Since 48 leading citizens came together in 1793 and pledged the funds needed to erect a school building devoted to providing the young people of the community with a classical high school education, Huntington has been on the cutting edge of classroom instruction and has been sending its graduates to the top colleges in the country and into every career field imaginable.
The Huntington Academy was a two-story structure with a belfry. It was built on a hill across the street from the Old First Church. The site is now occupied by Town Hall.
A private institution, the Huntington Academy charged nominal tuition on a quarterly basis. It was outside the common-school system and was not under Regents supervision. “It was intended to, and generally did, furnish the means for a more liberal education than was provided by the surrounding common schools,” wrote town historian Charles R. Street more than a century ago. “Many of the best educators of the period taught generation after generation of Huntington youths within its walls. It prepared for college the sons of those who were ambitious to give their sons a liberal education.”
The New York State Legislature passed a law on April 13, 1857 authorizing creation of the Union School District of Huntington. The community gathered at a “special meeting” on September 7, 1857 and approved formation of the Union School District. It is said to have been the first district organized in the state for providing public education beyond eighth grade.
The first annual meeting of the district was held on January 4, 1858 at 6 p.m. at the Huntington Academy. In a close vote, the community elected Smith Woodhull, George A. Scudder, Brewster Conklin, William A. Conant, James P. Jones and Henry G. Scudder to serve as the first board of education. Mr. Woodhull was chosen as board president. George H. Shepard was the first district clerk.
“The members of the board are business men, some of our best financiers, men who are honest and capable, who will faithfully discharge the duties imposed on them, and by no neglect of theirs or want of prudence will a dollar of the people’s money be squandered,” said an article in the January 8, 1858 edition of The Long-Islander.
Huntington Academy was demolished in April 1858 and the Union School was erected over that same summer. It offered the young people of the community an educational program through twelfth grade. The building opened in November 1858 with Algernon S. Higgins as its first principal. He also taught most subjects. Enrollment totaled 220. The first class numbering six seniors was graduated in 1862.
In November 1858, the Board of Education approved the “rules and regulations of the Union School.” The school year was to begin the first Monday in September and “shall consist of forty-four weeks – five days for a week. There shall be a vacation from Christmas to New Years [sic], inclusive. The Spring Term will be followed by one week’s vacation and the Summer Term by six week’s [vacation]. The Holidays shall be Fourth of July and Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week.”
Trustees decreed the Union School be organized as per the following: “There shall be one high school, one grammar school, one intermediate school and such primary schools as the number and locality of the primary pupils may require.”
With the near unanimous support of the Board of Education, the Union School began offering free education in 1864. The Union School formally changed its name to Huntington High School in 1897.
All these years later, Huntington High School is still serving the community and continues to provide students with the educational foundation to move on to top tier colleges and universities and eventually a remarkable variety of careers.