If you could pick one man who has influenced the course of history in both peaceful communities of North Kingstown and East Greenwich, it would have to be Daniel Gould Allen.
You see, although he lived his entire life on the family farm on North Quidnessett Road in North Kingstown, a great part of his real legacy is his influence upon the educational tradition of neighboring East Greenwich.
Daniel Gould Allen was born Dec. 28, 1810, to Thomas and Mary (Hill) Allen. His grandfather, familiar to regular readers of this column, was none other than old Judge John Allen himself. The marriage of the judge’s son to Mary Hill had united two of Quidnessett’s most prominent and influential families. Daniel was educated at the finest schools and eventually graduated from Wesleyan University.
His passion was education, and he returned from Middletown, Conn., with a plan to institute all the new educational reforms he had studied at the university. Chief among these was the idea that in America everyone deserved the opportunity for a quality education. The early 1800s was a time when this idea was just beginning to blossom. Public education was slowly becoming a reality in communities across America and there were not enough qualified teachers to go around. This was one of the main driving forces behind institutions such as The Washington Academy in Wickford, founded in 1800, and the Kent Academy in East Greenwich founded in 1802.
These were not public schools at that time as many assume. The Washington Academy, Rhode Island’s first “Technical College” was in fact a training facility for the vast amounts of teachers needed to staff the many small district schoolhouses that were springing up across New England and beyond. Additionally, mariners were trained there in the science of celestial navigation and the latest technical innovations in land surveying was taught to the young men who would one day go off and divvy up the Louisiana Purchase. Daniel Allen decided to jump into the local educational fray, take matters into his own hands in a hurry, and in a different way.
In 1838, tapping into some of the substantial Allen/Hill resources, he proceeded to purchase the Kent Academy outright. This way he could run it as he saw fit and answer to no one. His programs, which were instituted that very year, focused on making the Kent Academy one of the most respected preparatory schools in the region.
A preparatory school does just what it sounds like, prepares young people to succeed in college and university settings. Allen was a forward-thinking trend-setter in another manner, in that the Kent Academy was set up to operate as a co-educational facility, working with both young men and young women to prepare them for success in furthering their educations. His school was very successful, and that success allowed him to turn around and sell the academy to the National Methodist Episcopal Conference in 1844.
His six-year investment as guiding light, owner, and headmaster of the academy allowed him to retire at the tender age of 34. The Methodists renamed the school The East Greenwich Academy and the rest is, as they say, history.
Daniel may have retired but he certainly stayed busy. He ran the 100-acre farm at which he had been born and which had been left to him by his parents. In addition to that, he was at one time or another, the president of the North Kingstown Town Council, the superintendent of schools, a justice of the peace, the moderator of the town meetings, and a state legislator. He also somehow managed to write the book “The History of Quidnessett Country” in the midst of it all, which is, even to this day, an invaluable tool for researchers.
In 1862 he demolished his parent’s old farmhouse and had the magnificent two and a half-story, three-bay, central-entrance early Victorian home built that still graces North Quidnessett Road today. His grand home can be seen in the accompanying photograph.
Daniel Gould Allen died in 1895 at the age of 84. By then, he had been out of the “educational game” for decades; but his legacy lived on in the form of the East Greenwich Academy which continued to operate as Daniel Allen had envisioned it until 1943. To learn more about the legacy of the academy, please visit the North Kingstown Free Library starting on Monday and explore the fascinating photo exhibit about its history. It will run through September.