Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Closing of the Priory School for Girls in 1882

On Tuesday, October 31, 1882, one of Pelham's most beloved residents climbed aboard the steamship Alaska of the Guion Line and sailed for Europe, never to return to Pelham again.  Her name was Nanette Bolton.  She served for more than thirty years as headmistress of the Priory School for Girls founded in Bolton Priory in today's Pelham Manor in about 1845.

Nanette Bolton did not want to close her beloved school.  She did not want to leave Pelham.  She was forced to leave by her failing health due to a terrible fall in the Priory.  While on a stairway in the home, she slipped and fell against a carved newel post.  Badly injured, she never truly recovered.  Due to her failing health after her devastating injury, she closed the Priory School for Girls in 1881 and, on October 31, 1882, she departed for Europe and settled in Switzerland where she spent the last years of her life until her death in 1884.  

As I have noted before, Anne "Nanette" Bolton was the oldest child of Rev. Robert Bolton and his wife, Anne Jay Bolton, of the Priory in Pelham Manor.  She was a pious and intelligent woman who participated in the establishment of the Priory School for Girls and served for many years as its headmistress.  According to an account published in 1933: 

"Tradition has it that a friend of Mr. Bolton's, living in Savannah, Georgia, desired him to take his young daughter into his family in order that she might share in the home schooling given by Mr. Bolton to his eight daughters and five sons.  No decision was reached until one day, about 1845 or 1846, a carriage and pair drove up to the Priory and the gentleman, his daughter and her luggage were deposited before the door.  The die was cast and the first pupil of what was to become the unostentatious but famous Priory School had arrived." 

Source:  Lindsley, Emily Earle, The School for Girls at Pelham Priory, 9(4) THE QUARTERLY BULLETIN OF THE WESTCHESTER COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 86, 86 (Oct. 1933). 

For the next several decades, the school welcomed some fifty or sixty students each year consisting of local girls as well as girls from throughout the country (many from southern states).  Classes were held in the mansion’s “Armory” – a large room in the center of the home decorated with suits of armor, swords, daggers and other such objects.  According to one account, students “sat at the head of a long, black oak table, made by the brothers Bolton, from wood which grew on the property.  The scholars occupied chairs arranged along the sides and across the lower end.”  Id., p. 87. 

By the mid-1850s, the Priory School for Girls was quite a success.  But, the Bolton Family suffered a tragedy with the death of one of their daughters, Abby. Abby’s death reportedly affected Robert and Anne Bolton profoundly and, shortly thereafter, they left for England where Robert Bolton died in 1857 followed by his wife two years later. Nanette Bolton took over the Priory School, assisted by one of her sisters, Adele, and managed it successfully for many years until closing the school in 1881.

There are suggestions that the Priory School for Girls was a tremendous success because it was one of the few such institutions for young women in its early years.  In its later years, the school had become one of many located throughout the country and, consequently, "the former glories of the Priory . . . gradually faded away" until the institution finally closed its doors.

Less than two weeks after Nanette Bolton sailed away for Europe in late October, 1882, local newspapers carried a story about the closure of the school, its history, and plans by the family to sell the Priory and its thirty-acre estate.  Like the Priory School, by that time the former glories of the estate likewise had "faded away."  As the story noted:

"The grounds connected with the Priory consist of about thirty acres of land much run down and neglected, sadly reflecting its former high state of cultivation.  The grounds are somewhat elevated and commanding a beautiful view of Long Island and the Sound, as far as the eye can reach.  What will be the future of this historic ground cannot be surmised.  It is for sale, and undoubtedly will ere long pass into the hands of the speculator, and if we mistake not the spacious hall of the crumbling edifice will yet re-echo to the voice of the Sheriff or modern auctioneer."

