Originally founded by Free Will Baptists, Maine Central Institute was incorporated for the purpose of “feeding” students equipped with the proper educational background, to Bates College in Lewiston, which was a seminary at that time. MCI’s first catalogue advertised two courses—a “College Preparatory Course” for males and a “Ladies Course” which did not prepare female graduates for further study. Through the years MCI has established itself as a highly respected private school for students in grades nine through postgraduate, serving all high school age students from Pittsfield, Detroit and Burnham, Maine as well as students from around the country and around the world. MCI’s comprehensive curriculum is designed to meet the varied needs of all of its students.
Since the founding of MCI in 1866, the campus has grown tremendously. When the school first opened on August 30, 1866, accommodations for the 32 students were poor. Lectures were held in private homes, public halls and in the village schoolhouse, which stood where the First Baptist Church is today. The campus was literally in a sheep pasture. Today’s picturesque tree-lined campus consists of six classroom buildings: the Chuck and Helen Cianchette Math & Science Center, William H. Powell Memorial Library, Weymouth Hall, Founders Hall, Joseph R. Cianchette Hall, Ruth Cook Music Building, as well as two gymnasiums and four residence halls. Approximately 450 students, about 50 full-time teachers, a number of part-time teachers including many of the administrators, 30 coaches, some of whom are faculty or administrators, an administrative staff of 11 and a support staff of about 30 people working as administrative assistants, food service workers and maintenance and/or custodians are on the MCI staff.
Actual construction of the school began in August 1868, when the cornerstone of the Institute Building, later named Founders Hall, was laid. Two years and $40,000 later, the first floor, consisting of six large rooms, was completed in late 1870. In the next several years, ‘water closets’ replaced the original privy and the second and third floors were completed; the huge fourth floor remains unfinished to this day but provides access to the impressive bell tower atop the lofty and elegant brick building.
By 1900 wood stoves in the classrooms were replaced with steam heat, running water and electric lights were installed and Llewelln Powers, an MCI trustee and later governor of Maine, had donated money for remodeling the upper chapel. When the renovations were completed the chapel was christened Powers Hall to honor the key benefactor. From 1868 to 1958 the originally named Institute Building served as the only classroom on MCI’s campus. Today Founders Hall houses magnificently restored classrooms, complete with oak wainscotings and arched window-surrounds that are probably more beautiful than the original Victorian structures. The Academic and Business Offices are also located in Founders Hall along with a Bossov Ballet Studio. During the 1998 Campaign for MCI, classrooms in Founders were named to honor large donations: Crystal-Lynn May Brooks ’89, Dara J. Cowan ’33, Tillson and Ruth Thomas Memorial Classrooms, also a classroom named for Chartwells Food Service and another for Jeffery Hazell ’79 and James Hachey ’79.
In 2004, a complete makeover of the rifle range in the basement of Founders Hall was mandated by the school’s insurance company. Much of the old facility was sheathed in steel, and then covered in plywood. This extensive work was largely funded by alumni/ae and local organizations so that the 70-year-old tradition of award-winning MCI rifle teams could continue.
In 1903, MCI purchased a boarding house from Benjamin Bowden for $1,800, added another story to it, named it Cedar Croft Hall and used it as a girls’ dormitory; Maine Central Institute then began its tradition of being a boarding and day school. Male students lived off campus in private homes and some students commuted daily by train.
Major changes came about from 1900 to 1930. Enrollment at the school before and during World War I increased dramatically and it became necessary to provide more space for residential students. In 1911, at a cost of $22,000, a new girls’ dormitory was erected and later named Weymouth Hall. The construction of the new dormitory made it possible for male students to board in Cedar Croft Hall until 1927 when the wooden structure was destroyed by fire during the Christmas vacation.
Immediately thereafter, a campaign was initiated by the alumni/ae to raise money to build a new boys’ dormitory. The drive was successful and in October 1928, the doors of Alumni Hall were opened at a total cost of $69,889. At a ceremony held at MCI’s 1987 summer reunion, Alumni Hall was rededicated and named Stanley/Alumni Hall in recognition of former Headmaster Edward Stanley.
