Abbot Hall

Exeter's first on-campus dorm

November 1, 2022
An old photo of the outside of a building

Abbot Hall circa 1885.

For nearly 75 years, the Academy operated without dormitories. Instead, “the boys boarded about town,” as one Exeter historian writes. But as enrollment grew, along with the cost of living, the Trustees recognized the need to offer on-campus housing to help ensure equal opportunity for all students. Charles H. Bell explains this thinking in his 1883 book Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire: A Historical Sketch, writing that the Trustees “determined to establish at the charge of the Academy, a dormitory and commons hall for the members of the school of limited means, by which the expense of living should be reduced to the minimum.”

The school experimented first with housing students in an Academy-owned building on Spring Street, which had been the J. & B. Williams printing shop. The arrangement worked so well that in September 1852 the Trustees voted “to erect a more suitable and capacious building for the same purpose, in the Academy grounds,” Bell writes. “It opened for use in 1855. It was constructed of brick, and contained rooms for fifty young men, with a dining hall and other needful accommodations; and cost about twenty thousand dollars.”

Abbot Hall, room 13, circa 1879

As Frank H. Cunningham details in his book Familiar Sketches of The Phillips Exeter Academy and Surroundings, the rooms were “furnished at a nominal rent, so that fifty boys are thus supported at about one half the cost of living at the ordinary boarding houses.” Residents paid $1 a year for a room. “The Trustees believe that no other institution of the kind in the country has approached this Academy in giving substantial aid to young men of poverty and merit,” Cunningham writes.

The building was named Abbot Hall, in honor of Benjamin Abbot, the Academy’s second principal, who served from 1788 to 1838. Abbot was a respected and beloved instructor, teaching such subjects as Latin and Greek for 44 years and counting among his pupils statesman Daniel Webster.

Ever considerate of the Academy’s mission to educate students in goodness and knowledge, the Trustees voted to post, inside each student’s Abbot Hall door, a set of eight rules, including: “There shall not be in or about the building, during study hours, any singing or playing of musical instruments, or any other noise inconsistent with the quiet study; and good order shall be preserved at all times.”

Abbot Hall remained the only on-campus dormitory until Soule Hall was built in 1893.


Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the fall 2022 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.

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