Though it took many more decades than thought at the time, the prescient newspaper story was correct.  Eventually most of the estate acreage was bought by real estate speculators who divided the land and erected hundreds of homes that now form the neighborhood in that region though the Priory remains and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

The Priory by William Rickerby Miller (1818-1893).
Watercolor on Paper, 1856, Showing the Terrace in Front
of the Home that Formed a "Promenade" as Noted in the
Article Quoted Below.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

The Priory by William Rickerby Miller (1818-1893).
Watercolor on Paper, 1856, Showing Front Entrance with
"1838" Formed by Bricks Set Into the Stone Above the
Doorway.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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Below is the text of the article published in 1881 that forms the basis for today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"Pelham Priory.

The doors of this old and celebrated institution, known throughout this country and abroad as the 'Bolton Priory,' are, at last, forever closed to the public as a female seminary.  The history of this grand old institution of learning reaches back through the corridors of misty time for upwards of half a century.  Miss Nanette Bolton, at an advanced age in life, in broken and failing health, retires from the long and laborious cares as proprietress of the same, and sailed on the steamer Alaska of the Guion line for Europe on Tuesday last.

The 'Priory,' situated in the town of Pelham, within stone throw of the village line of New Rochelle, was opened by the Boltons as a Young Lady's seminary in the spring of 1838 [sic].  It soon, under successful management, took first rank, not only throughout the United States but in England, as one of the most reliable institutions of the kind connected with the Established church.  For upwards of thirty years success liberally crowned the efforts of watchful teachers and those in charge.  About this time other similar institutions sprang into existence throughout the country, and the former glories of the Priory, from that period to the present, have gradually faded away.  Many ladies of rank and wealth throughout this country, from both Northern and Southern States, can point to many pleasant and happy girlhood days passed under the roof of the old Priory, now only a landmark of the past.  The Priory originally was the private residence of Rev. Robert Bolton, a native of Savannah, Georgia, and a son of Robert Bolton, Esq., a merchant of that place.  History does no more than justice in speaking of the Rev. Robert Bolton, when it says the house, which is of stone, affords a good specimen of the old English style, and accords well with its romantic situation.  The building has two towers, affording splendid views, in which wood and water are beautifully blended.  The interior arrangements correspond with the style of the house and carry the mind back to the days of old.  There are family pictures by Etty, of the Royal Academy of England.  There is also an original portrait of Bunyan, formerly in the possession of the Rev. George Whitefield.  The library contains the original Italian edition of Pisanese, collected for Napoleon, bearing his initial, and surmounted by the imperial crown.  This extraordinary work on ancient and modern Rome consists of forty-two volumes royal quarto.  There is also a copy of Macklin's Bible, the largest ever printed, in six volumes royal quarto, a copy of Elliot's Indian Testament, said to be the first work written and published in the United States, printed at Cambridge, Massachusetts, A. D. 1661, by Samuel Green, the first printer in America.  When Elliot had finished this translation, he wrote in his diary:  'N. B. -- Prayer, faith and patience can perform wonders.'  Here is also a valuable cabinet of coins collected by the Rev. Bryan Hill, rector of Hodnet, Shropshire, England.  Among the most interesting are those of Alexander the Great, Caesar Augustus, and a series of Roman and ancient English.  Among the medals of the Popes is the celebrated one of Adrian the Sixth, upon the reverse of which is the idolatrous inscription 'Quem Creant Adorant,' (whom we create we adore.)  There is also a good collection of autographs, the oldest of which is that of Henry VII.  The signatures of Elizabeth, with her council, and of her successor, Queen Mary, are worthy of notice, as are also those of Oliver Cromwell and Richard Cromwell, presented by the late Oliver Cromwell, of Chestnut Park, England, who was the last direct male descendant of the Proctor.  We have also to notice in this collection an original of Addison's 'Spectator' and a letter of Pope's, a note of Cowper's, one of Chatterton, Lord Nelson, Napoleon, Sir Christopher Wren, Percy, the author of the ballads, 'Bishop Burnet,' 'Kosciusko,' etc.  Among the American autographs are those of William Penn and his sons, the proprietors of Pennsylvania, Francis Lovelace, Governor of New York in 1671, Jonathan Edwards, Increase and Cotton Mather, Washington, La Fayette, Franklin, Jefferson, Schuyler, Sterling, Arnold, and various other eminent characters.  The terrace in front of the house forms a fine promenade, and the gardens are laid out in the French and landscape style.  The grounds are ornamented with natural walks leading to various objects of interest, among which deserves to be noticed the 'rocking stone.'  This natural curiosity is a rock supposed to weight about twenty tons, so nicely poised that

'A strippling's arm can sway
A mass no host could move.'

