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New Rockford Collegiate Institute


By the turn of the century, in 1900, North Dakota had about 150 Congregational churches; and the church leaders saw a need for building a Christian academy to educate their young people. One-room rural schoolhouses have been idealized, but those schools usually provided an education only through eighth-grade. To provide high school training, the Congregationalists decided to build a new school, choosing New Rockford as the location.

The stately, two-story brick building went up in 1904 at a cost of $18,000; and the first school term began that fall. It was called Phillips Academy, named after Pastor C.H. Phillips of the Jamestown Congregational Church, who was the leader of a regional committee that worked to establish the school.

The New Rockford school began with just 40 students, but grew to an enrollment of over 60 in the spring of 1905. The following year the number grew to 80, and by 1909, the Phillips Academy had 94 students, taught by five teachers.

But private schools often faced a perilous path of trying to pay all the expenses of construction, heating, and upkeep of a large building. By the fall of 1911, the trustees of Phillips Academy “faced a large and pressing indebtedness” that threatened their ability to keep the school going. Awash in red ink, the directors reorganized the school, renaming it as the New Rockford Collegiate Institute, so they could offer a one-year college course, in addition to preparatory classes.

Private academies declined in numbers in that era, as parents began to send their children to the public high schools, perceived as being improved through consolidation of one-room schoolhouses into larger buildings with more teachers.

The New Rockford Collegiate Institute fought on, however, beginning a major fund-raising campaign to lift the school “beyond the point of danger.” It was on this date, in 1913, that the New Rockford Collegiate Institute announced that James J. Hill, the Minnesota railway millionaire, had pledged $50,000 for the school’s endowment. The money was contingent upon the school raising $150,000 on its own, but the effort faltered and, ultimately, failed. The New Rockford academy closed its doors in 1917, and the Congregational church sold the building to the local public school district.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.


“James J. Hill Pledges $50,000,” Bismarck Daily Tribune, June 12, 1913 (dateline New Rockford, N.D., June 11, 1913).

“Endowment Fund Needed,” Bismarck Daily Tribune, July 11, 1916, p. 6

“Academy to Become College,” Grand Forks Herald, September 1, 1911, p. 8.

“Through home Missionary Eyes,” Congregationalist and Christian World, January 28, 1905, p. 127.

“In Eddy County,” Grand Forks Herald, May 22, 1906, p. 7.

“Bids Wanted,” Grand Forks Herald, March 22, 1904, p. 4.

“New Rockford Got It, Grand Forks Herald, July 23, 1903, p. 6.

“Phillips Academy, New Rockford, N.D.,” Ronald Olin N.D. Postcard Collection 2000, N.D.S.U. Libraries, Institute for Regional Studies, Fargo, N.D.

“Academies,” The American Missionary, Volume 66, 1912, p. 238.

“Organizational Sketch,” from “The Creation of the United Church of Christ in N. D.,” by Charles A. Maxfield and “The Northern Plains Conference of the United Church of Christ: A Condensed History,” by Eunice Shapleigh Brinckerhoff, in “The Northern Plains Conference of the United Church of Christ Records,” State Historical Society of N.D.,, accessed on May 9, 2013.

E. Clifford Nelson, The Lutherans in North America (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), p. 431