An Abbreviated History of McTernan School
In 1910, Mr. Frederick S. Chase, a Waterbury manufacturer, hired Amherst-educated Charles Clare McTernan to tutor his two sons and two other boys in Latin. Within a year of his appointment, Mr. McTernan recognized the need for an independent school that would prepare local boys to enter the country’s best college preparatory schools. In 1912, under his ownership and with financial assistance from such prominent benefactors as Mr. Chase, Mr. William B. Merriman and Dr. Carl E. Munger, the McTernan School was established. The school opened in a rented building behind Saint Margaret's School at Cooke and Grove Streets.
This rented space was soon outgrown by the expanding student body. With the help of several local businessmen, Mr. McTernan was able to purchase a parcel of land on Columbia Boulevard and in 1916 a new three-story school building was erected. In 1917, a house was built to the rear of the new school to house faculty and the McTernan family; in 1925, another wing was constructed to provide accommodations for a small boarding department. Finally, in 1928 a project was undertaken to unite these three buildings, which yielded a single 10,000 square foot structure that would serve as the School’s sole facility until 1955. During this period, many boys continued to attend the Saint Margaret's "Little School" for kindergarten through the second grade before matriculating at McTernan School for grades three through eight.
Mr. McTernan was the sole teacher at his eponymous school for the first academic year, before brining on a young Yale graduate, Mr. Pierce, who taught alongside Mr. McTernan until 1914. Upon Mr. Pierce’s departure, Mr. George Cashman was hired, and remained at the School from 1914 until his death in 1952. From 1914 until 1945, Messrs. McTernan and Cashman were the foundation of the School’s faculty, and taught the boys mathematics, history, English, French and Latin, and during this period the number of boys at the school grew from less than 10 to more than 50.
This steady growth allowed for a wider range of athletic and extra-curricular activities. In 1920, Mr. Cashman began a cross-country running team and a hiking program. Basketball then took root at the school, followed by football in 1931. Small student-published newsletters and literary magazines also began to emerge in the early 1940s. The first of these publications, called Monkey Shines, was sold by McTernan boys to raise money for the war effort. Eventually, these publications would evolve into the more formal school newspaper, The McTernan Mirror.
The expansion of the School led Mr. McTernan to grow concerned about the institution’s financial stability, especially in the context of the Great Depression. In 1938, Mr. McTernan deeded his school to a Board of Trustees to be operated as a nonprofit institution; these incorporators were composed of prominent citizens from the greater-Waterbury community. Charles McTernan continued as headmaster of McTernan School until his retirement in 1945.
Mr. Berkeley William Hotchkiss, a 1918 McTernan graduate and teacher at the School, was appointed headmaster in 1946 and saw the school through the post-war era. Immediately, Mr. Hotchkiss began to formalize the admissions process and brought on an old friend, Mr. Winston Ranft, to teach all of the School’s math classes and serve as the assistant headmaster. Mr. Raft was accompanied by his wife, Christine Raft, who was instrumental in establishing the performing arts program at McTernan, namely singing and drama, and developed the Declamations program that is still a major part of Chase’s seventh and eighth grade curricula.
In 1948, the school held its first formal graduation exercises at which awards were distributed and Mr. McTernan, returning to campus from his home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, presented each graduate with his diploma. Soon after, in the early 1950s, Mr. Hotchkiss instituted the School’s first uniform, consisting of a forest green corduroy blazer, dark or tan chino trousers and the choice of a shirt and a tie. The blazers were also to be fitted with the McTernan crest, which was designed by Mr. Hotchkiss. It was green (the School color) and contained the phrase Macte Virtute, Latin for, “Go Forth With Courage.”
The largest development at McTernan School was the building of a new gymnasium in 1955. Financed through a successful capital fund drive, the new gymnasium was one of the first buildings on the East Coast to use pre-stressed beams and was described in December 1955 by one student as “nearly 7,000 square feet of solid gold utility.” This structure served not only as a gymnasium, but also as an auditorium, where the school put on plays and held dances.
On May 1, 1960, at the age of 55, Mr. Hotchkiss died unexpectedly after a short illness and the position of headmaster was passed to Mr. Ranft. In 1961, shortly after assuming the role of headmaster, Mr. Ranft was approached by Saint Margaret’s administrators, who asked if McTernan School would like to purchase the “Little School.” Eager to acquire the property, the Board of Trustees launched a $100,000 campaign, earmarking $42,500 to buy the “Little School” and $57,500 for necessary modifications to the building. The campaign was successful and the purchase of the “Little School” was effectuated.
To link the gymnasium to the “Little School” it was decided that a new building would be constructed and dedicated to the memory of Mr. Hotchkiss. “Hotchkiss Hall” was composed of four classrooms, an office and a lavatory, and featured a memorial plaque and a portrait of Mr. Hotchkiss. It was this building that allowed McTernan to grow from 91 students to over 150.
Additional changes to the physical plant were undertaken during this period, including a renovation to the dining hall, the resurfacing of Kellogg Field and the construction of a new classroom dedicated to Mr. Cashman. Furthermore, during this period, Mr. Ranft added a ninth grade to the School, brought on the first athletics director, added woodworking and industrial arts to the curriculum, established a variety of academic prizes, expanded the range of field trips taken by the students, and reformed the school uniform.
In 1970, Mr. Ranft moved to Florida and Mr. Clayton B. Spencer, an administrator at Taft School, accepted the position of headmaster. During his first year Mr. Spencer worked diligently to maintain and improve both the School’s curriculum and its physical plant. The “General Science” courses were replaced by more specific programs, such as “Basic Biology” and “Basic Chemistry.”
Most importantly, however, it was half-way through Mr. Spencer’s first year that he entered talks with Saint Margaret’s about the possibility of a merger between the two institutions. Discussions moved quickly and by the 1971-72 academic year the details of the merger were being finalized and Mr. Spencer had been selected as the future headmaster of the soon-to-be merged school.
This new role left Mr. Spencer with a substantial number of issues that he needed to address, including: the conversion of the Saint Margaret’s buildings in order to accommodate the new co-educational, kindergarten through twelfth grade school; the reconciling of the academic structures of the two schools; the reorganization of the faculty and staff; and securing the School’s financial security. That year, the Board of Trustees launched a fund drive, chaired by George A. Goss, Jr. ’34, which raised $1,000,000 for merger related construction.
Drawing from School records, student publications and first-hand accounts, the McTernan History Book – entitled McTernan School: 100 Years of Excellence – chronicles the rich and enduring history of McTernan School from its founding in 1912 through to today. This 130 page book also features over 50 photographs, dozens of quotations from McTernan students and faculty alike, and a comprehensive list of all those McTernan students who made their way to 106 Columbia Boulevard every day. Also listed are those men who attended McTernan but graduated from St. Margaret’s-McTernan, and those women who attended McTernan’s “Little School” during the 1960s and ’70s.This book will serve as a true testament to the greatness of McTernan School on the eve of its 100th anniversary.
For his efforts re-engaging the McTernan alumni, the very first copy of McTernan School: 100 Years of Excellence was presented to Sandy Larkin. Inside this copy, notes of appreciation were written by every member of the McTernan Anniversary Committee, and bundled with that book was the 2004 Magpie issue that got the whole project started. Additionally, a copy of the McTernan book will fitted with a small plaque designating it as the Sandy L. Larkin ’59 Edition and that book will be placed within the McTernan Centennial Library.