A short distance from the house stands a neat Gothic church of stone.  This edifice was erected in 1843 and consecrated to the service of Almighty God by the name and style of Christ Church, Pelham, on the 15th of October, the same year.  The act of incorporation bears date the 25th of September, 1843, Richard Morris and Henry Grenzebach, wardens; Isaac Roosevelt, George F. Mills, John Jay Bolton, William Jay Bolton, Peter N. King, Jacob LeRoy, Cornelius Winter Bolton, and Robert Bolton, vestrymen.  The Rev. Robert Bolton was the first pastor, and the Rev. Charles Higby [sic; Higbee] the last and present incumbent.  The grounds connected with the Priory consist of about thirty acres of land much run down and neglected, sadly reflecting its former high state of cultivation.  The grounds are somewhat elevated and commanding a beautiful view of Long Island and the Sound, as far as the eye can reach.  What will be the future of this historic ground cannot be surmised.  It is for sale, and undoubtedly will ere long pass into the hands of the speculator, and if we mistake not the spacious hall of the crumbling edifice will yet re-echo to the voice of the Sheriff or modern auctioneer.

-- New Rochelle Pioneer."

Source:  Pelham Priory, The Port Chester Journal, Nov. 2, 1882, Vol. XIV, No. 728, p. 1, cols. 4-5.  

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I have written extensively about the Priory School for Girls, Nanette Bolton and other members of the Bolton Family, and the home the family built known as the Priory, Bolton Priory, and Pelham Priory.  Seee.g.:  

Mon., Jul. 18, 2016:  Obituaries of Two of the Bolton Daughters: Adele and Mary Bolton.

Fri., Apr. 01, 2016:  The Portrait of "Mrs. Bolton" Attributed to Thomas Gainsborough That Once Hung in The Priory of Pelham Manor.

Thu., Mar. 31, 2016:  Adele Bolton, a Founder of Grace Episcopal Church and Administrator of the Priory School for Girls.

Wed., Mar. 09, 2016:  The Passing of an Era: The Bolton Family Sells The Priory in 1883.

Wed., Mar. 02, 2016:  Daughter of Priory School for Girls Instructor Who Attended the School Details History of Historic Pelham Manor Institution.

Fri., Mar. 20, 2015:  Fire in 1932 Devastated the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor.

Tue., Jun. 23, 2015:  Nanette Bolton of the Priory School for Girls in Pelham Manor.

Thu., Oct. 02, 2014:  Brief History of Grace Church on City Island in the Town of Pelham Published in 1886.

Wed., Sep. 24, 2014:  Where Was the Bolton Family Cottage Where Stained Glass Windows Were Created?

Thu., Sep. 04, 2014:  The Closing of the Pelham Priory School for Girls in 1882 and the Departure of Head Mistress Nanette Bolton for Europe.

Fri., Aug. 29, 2014:  Announcement of Two-Day Fair in Pelham in 1842 to Raise Money to Build Christ Church.

Wed., May 14, 2014:  Noted American Novelist Margaret Deland Attended Bolton Priory School in Pelham Manor

Thu., Sep. 03, 2009:  Advertisement for the Pelham Priory School Published in 1881

Wed., Sep. 02, 2009:  The Bolton Family's Sale of Bolton Priory in 1883.

Thu., Aug. 13, 2009:  History of Bolton Priory Published in 1910.

