About Us

History of The Gunnery

List of 11 items.

  • Frederick William Gunn

    1850-1880

    In 1850, Frederick William Gunn, educator, prominent abolitionist, and outdoorsman, along with his wife, Abigail Brinsmade Gunn, founded The Gunnery in Washington, Connecticut. A man and woman of courage and vision, they opened their home to educate a handful of young people. In doing so, they established a school which has flourished by standing squarely on the ideals of its founders – intellectual strength, moral courage, physical rigor and character.

    Founded in the “home school” rather than the Anglican tradition, Frederick Gunn's educational system provided a modified classical education, athletic opportunities, environmental awareness and moral values. A champion of humanity and freedom, he designed his school as a community based on mutual respect. In a much less inclusive era (1850-1882), The Gunnery welcomed girls, international students and students of color.

    Frederick Gunn is recognized as the originator of leisure camping in the United States. He walked with his students 40 miles to a Milford, Connecticut beach where they practiced camping skills in the 1860s. The custom continued into the 1870s at nearby Lake Waramaug, where academic subjects were added to the outdoor curriculum during a semester of camping. Gunn’s accomplishment is commemorated every year when the whole school takes a fall holiday to hike in the nearby Steep Rock Reservation.

    The founder was known to be a disciplinarian with an imaginative flair for reinforcing his points: When students engaged in fisticuffs, they were forced to sit in each other's laps for 30 minutes; a child using foul language was asked to lecture to a herd of cows without using the same word twice; a restless interrupter of the class was told to run around the church blowing a horn at each corner until he was fatigued enough to sit still; and a liar walked 10 miles and brought back a wood chip to prove he did it.
  • John Chapin Brinsmade

    1880-1921

    John Chapin Brinsmade succeeded his father-in-law as head of school in 1881 continuing a tradition of academic innovation as the public school system established itself in Connecticut. He expanded the school outside of the family home, building a dormitory, a schoolhouse and a gymnasium. During his tenure fraternities were established, which had teachers as well as students as members, and the science curriculum was expanded to include labs as college entrance became more competitive. Mr. Brinsmade headed the school for 41 years, the longest tenure in the school’s history to date.
  • Hamilton Gibson

    1922-1937

    In 1922 the privately-owned school was purchased by a group of alumni acting as trustees, and Hamilton Gibson (’02) was installed as the third headmaster. He abolished the fraternities, believing they were detrimental to the community spirit of the school, and converted the institution into an all-boys school, in keeping with the prevalent practice of independent schools at the time. It was Mr. Gibson's vision, with the help of architect Richard Henry Dana, to turn the school away from the main road, where car traffic was on the rise and create a quadrangle of colonial revival buildings. With the help of generous benefactors including the Van Sinderen family and the Bourne family, five buildings were constructed and the schoolhouse was remodeled in keeping with the new architecture. The enrollment of the school tripled.

    Mr. Gibson was instrumental in the founding of the Washington Art Association in the 1950s and was appointed by Ehrick Rossiter as one of the first trustees of Steep Rock when Rossiter deeded the nature preserve to the town in 1925. 
  • Tertius van Dyke

    1937-1942

    Tertius van Dyke’s tenure as headmaster began in 1937, and was marked by the addition of a lower school and the resulting expansion of enrollment.
  • Russell Bartlett

    1942-1946

    Russell Bartlett (headmaster 1942-1945) shepherded the school through the rigors of World War II rationing and adjustments in the curriculum and the school calendar to prepare the boys for the armed services.
  • Ogden Miller

    1946-1969

    When tragically Mr. Bartlett died in office, Ogden Miller was appointed headmaster in 1946. Having previously served as Director of Athletics at Yale, Mr. Miller raised the level of athletic participation and promoted the success of Gunnery teams. At the same time he increased the academic reputation of the students and prepared the school to meet the challenges of the incipient civil rights movement. During his tenure the school campus almost doubled in size with the purchase of the Bourne estate with its 40-room Tudor mansion, which serves as the administration building today. Mr. Miller retired in 1969.
  • Burgess Ayres

    1969-1977

    Burgess Ayres assumed the headship that year in a changing social environment, which featured the Vietnam war protests and the rise of the feminist movement. He initiated a period of student and curriculum coordination with a nearby girls’ school, Wykeham Rise. During his tenure, Gunnery’s Outdoor Club, while exploring archaeology, found some of the oldest Indian remains in New England. A college level course in archaeology was added to the curriculum. He retired in 1977.
  • David Kern

