that projects into the stadium. 


2004Elementary School

The addition of a Kindergarten class in 2004 brings back elementary-aged children to learning at Rectory. Its director, Maria Carpenter, envisions a space where children “are valued, can create connections and feel a sense of belonging, and where each day will bring intriguing discoveries just around the corner.” As grades are added each year, the Kindergarten grows into a K through grade 4 elementary school by 2008.


2007Female Boarders

Although Rectory has included female day students since its earliest years, 2007 sees the acceptance of females into its boarding program. Two houses, Out of Bounds and Fisher, are remodeled to accommodate six girls each along with apartments for the dormitory parents. A small pilot program in summer 2007 bodes well for a program that changes the trajectory of student life on campus.


2009Rectory's Fifth Headmaster

Frederick W. Williams is installed as Rectory’s fifth headmaster. Hailing from a family of educators and having been born in Pomfret, Mr. Williams served as headmaster at Green Hedges School in Vienna, VA before moving home to Pomfret and assuming the leadership of Rectory. What’s the best part of being a headmaster? Mr. Williams answers, “You have an opportunity to be involved in everything. You can walk into a classroom and be involved in a lesson. You can walk out to an athletic field and take in a game. You can sit with students at meals and discuss their lives. You can spend time with parents who believe in the mission of the school. You’re a part of something very important, and I love that.”


2010-2013New Traditions and New Technologies

Rectory expands its academic technology program by introducing a one-to-one laptop program. With a new headmaster, Rectory School also gains new traditions:  MLK Day of Community Service, a spring-time Recycled Regatta, Headmaster’s Sun-day, and a Wolfie Mascot. Voted in by the school community in 2012, the wolf mascot is a nod back to 1742 when Pomfret resident (and General in the  Revolutionary War who fought at Bunker Hill) Israel Putnam shot and killed Connecticut's last known wolf. Everyone smiles when “Wolfie” comes around!


2016Looking To The Future

Designed by Beatrice Stevens, noted artist and illustrator, and Rectory faculty member, Rectory’s Seal with its seated schoolboy holding books in one hand and a football in the other has been the School’s symbol since the 1930s. Recognizing that the Seal no longer accurately represents the broad identity of the School community but also wanting a bold, easily recognized image that draws in Rectory’s treasured history, a new logo is approved in 2017. Intended to bridge Rectory’s past with its present and appeal to the future, the new logo features the Father Bigelow Memorial Building bell tower.


2017New Home for Learning Services and Elementary School

Two important programs gain permanent spaces on the Rectory campus. The construction of the John and Millie Green Hall, with its second-floor Smith Learning Center and first-floor Hale Elementary Wing, creates homes for the School’s learning specialists (IIP) and its elementary children.


2020-2021A Centennial Year

Happy 100th Birthday, Rectory!