The Academy of the New Church began its formal existence on the 19th of June, 1876, but January 14th, 1874, was regarded as the unofficial beginning of the organization and celebrated as Founders Day for many years. On January 14th, 1874, John Pitcairn wrote a check for five hundred dollars in order to defray the costs of a proposed publication to begin “a reformatory movement in the New Church” (New Church Life 1911, 189). Two days earlier, a group of men had met at the Atlantic Garden restaurant on Diamond Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and formulated the idea for this movement. Those present were Frank Ballou, Walter C. Childs, William Henry Benade, and John Pitcairn (see photo, below).
Founders Day celebrations did not begin until 1894, and initially the John Pitcairn check, dated January 14th, 1874, was used to determine the celebration date. It was not until 1917 that John Pitcairn’s diary was consulted and the restaurant meeting date of January 12th became the new Founders Day celebration date.
Early Founders Day celebrations took place in the dining room of Cairnwood, John and Gertrude Pitcairn’s home in Bryn Athyn (see photo). In the beginning the celebrations were “confined to those among the men, who, as founders, charter members, members of the Council, or officers and teachers in the Academy, were privileged to an invitation” (New Church Life 1911, 127). On January 5th, 1904, Vera Pitcairn wrote a letter to her father John, who was away on business at the time. She closed the letter with the following postscript: “I suppose we will have a banquet on the fourteenth” (Vera Pitcairn. Letter to John Pitcairn. 5 January 1904). We do not have any details of the banquet that took place at Cairnwood that year, or a list of those who attended, but the elaborate menu has survived (see photo, top).
Founders Day was celebrated annually until at least the early 1940s. Charter Day, the day commemorating the school’s official recognition by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was established in 1917 and continues today as the Academy’s largest alumni event, featuring a worship service in Bryn Athyn Cathedral, a banquet, and a dance.
Photos: The menu from Founders Day 1904 is in the collection of the Glencairn Museum Archives, Bryn Athyn, PA. The line drawing of the four men present at the restaurant is taken from Toward a New Church University: A Centennial Album, p. 23.The photograph of Cairnwood, circa 1900, is also in the collection of the Glencairn Museum Archives.
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