John W. Houghton building celebrates 100th anniversary

After standing firm for 100 years, an overnight storm wasn’t going to shake the John W. Houghton building.

 

With students, faculty and administrators in attendance, dozens arrived at 333 Greene St., on Wednesday morning to celebrate its centennial anniversary.

“Let’s take a minute to admire this building,” said Linda Tucciarone, executive director of Heritage Academy, which uses the old Houghton School as its campus. “I just wish Mr. Houghton could be here to witness this crowd.”

Following Augusta’s Great Fire of 1916, the Houghton School was rebuilt and reopened on March 22, 1917. A century later, the building is still being used for its original purpose – to educate low-income children.

Wednesday’s ceremony was attended by Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, who proclaimed March 22 as “100th anniversary of the Houghton School Day.”

“Heritage Academy was established in 2001 with 10 kindergarteners,” Davis told the crowd. “The Houghton School became the permanent home for Heritage Academy in 2006, and since that time, the school has been fully renovated and restored to its original use.”

Prior to Davis’ proclamation, students from Heritage serenaded the crowd with “What a Wonderful World.”

Heritage Academy is an independent school offering a quality Christ-centered education to children of diverse economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. In 2016, Heritage Academy operated on a budget of $1.4 million, with 85 percent of its funding coming from donations.

“I think it would have pleased John Houghton, no doubt, that Augusta decided to rebuild this school,” said Erick Montgomery, executive director of Historic Augusta. “There’s no better use of a historical building than its original use.”

Following the ceremony, a tour of the building was offered to those in attendance.

Since it opened, Heritage Academy has added one grade level a year and now goes through eighth grade.

This spring, nine students will graduate middle school. Six have already been accepted into magnet school programs in Richmond County. Two more plan to attend Aquinas High School. One is undecided.

In all, 230 children attend Heritage Academy.

“My grandfather, and many other family members, attended Houghton and it needed to be saved,” said Clay Boardman, a local philanthropist who purchased the historic building in 2005. “I told Linda (Tucciarone) to dream big and it would get done.”

Reach Doug Stutsman at (706) 823-3341 or doug.stutsman@augustachronicle.com

When John Houghton died in 1851, he left $4,000 to build “a brick school house” on the place of the Augusta Free School and funds to operate it.

The school was to be “free for all poor children” of Augusta and was to be cared for by the City Council. In 1890, the council turned that responsibility over to the Richmond County Board of Education.

The Augusta Free School referred to in Houghton’s will was the only free school in the city. It was chartered in 1821, and had 250 students in 1850.

Houghton Institute opened in 1851 with a principal, a male teacher for boys and female teacher for the girls, and is considered the beginnings of the Richmond County school system.

The Great Fire of 1916 destroyed more than 700 buildings in downtown, including Houghton, but the school board voted to rebuild. It reopened a year to the day later - March 22, 1917 - with thousands in attendance.

 

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