    1977-1979

    David Kern (1977-1979) oversaw the return to full coeducation in 1977 after 56 years of single sex education.
  • Michael Eanes

    1979-1991

    In 1979, longtime faculty member Michael Eanes became headmaster. During his tenure the school greatly expanded its athletic facilities and added Advanced Placement and Independent Studies courses to prepare the students for an ever-increasing competition for college entrance. Female sports’ facilities and dormitories were expanded.
  • Susan Graham

    1991-2012

    In 1991 Susan Graham was named the first female head of school. Under her aegis, a long-needed campus renovation was undertaken, the hockey rink was fully enclosed and the Emerson Performing Arts Center replaced a crumbling 1913 gymnasium/drama barn. In 2000, an alumni center, named for longtime Latin teacher and baseball coach Edward Buxton, was constructed next to the Bourne administration building. In 2002, the 1960s’ dining facilities were replaced with a large addition and makeover of Browne dining hall, which was renamed Virginia Hamilton Solley Hall after one of The Gunnery’s primary benefactors. A student center was established in the old dining area; and the student post office and store were relocated from Brinsmade dorm, which, in turn, provided needed classroom space. Up-to-date visual arts and photography studios were created on the ground floor of Memorial gym when the maintenance facilities were moved to a new building in back of the tennis courts. In 2007, The Gunnery dedicated Teddy House, a freshman boys’ dorm, a project which was made possible by the leadership gift of Dick Ebersol and Susan St. James in memory of their son Teddy Ebersol. In 2009, longtime benefactors, the Tisch family made possible the renovation and expansion of the schoolhouse with the largest gift in the school’s history, $7million.
  • The Becker family

    2012-Present

    After 21 years, Susie Graham retired in June 2012 and was replaced by Peter W.E. Becker from the Lawrenceville School. Mr. Becker has a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia and an M.A. in History from Yale University. He inherits a school with 285 students from 16 states and 16 countries, a faculty of 56, a rejuvenated campus, a balanced, rigorous curriculum, and a vigorous, after- school program of 36 interscholastic teams, arts programs, and community service.

    The school celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2000, the school proudly rests on the principles and traditions of its founder. The Gunnery has embraced the challenge of remaining a small school, sufficiently intimate to sustain the compelling values of Frederick Gunn's mission and to ensure its enduring strength.

Traditions

List of 12 items.

  • Convocation

    With the arrival and registration of the students in the fall, the school faculty and administration formally open the school year with a ceremony in the Meeting House the first week of school. The event includes a welcome and welcome back from the head of school, a welcome from the new head prefect, the presentation of the prior year’s top scholar awards, a faculty address on a topic of their choice, and the presentation of faculty chairs which are up for renewal.

    The five faculty chairs include: The Wallace P. Rowe III Chair in Critical Thinking, the Tisch Chair for Excellence in Teaching, The Hamilton Gibson Chair in the Humanities, the Noto Family Chair for Hard Work and Dedicated Service, and the Ann and Henry Zarrow Chair for Math and Science. Each of these chairs is held for three years. In addition each year, a member of the faculty is chosen to receive the Class of ‘55 Distinguished Teacher Award for Emerging Excellence.
  • Stray Shot

    “Stray Shot” was the name for a column of inside jokes about Gunnery school life in the original school newspaper of the same name which was first published in March 1884. In 1959, the editor of the Stray Shot, Thomas Roderick Dew, donated a 200 pound Civil War cannon ball about the size of a beach ball to the school which was called the “stray shot” and which became a plaything for all the generations of Gunnery students since that time.

    The ball, now in its third iteration, weighing about 90 pounds and about the size of a soccer ball, has been rolled down the Green Hill, lost in a pond, hidden in snow banks and fireplaces, buried, soldered to walls, amidst shenanigans, mayhem, and intrigue. In the game today, the holders of the ball (usually seniors) carve their initials in the iron and lead the teams of searchers (usually underclassmen) through a series of clues about the campus and school history. The team in possession at year end will begin the game over again the following year.
  • School Walk

    The whole school (students, faculty, and staff) gathers at the dining hall annually as close in date as practicable to founder Frederick Gunn’s birthday on October 7th. They embark on a walk between six and eight miles through Steep Rock to the Pinnacle and finish near the riding ring with a picnic lunch and games. The Outdoor Club lays out the course and monitors check names at the top of the mountain. It is timed as a surprise: classes are cancelled and co-curricular commitments are optional.