That same time period, which saw a significant increase in enrollment also, witnessed the expansion of MCI’s sports programs. Increased interest in sports at MCI began in 1893 when tennis courts were built on the south end of campus. By the early 1900s, baseball, football and track had become part of MCI’s sports program. Realizing the need for a proper athletic field, Mrs. William Hunnewell donated a field to the school in 1915; however, it was sold just a few years later. It wasn’t long, however, before George M. Parks, a distinguished alumnus of the Class of 1885 and devoted trustee, contributed a large sum of money for the development of an athletic field, complete with a cinder track. The same field is used today for football and gym classes. Mr. Parks’ largest gift to MCI came at his death in 1934 when he left a bequest of $75,000 to the school for the construction of a gymnasium. Completed in 1936 at a cost of $69,000, the George M. Parks Gymnasium continues to serve MCI’s students today.
In 1944, the John W. Manson House was donated to the school through the will of J.W. Manson. For more than 60 years, it has served as the residence of the Headmaster. During World War II, enrollment at MCI plummeted because men were in the service. Campus expansion was delayed until the 1950s, when three classroom buildings were added. One, a WWII surplus Quonset hut, was purchased from the government in 1950 and transported to MCI to be used as an industrial arts building; it was razed in 2000 to free the site for the construction of the new math and science building.
A major new building constructed at MCI, in 1958, was the J.R. Cianchette Hall of Science that housed the home Economics and Science departments. At a price tag of $132,000, funds for the project came primarily from alumni/ae and also from the Town of Pittsfield, which appropriated $50,000 toward the construction. In 2002 the building was renamed Joseph R. Cianchette Hall, honoring the man who was the largest contributor. Today that building houses the Merrill Merchants Bank Computer Technology Classroom, two art rooms, a ballet studio and office, drama rehearsal, costume storage and set design spaces, two study halls and the Human Development classroom.
After much careful planning, The William H. Powell Memorial Library was constructed in 1959. In 1950 Mrs. William Powell had donated $250,000 to MCI to build and furnish a library “of substantial construction” as a memorial to her husband, the late Judge William H. Powell, Class of 1885. The William H. Powell Memorial Library was the most generous gift the school had ever received to that point, providing students with a beautifully equipped library as well as additional classrooms. The Hazel Monteith Earle Memorial Language Laboratory is located in the foreign language department in Powel Memorial Library.
As the postgraduate program became more and more popular in the late fifties, the demand for boarding space began to increase, and the campus continued to expand significantly through the next decade. Two new dormitories were erected: Rowe Hall in 1961 and Manson Hall in 1966. Another great addition to the school came in 1962 when Johnson W. Parks, nephew of George M. Parks, donated the Parks Homestead, a 200-acre farm on Hartland Avenue, to MCI. Within a year, plans were made for a golf course to be developed on the property. In 1966, the Johnson W. Parks Golf Course was opened to the public. The course has been recognized by the National Golf Foundation as one of the finest nine-hole courses in New England. MCI sold the golf course in 1996, but it continues as an integral part of MCI life. The golf team practices and plays home matches on the lush green fairways.
MCI’s music program also received a big boost in the 1960’s when the school purchased a machine shop from Cianbro Corporation and converted the building into a music center named after Ruth Plummer Cook, who was a renowned music instructor at MCI for many years.
In 1980, the MCI Commitment Fund was initiated. MCI’s largest capital campaign to that point resulted in the completion of the Wright Family Gymnasium and the renovation of Weymouth Hall. In the fall of 1987, Wright Family Gymnasium opened and continues to serve as one of Maine Central Institute’s most outstanding athletic facilities. Wright Gym became a reality due largely to the great contributions of the Perley Wright family, especially brothers Clifford ’38 and Carl ’43, the Cianbro Corporation, many donations from alumni/ae and friends and the local community.
