Smithville Seminary

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Smithville Seminary
Smithville Seminary.jpg
Smithville Seminary building in 2008
Smithville Seminary is located in Rhode Island
Smithville Seminary
Smithville Seminary is located in the US
Smithville Seminary
Location 29 Institute Ln.,
Scituate, Rhode Island
Coordinates 41°50′03″N 71°34′59″W / 41.8342°N 71.5830°W / 41.8342; -71.5830Coordinates: 41°50′03″N 71°34′59″W / 41.8342°N 71.5830°W / 41.8342; -71.5830
Built 1839
Architect Russell Warren (architect)
Architectural style Greek Revival
Part of Smithville-North Scituate (#79000003)
NRHP reference # 78003446
Significant dates
Added to NRHP March 29, 1978
Designated CP August 29, 1979

The Smithville Seminary was a Freewill Baptist institution established in 1839 on what is now Institute Lane in Smithville-North Scituate, Rhode Island. Renamed the Lapham Institute in 1863, it closed in 1876. The site was then used as the campus of the Pentecostal Collegiate Institute and later the Watchman Institute, and is now the Scituate Commons apartments. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.[1]


The Pentecostal Collegiate Institute in North Scituate, 1905.

The buildings on the knoll were built in 1839 and comprised a large three-story central building with columns and two wings. The wings, with 33 rooms each, were separated by 20 feet from the main building and connected to it via two-story covered passageways. The central building housed classrooms, offices, staff apartments, and dining facilities, a library and reading room on the second floor, and a large room on the third floor which might serve as a chapel, while the other two buildings served as separate male and female dormitories. The two-mile-long Lake Moswansicut could be seen from the third-floor chapel.[2] The buildings were designed by Russell Warren, the leading Greek Revival architect in New England in the 20th century,[3]

After the close of the renamed Lapham Institute, the campus became the site of the Pentecostal Collegiate Institute from 1902 to 1919 and, eventually, the Watchman Institute in 1923.

The site became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.[1] The buildings were also renovated in the 1970s and converted into apartments known as Scituate Commons.[4]


Smithville Seminary in the 1800s

Smithville Seminary was founded in 1839 by the Rhode Island Association of Free Baptists. At the time, the Free Baptists already had two academies, one in New Hampshire (the New Hampton Institute), the other in Maine (Parsonsfield Seminary), and the Rhode Island Baptists desired to have one of their own. Reverend Hiram Brooks was asked to start the school, and raised $20,000, all of which he put toward buildings.[5] Sadly, the entire commitment of these monies to brick and mortar rather than an endowment fund may have caused financial difficulties for the institution, as it was unable to support itself through tuition revenue.[6]

The first principal was Rev. Hosea Quimby, who had come from the Maine academy to serve at Smithville. Quimby worked for the school, even buying the property when financial trouble struck, until in closed temporarily in 1854 with only 20 students (in 1845, it had an enrollment of over 300 representing 7 U.S. states). It was revived the next year when Quimby rented the property to a Samuel P. Coburn, who became principal, and enrollment again reached over 100 that year.[7] The property was sold to Reverend W. Colgrove in 1857, who operated it for another two years before it closed again, this time for three years.[8]

The site of Henry Barnard’s first Rhode Island Teachers Institute in 1845, the school began giving normal instruction for teachers with public funding in 1867, but ceased in 1871 when the state's Education Commissioner re-established the Rhode Island Normal School and cut program funding for other institutions.[4]

In 1863 the school changed hands and changed its name after a minister and former professor at the school, returned in 1861 to find much of the campus dilapidated and in disrepair. With the Free Baptist Association unwilling or unable to help, William Winsor recruited Congressman Benedict Lapham, after whom the new Lapham Institute was named.[9]

In addition to its connections to what would later become Rhode Island College, the school had connections to Bates College in Maine, another Free Baptist institution.[10] Its first principal, Benjamin F. Hayes, was called to a professorship at Bates, and his successor, Thomas L. Angell, was also called to a professorship there after two years as principal in North Scituate.[10] George H. Ricker then took over as principal for seven years before being called to Hillsdale College in Michigan in 1874. His successor was Arthur G. Moulton, a trustee of Bates, who died just over a year after taking the position. He was followed as principal by W.S. Stockbridge, under whom the school finally closed in 1876.[10] William Winsor was the last benefactor of the Institute, and when no one replaced him, the school went bankrupt without an endowment to support it.[11] In 1883 Winsor donated the library of the Lapham Institute to the Greenville Public Library.[12]

Notable alumni[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ James R. Cameron, Eastern Nazarene College: The First 50 Years, Kansas City, Mo.: Nazarene Publishing House (1968), 35.
  3. ^ Beth L. Savage and Carol D. Shull, African American Historic Places, John Wiley and Sons (1995), 422.
  4. ^ a b Rhode Island College Sesquicentennial
  5. ^ William Howe Tolman, History of Higher Education in Rhode Island, (DC: Government Printing Office 1894), 66 (accessed on Google Book Search on July 11, 2008).
  6. ^ Thomas B Stock-well, A History of Public Education in Rhode Island, from 1636 to 1876, Providence Press Company (1876), 412
  7. ^ William Howe Tolman, History of Higher Education in Rhode Island, (DC: Government Printing Office 1894), 66-69.
  8. ^ Thomas B Stockwell, A History of Public Education in Rhode Island, from 1636 to 1876, Providence Press Company (1876), 413
  9. ^ William Howe Tolman, History of Higher Education in Rhode Island, (DC: Government Printing Office 1894), 69-70.
  10. ^ a b c William Howe Tolman, History of Higher Education in Rhode Island, (DC: Government Printing Office 1894), 70-71.
  11. ^ Thomas B. Stockwell's A History of Public Education in Rhode Island, from 1636 to 1876, published in 1876, claims on page 414 that, "The school is supported at the present time by the munificence of William Winsor of Greenville, R.I., who stands instead of an endowment. Its facilities for thorough work, and for doing good, were never better than now. It has a full corps of teachers, a good library, chemical and physical apparatus, &c. The buildings are in excellent repair and its location is as healthy as can be found in New England." James R Cameron's Eastern Nazarene College: The First 50 Years published in 1968, says on page 34 that "The school finally failed for lack of a benefactor to succeed Mr. Winsor."
  12. ^ At the General Assembly of the State of Rhode-Island and Providence ..., (1881) pg 263
  13. ^ a b "National Register of Historic Places Inventory- Nomination Form" (PDF). United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 
  14. ^ American Educational Company (1913). The American Educational Review, Volume 34. American Educational Company. p. 114. 
  15. ^ "LAPHAM, Oscar, (1837 - 1926)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved March 25, 2014.