    The first walk was 47 miles to Gulf Beach in Milford, CT in 1861 and is the reason that founder Frederick Gunn is credited as the originator of recreational camping in the United States. In 1986, the American Camping Association recreated that walk with 450 campers from all over the world.

    The first commemorative school walk of which we have a record in the Stray Shot newspaper occurred in 1886, five years after Mr. Gunn’s death. Destinations and ceremony have varied over the years. People have read quotes from the founder’s writing about nature before setting out.  In 2009, they performed a play about Gunn. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s the school walked to the Mt. Tom Pinnacle, a distance of seven or eight miles. Many of these walks were begun with a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of Mr. Gunn in the St. John’s Cemetery.
  • The Gunnery Crest

    The first Gunnery crest was a Scottish sword in a clenched fist from the Gunn clan with the Latin motto Aut Pax, Aut Bellum, (Either Peace or War). In the 1960s, Headmaster Ogden Miller formalized and redesigned the crest to include a heraldic motto on a ribbon below the shield, Vir Semper Discipulus Est (A good man is always a learner).” Roger Netzer ’71 had his son restate it to include women when he made a presentation to his Legal Society in the 1990s. In the 2000s, under the aegis of Head of School Susan Graham, Andy Sacks’s ’86 advertising firm helped the school design a more modern version of the crest with the motto imprinted on the bend dexter of the shield.
  • Scottish Heritage

    The Gunn Clan is from the far northern reaches of Scotland and claims descent from the Norse Earls of Orkney centered around the Scottish city of Caithness. The progenitor of the Gunn family in the new world, Jasper Gunn, arrived in Massachusetts aboard the ship Defence in 1635 from Scotland. He and his wife were among the first settlers in Milford, CT and he was the first doctor. His great, great, great grandson, Samuel Gunn III moved to Washington, CT where his grandson, Frederick Gunn was born.

    The first Gunnery crest was that of the Gunn Clan but because of its bellicose motto was little used. The Gunnery formal dress includes the Gunn tartan and the Gunnery teams are called Highlanders. The Gunnery story has been given to the Gunn Clan museum in Scotland and we maintain contact with the Gunn Clan headquarters in Scotland as well as with The Gunn Clan Society in North America.
  • The Gunn Pine

    The Gunn Pine (actually a Norway Spruce) appears on The Gunnery Crest, which was first designed in the 1940s as a heraldic device suggesting the natural beauty of The Gunnery’s campus and the living growth of learning. The actual tree depicted is rumored to have been planted at the first reunion in 1869 by Mr. Gunn and the tree’s rings would indicate a planting about that time. It stood behind the original Gunnery building, which was torn down in 1928 and in front of Gunn Dorm, which replaced the “Old Gunnery” building.

    The tree fell in 1993 during a blizzard and was immediately replaced with the one now standing next to Gunn Dorm (2014). It was dedicated in the spring of 1994. This tree is decorated with lights during the winter holidays. During the sesquicentennial celebration in 2000-2001, archivist Paula Gibson Krimsky, with the help of History Chair Julia Alling’s history students, plotted the history of The Gunnery, the history of the United States and the history of the world on a the rings on a preserved circular slab of the tree.
  • Senior Rock

    We are not sure when this tradition began, but we hope that anyone who knows will tell us. A large boulder in front of Gunn Dorm on the Quad can only be climbed and used by seniors. The rock has a plaque dedicating the campus to the third headmaster, Hamilton Gibson, who built the quad with architect Richard Henry Dana and philanthropist Adrian Van Sinderen in the 1920s and 1930s. The seniors use it for studying, rough housing and gathering throughout the year. Each year in the spring, the seniors assemble all over the rock in the colors and dress of their accepted colleges to take a photo showing off their future homes.
  • Student Government and School Meetings

    Mr. Gunn was an early proponent of student participation in the governance of the school and, in the 1850s, he held “family” meetings every Sunday evening when the students were encouraged to seek solutions to the disciplinary, logistical, or academic issues of the week. Later heads of school held chapel in the Meeting House on the Green and, after 1958, in a chapel in Bourne Hall several days a week with a Sunday night vesper service in the Meeting House. Both students and faculty were invited to speak about issues of community concern.

