With the high school graduation festivities subsiding, most eager graduates are up to their eyeballs in college orientations, coordinating dorm room decorations, and planning out their first night as “free, young adults.” Since summer is fast approaching and the halls of the schools all around the country are slowly drifting into hibernation mode, and I think it’s about time we take some time to appreciate the history of Higher Education in Annapolis and throughout Anne Arundel County.

Unlike our twenty-first-century education system, the nineteenth-century schools were constructed and run by local churches and city governments. Between 1835 and 1855, four academies were opened in Anne Arundel County: Friendship in 1839, West River in 1841, Patapsco in 1844, and Anne Arundel Academy in 1855. It wasn’t until 1865 that Maryland created a state-wide public school system.

Anne Arundel Academy

The Anne Arundel Academy building would have sat right where Millersville Elementary School now stands, right off Millersville Road in the northwest part of Anne Arundel County.  Although the founder and first principal, Phil Moore Leakin, established the school in 1854, he did not operate from a schoolhouse until 1855. Instead, he taught children from first to eighth grade in a rented out log cabin near Millersville. The one-room schoolhouse was built according to standard guidelines of the time, and cost $600 to construct - that’s roughly $17,660 in today’s money! In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, eighth grade was typically the highest grade, mostly due to the fact that families needed children to be home to tend to household duties and farms as they got older. In fact, the school was considered a second priority, behind household responsibilities. The average school year in the nineteenth century lasted about 132 days, while today’s recommended school year length is 180 days! Even so, attendance for both public and private schools stayed around fifty-nine percent year round. I’m glad they didn’t have to worry about keeping track of unexcused absences!

Historic Academies Property of PMR Photography

Across Millersville Road (if you peek behind some trees), you can see a bright red barn situated a short distance from the road. Next, to that, you’ll see a modest house. This building was originally the Anne Arundel Academy Boarding House, which housed both boys and girls that attended the Academy. The school’s founder, Phil More Leakin, owned the boarding house and operated it for some time for supplementary income.

Historic Academies Anne Arundel Academy Boarding House: Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Trust and Sherri M. Marsh

The school and boarding house operated for some time before being upgraded in 1924 to a ten-acre campus, complete with school equipment, a library, and $6,000 (about $177k USD today) courtesy of the original stockholders. The Academy’s original one-story schoolhouse is long gone, but the historical marker stands on Millersville Road as a reminder of how far our education has come!

United States Naval Academy

Of course, if you know of Annapolis, then you absolutely have at least a little knowledge about the Naval Academy. Officially known as the United States Naval Academy (established October 10, 1845), this 338-acre campus sits on the former site of Fort Severn in the heart of Downtown Annapolis. To us ‘locals,’ the Yard is a landmark of the Annapolis skyline and helps keep the traditions of Annapolis alive.

Historic Academies USNA waterfront, circa 1860s: Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Trust

Did you know, Annapolis is not the first home of an American Naval academy? Its predecessor, the Philadelphia Naval Asylum in Pennsylvania, stayed in operation for only eight years - from 1838 to 1845, before being transferred to Annapolis. Currently, the United States Naval Academy is the second oldest of the United States’ five service academies, and the entire campus is protected as both a designated National Historic Landmark as well as Maryland Historical Landmark. 

The USNA is still in operation today, averaging about 1,000 midshipmen graduates each year. These prestigious men and women usually get commissioned upon graduation by the United States Navy or the United States Marine Corps, since tuition for midshipmen is fully funded by the Navy in exchange for an active duty service obligation after graduation.

Historic Academies The first graduating class of passed midshipmen and mascot (woman), circa 1894: Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Trust

Back in its early days, the Naval Academy prescribed a five-year course of study, with years one and five on campus, and years two through four spent at sea. In 1850, the newly commissioned chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography set the curriculum program at seven years to completion, with the first two years and last two years being carried out on campus and the rest being passed at sea. Shorty thereafter in 1851, a four-year curriculum was proposed and implemented. From the first graduation on June 10, 1854, until 1912, graduating students were referred to as passed midshipmen.

The Naval Academy is also home to numerous monuments and historic buildings, including the tomb of John Paul Jones and the Tripoli Monument.  Be sure to check out the entire campus if you’re in the area! It’s open to the public and is GREAT for casual photo-ops. *Wink*