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Old Stone House (Athenian Hall)
Athenian Hall, one of the most intact institutional structures of its era, stands as a remarkable creation of a remarkable person. Alexander Twilight, born of a poor black farming family in Corinth, worked through an indentureship and attended Randolph Academy. In 1823 he graduated from Middlebury College and is the first African American known to receive a college degree. He arrived in Brownington in 1829 to serve as its pastor and as principal of the coeducational Orleans County Grammar School. Recognizing the need to house boarding students, he reputedly built this dormitory at his own expense and solely with the aid of an ox. It is a four-story, thirty-room granite structure with ground-level classrooms, kitchen and cistern, student rooms on the second story, and top-floor assembly hall. Its stony gable front and monitor are reminiscent of mill buildings, but it also bears a kinship with Old Chapel (AD30.2), which was under construction at Middlebury College at just this time. The many chimneys serve a fireplace in the kitchen and fifteen small charcoal fireplaces in student rooms.
Almost at once the grammar school had competitors elsewhere in the county. In 1836, Twilight sought election and went to Montpelier, determined to protect the school's chartered resources. Serving until 1838, he was the country's first African American state legislator. Twilight ran his school until the 1850s, when he was succeeded by Samuel Reed Hall, a pioneer in teacher education and promoter, if not inventor, of classroom blackboards. In 1859 the school closed its doors, later passing into private hands and never again occupied above its ground floor. As a result, when the Orleans County Historical Society acquired it as a home for their collections in 1916, it was essentially intact. Today it is a National Historic Landmark that opens to the public seasonally.
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