    With the rise of a more culturally diverse student body, the term “chapel” was dropped from the bi-weekly meetings and the topics became more secular in nature. Today we gather as a community three days a week to celebrate our mutual values and concerns. The meetings are run by the six senior prefects and most, if not all, Gunnery graduates associate the gathering with the yearly taking of the pledge for academic honesty or the speech of every junior on a topic of his/her choice to the whole school.
  • Washington Day

    The newest tradition at The Gunnery was a gift to the students from our newest headmaster in 2013. On learning about Mr. Gunn’s penchant for declaring an impromptu school holiday on a perfect outdoor day, Mr. Becker decided that the doldrums of Connecticut’s long winters could be alleviated in the weeks before spring vacation by a “Washington Day” in honor of our first President and our town. Thus, a tradition was born in which Mr. Becker raises a school flag upside down on the flagpole on a bright day in February. The students are excused from classes and have a day to themselves for sleeping in or building a snowman or having an impromptu snowball fight.
  • Founder’s Day Regatta

    In 1948, with a donation from longtime generous benefactor, Katherine Conroy, The Gunnery’s crew program was founded. Located on Lake Waramaug, the program flourished under founding coaches Rod Beebe and W. Chattin Wetherill. In 1959, Mrs. Conroy teamed up with Coach Beebe to establish the Founder’s Day Regatta which began initially with four schools. Today, on the first Sunday in May, some 1400 student athletes from 25-28 participating schools and boating clubs gather at the state park at the end of the lake for a day of racing in coxed four shells.

    The regatta, which is second in size only to the New England championships on Lake Quinsigamond, attracts about 5,000 spectators who pitch colorful school tents and provide prodigious amounts of victuals to encourage the rowers many fans and families. Preparation for such an undertaking begins early in the school year and hundreds of faculty, parents, and students volunteer in many capacities to ensure a great day of racing for everyone.
  • Investiture and Clash of the Colors

    In the 2000s, it was decided to wait to hold the underclassmen’s exams until after the seniors had departed. That decision allows the underclassmen to celebrate with their senior friends and not be bothered in their study for their own exams. Two events are scheduled during exam week to raise the student spirits and celebrate their coming status as rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The school holds a formal meeting (Investiture) at which the leadership team for the following year such as prefects, tour guides and resident advisors are apprised of their responsibilities and receive the power of their offices. For the Clash of the Colors, each of the rising classes forms a team of contenders in a series of games and contests. Teammates dress in the class’s color (and paint their faces, dye their hair, and otherwise show their allegiance to the class).
  • Graduation and Prize Night

    The first formal invitation to graduation exercises in our archives is dated 1921 under the headship of John Brinsmade. The exercises were held in the gymnasium and the address by W.W. Ellsworth was about “Choosing a Life’s Work.” Prior to that, Mr. Gunn’s end-of-year celebrations were expositions of student work declamations, recitations or songs. Under Mr. Brinsmade the exercises are clearly similar although Mrs. Brinsmade scheduled “A Talk to the Senior Class” as the last item on the schedule. The first mention of issuing diplomas was in the invitation in 1924 under Hamilton Gibson. There were 14 prizes announced at the same time including the highest scholars in each class and the one available scholarship of $300. There were seven seniors.

    Today, the two biggest events of the student year are the graduation exercises in the morning in late May, early June at the Meeting House on the Green and Prize Night the night before. Named scholarships are no longer announced nor is there a prize for the largest fish caught in the Shepaug nor is there a school song in addition to St. Anne’s hymn, but the prizes continue to celebrate the character, academic excellence, and leadership qualities of the graduating seniors and, to a lesser extent, the underclassmen. There are 50 prizes. The graduation exercises include addresses by the departing senior prefect and the incoming one, the awarding of the three top prizes, the naming of the top scholar in the class, and an address, usually by the head of school, before handing out the diplomas. Last year there were seventy-seven seniors.

The Gunnery

gps address: 22 Kirby Road, Washington, CT 06793
mail address: 99 Green Hill Road, Washington, CT 06793
tel: 860-868-7334
Contact Us
Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.