Kents Hill School, in Readfield, was established initially as the Maine Wesleyan Seminary in 1824 by Luther Sampson, a native of Duxbury, Massachusetts. He was a Revolutionary War veteran who settled in Readfield in the early 1800s. In 1824 he organized, endowed and incorporated the institution.
According to the 1886 Gazetteer of Maine, “In 1852 it became also a college for young women. Both the seminary and college have taken high rank among our literary institutions, and received a good share of patronage.”
Now the school is a coeducational college-preparatory school for students in grades nine through twelve and postgraduate.
According to the school’s brief historical sketch, Sampson was “a devoutly religious person with a passionate interest in providing educational training for the young men and women of Maine, he proposed to offer ‘an educational program calculated to inspire intellectual growth and develop character’.”
The school bell, an important feature of the school, was cast in Boston in 1871 and presented to the school by the James G. Blaine, U.S. Secretary of State and close contender for the Presidency in 1884. The bell has been in constant use for over 125 years.
Other notables who attended the school include Hannibal Hamlin, Civil War General from Leeds Oliver Otis Howard, member of Congress and governor Daniel Davis, and members of Congress John J. Perry and Ephraim K. Smart.
Dwyer, Bonnie. A Guide to the Papers of the Literary Societies of the Maine Wesleyan Seminary 1829-1940. Kents Hill, Me. B. Dwyer. 1996. [Maine State Library]
Dunham, William H. Kents Hill Memories: Celebrating 175 Years of Educational Excellence, 1824-1999. Kent’s Hill, Me. Kent’s Hill School. c2000.
Kents Hill School. Kents Hill 1824-1974 Sesquicentennial. Maine. 1974?
*United States. Department of the Interior. National Park Service. “Kent’s Hill School Historic District.” https://npgallery.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/nrhp/text/79000149.PDF (accessed March 6, 2017)
Varney, George J. A Gazetteer of the State of Maine. 1886. p. 476.
National Register of Historic Places – Listings
Kent’s Hill School Historic District
[Maine Route 17 Kent’s Hill] Before the advent of publicly supported secondary schools in Maine, this level of education was largely carried on by private academies on one hand, or seminaries affiliated with some Protestant denomination on the other. Academies were far more common and were scattered widely so that almost every community of any size boasted one. Seminaries, however, existed in a very small number and one of the earliest of these was what has now evolved as Kent’s Hill School, a private, non-denominational, preparatory school.
Luther Sampson, the founder, was a Revolutionary soldier from Duxbury, Massachusetts, who, taking advantage of a veteran’s land grant, moved in 1799 to Readfield where he established a 215 acre farm. Evidently inspired by the itinerant Methodist evangelist, Rev. Jesse Lee, who preached for a time in the region, this industrious, but largely unlettered farmer formed, in 1821, the Readfield Religious and Charitable Society. The purpose being to provide Christian education for young people. Sampson donated 140 acres for a school site together with a new house, barns, sheds, cattle and sheep as well as equipment.
The school, soon named Maine Wesleyan Seminary, began operation in 1824, at first admitting boys only but shortly after becoming coeducational. An unusual feature of the institution was that a large and productive farm with orchards was maintained and many disadvantaged students in the early years were able to work off their tuition through labor in the fields or barns.
The most noteworthy building is the 1873 Bearce Hall, a singularly well proportioned and imposing 3 story Mansard brick structure with a central pavilion and handsome bell tower.*