In 1988, MCI’s dormitories were renovated; this process has been ongoing ever since. In 2003 and 2004 entire suites in Stanley Alumni Hall were gutted and restored. In 2009 and 2010 the apartments in Rowe Hall, Manson Hall and Alumni Hall were renovated as well as some renovations to the Shorey House. In 2003 an additional wing of dorm rooms for boys was added in Manson Hall. The four dormitories, Nye Hurd Honors Dorm, Stanley Alumni, Manson and Rowe Halls, each have a full-time residential director and three other dormitory supervisors in residence. Weymouth Hall, once a dormitory and dining room, now houses the offices of the Dean of Students, Director of Residential Life, Director of Athletics and Activities, the Lorine L. Cummings Wellness Center, the English as a Second Language Department, other classrooms, WMCI and the MCI Bookstore.
In 1992, the former Bryant House on the school campus was renamed the Cianchette Alumni/ae and Development Center, in honor of its long-time residents, Ralph and Edna Cianchette and their children. Contributions from individuals and business associates of Ralph and Edna’s children (Carl ’37, Norris ’40, Clair ’41, Kenneth ’42, Ival ’44, Marilyn ’47, and Alton ’48) resulted in the gift to MCI of the Cianchette Alumni/ae and Development Center which serves as a meeting place for alumni/ae, friends and other guests of the school as well as offices of Admissions and Alumni/ae, and Advancement.
In 1998 a fund-raising effort, The Campaign for MCI, was instituted to raise $4,000,000 for the construction of a desperately needed new classroom facility, significant improvement in technology and fund an endowment to support increased compensation for faculty and staff. Personnel at MCI had, for a number of years, been on a salary scale well below the average of other schools in northern New England. By 2004 the Campaign for MCI had raised nearly $4,800,000.
The centerpiece of the campaign was the 26,000 square foot, three-story Chuck & Helen Cianchette Math & Science Center was completed in the winter of 2001 for a cost of just over $3,000,000. Funds were raised from alumni/ae and friends of MCI, from foundations and from corporations, particularly those that had ties to Chuck Cianchette ’48, who was tragically killed in a plane crash in early 2000. The Cianbro Corporation was also a significant contributor to this project and their gifts-in-kind in his memory were significant. On the Gregg ’69 and Elaine Patterson floor at the top of the building there are four large classroom/laboratories: the Blair Libby ’46 Chemistry Lab, the Paul Legge Physics Lab, the Frank Haseltine ’40 Biology Lab and the E. Robert Kinney ’35 and Family General Science Lab. The Carl ’43 and Rita Wright floor is at the entry level of the building. The Alumni/ae Conference Room, Office of the Headmaster, the CM Almy Computer Lab and another computer lab, as well as three science classrooms are on this second floor. One of these classrooms is named for Herman G. Cowan ’35, the elevator was donated by Edwards Systems Technology, exterior lighting was donated in memory of Roderic Smith and the display case was given by the Class of 1948 in honor of classmates Chuck and Helen Cianchette. The first floor, the Michael ’62 and Priscilla Savage Level, houses six math classrooms and the Meridian Lodge Teachers Workroom. Rooms on this level are named for Earl A. Gordon ’21; Jennifer Archibald Williams ’81; the Class of ’52 and Robert ’52 and Rae Jean Knowles; the Class of ’62; Thomas ’64 and Sally Savage; Caro Springer Prince 1905. The large square building is a traditional style with red and white brick facings and a hip roof that echoes the one on Founders Hall. It is a magnificent addition to the already beautiful campus.
In early 2005, Maine Central Institute purchased the Shorey House and apartment building at 76 and 78 South Main Street, just across from Manson House, residence of the Headmaster. Complete renovations of both structures were completed in 2006 by MCI’s maintenance staff. A senior administrator and his/her family live in the main residence and a number of faculty and staff live in the apartments. Purchase of this property enabled MCI to increase the number of adults on campus who have supervisory duties in the dormitories.
In October of 2007, the MCI Student Center and Dining Commons was completed for a cost of $2.5 million. Funds were raised from alumni/ae and friends of MCI. The Student Center houses the Patterson Student Lounge, Savage Family Dining Room, Kinney Conference Suite, the Merrill Bank Dining Server, and a recreation room. The dining room seats 250 people and is also the location of many events and gatherings. The Nye Hurd House was also completely renovated and now houses the Director of Residential Life and is also the Honors Dorm.