Tue., Jan. 20, 2009:  An Account of the Rev. J. L. Ver Mehr Regarding His Brief Stint as an Instructor of French and Italian at Pelham Priory in 1843

Fri., Mar. 2, 2007:  A Brief Account by American Author Margaret Deland of Her Education at Pelham Priory in the 19th Century.

Thu., Dec. 14, 2006:  Items from Bolton Priory in the Collections of The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture, The New-York Historical Society.

Thu., Nov. 16, 2006:  Robert Bolton, Jr.'s Inscription to His Father Inside Book He Authored That Was Published in 1855.

Fri., Jul. 28, 2006: Image of Bolton Priory in the Town of Pelham Published in an 1859 Treatise on Landscape Gardening.

Wed., Jul. 26, 2006:  A Brief Account of Visits to Bolton Priory in the Early 1880s.

Wed., July 5, 2006: Bricks Laid by Washington Irving and Ivy from Kenilworth Castle at the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor

Wed., March 15, 2006: A Biography of Cornelius W. Bolton Published in 1899

Wed., March 1, 2006: 1909 Real Estate Advertisement Showing Bolton Priory

Wed., Feb. 22, 2006: Doll Depicting Nanette Bolton in the Collection of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham

Wed., Dec. 7, 2005: The Sale and Subdivision of the Bolton Priory Estate in the 1950s

Tue., Nov. 29, 2005: An Early, Interesting Photograph of Bolton Priory in the Village of Pelham Manor

Wed., Sep. 21, 2005: The Nanette Bolton Memorial Chapel Building at Christ Church in Pelham Manor

Tue., Aug. 23, 2005: Society Scandal: The "Strange" Story of Mrs. Adele Livingston Stevens Who Acquired the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor

Wed., Jul. 13, 2005: 11 Priory Lane: The Rose Cottage

Fri., Jun. 10, 2005: Pelham's Most Magnificent Wedding Gift: The Bolton Priory

Tue., May 3, 2005: Colonel Frederick Hobbes Allen, An Owner of Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor

Thu., Apr. 7, 2005: Another Volume of William Jay Bolton's Sketches and Ruminations Located?

Mon., Apr. 4, 2005: Art and Poetry of William Jay Bolton of Bolton Priory in Pelham

See also Bell, Blake A., A Brief History of Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No., 16, Apr. 16, 2004, p. 8, col. 2.

I also have written about the history of Christ Church, an institution the history of which is integrally intertwined with that of the Priory, on numerous occasions.  Below are a few of the many articles on the topic.

Thu., Dec. 31, 2015:  Laying of the Cornerstone of the Parish House at Christ Church on June 10, 1928.

Thu., Nov. 12, 2015:  Charles Higbee, Eighth Rector of Christ Church in Pelham Manor, 1871-1893.

Tue., Oct. 27, 2015:  The Ghostly Gardener of Bolton Priory: A Pelham Apparition.

Tue., Oct. 20, 2015:  Address Delivered by Reverend Robert Bolton on April 28, 1843 at the Laying of the Foundation Stone of Christ Church.

Thu., Oct. 15, 2015:  The Creation of Christ Church and its Consecration on September 15, 1843.  

Tue., Sep. 29, 2015:  Christ Church's 80th Anniversary Sermon by Rev. J. McVickar Haight on November 18, 1923.

Fri., Nov. 21, 2014:  Another Advertisement for Fair Held in 1842 to Fund Construction of Christ Church.

Fri., Aug. 29, 2014:  Announcement of Two-Day Fair in Pelham in 1842 to Raise Money to Build Christ Church.

Fri., Feb. 28, 2014:  Brief History of the Role Churches Played in the Growth of the Pelhams Published in 1926.

Fri., Dec. 25, 2009:  1906 Christmas Day Celebration at Christ Church in Pelham.

Fri., Aug. 14, 2009:  The Consecration of the Nanette Bolton Memorial Chapel at Christ Church in Pelham Manor on April 28, 1887.  

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