Oak Grove Seminary
In The Society of Friends in Kennebec County, Maine Rufus M. Jones gives a history of the society and the school. In Up and Down the Kennebec Valley, Mary Grow tells the story of Oak Grove Seminary, summarizing previous source material. Most newspaper coverage came from Kennebec Journal.
By 1780 the Society of Friends had established a meeting house for worship near Vassalboro, Maine. In 1850 they established a school so that their children would receive “careful training, cultivating influences, religious impressions, and broad teaching.” This venture was not successful due to low numbers. The school reopened in 1857 with boarding facilities and a mission to serve all of the families of the region.
By 1896 Oak Grove Seminary had an enrollment of more than 100, taught by a faculty of nine, In addition to the college preparatory department, there were also commercial and music programs.
As a Christian school, it had chapel services each Wednesday. The annual report to the New England Conference noted the number of religious conversions. By 1909 there were chapters of the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A.
Recitals were a part of every commencement week. The Philomathian Society provided practice for declamation and debate. Oak Grove joined other prep schools in the region in the Interscholastic Debating League. The upper classes presented annual plays. In 1904 students began publication of Oak Leaves.
Facing falling enrollment after World War I, Oak Grove became a girls’ school in 1925. Then in 1970, it merged with Coburn Classical Institute. In financial straits, Oak Grove-Coburn School closed in 1989.
Bricks and Mortar
The original Oak Grove Seminary building, erected in 1850, was a three-story, 40’x60’ frame structure. It stood on one acre of land in an oak grove, atop the highest point in Vassalboro. When the school reopened in 1857, a three-story frame boarding house had been added across the road. In 1862 a gymnasium was added. When the original building burned in 1880, classes were held in the boarding house until a new building could be erected. In 1887 that building, too, burned, the work of a disgruntled 15-year-old student arsonist.
The 1888 building, constructed on the original site, was a very large, three-story frame structure over a complete basement, creating more space for classrooms, laboratories, offices, a library, a kitchen with dining hall, and housing for students and the principal. It was equipped with central heat and hot and cold running water. A “commodious” gymnasium was added in 1910, along with an 800-seat chapel. The chapel contained timbers from the 1870 Quaker meeting house.
Between 1928 and 1962, under the administration of Robert and Eva Owen, Oak Grove Seminary was transformed into an eleven-building campus, with all buildings made of fire proof red brick over concrete and steel. The central building, the administration building, (named Owen Hall following the death of the Owens) was completed in 1941. The Tudor-style building complex appears to be a castle. Following the closure of the school, the campus was purchased by the state and renovated as the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.
Postcard image of the 1888 building. The red building to the right is the 1857 boarding house.
School Colors: Quaker Grey, Red, and Black.
The October 27, 1893 Kennebec Journal reported that Oak Grove Seminary had defeated Coburn Classical Institute in baseball 37-11.
Despite low numbers Oak Grove Seminary played football from 1895 to 1924. The Kennebec Journal reported that the team had beaten Coney High School 4-0 on September 30, 1895 and lost to the same team 10-4 on October 31. O.G.S. generally played a limited schedule of home and home games against local prep schools or high schools-- with limited success.
In 1902 O.G.S. began basketball, playing many of the same schools-- in addition to athletic clubs and business colleges. The 1921-22 schedule included Alpha Tau Omega, Lambda Chi Alpha and Zeta Psi fraternity teams from neighboring Colby College. The 1922 team won the championship of the University of Maine Interscholastic Tournament, defeating Mattanawcook Academy 27-15.
O.G.S. also played girls’ basketball. The 1904 team were undefeated in seven games, allowing them to claim the championship among Maine schools.
1904 girls' basketball team. Image from the Bangor Daily News.