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The Phoenix Rises: The Manlius School's History of Change and Rebirth

St. John’s School was founded by the Episcopal dioceses on August 24, 1869 in the village of Manlius, In January 1871; the School was moved to a new building on the site of Comstock Hall on the Manlius campus

The Phoenix Rises

By 1880 attendance had dwindled and there came insolvency, so in 1881 a military component was added and the new corporation was called St. John’s Military School. Attendance increased.

The Phoenix Rises

In 1887, the School once again found itself with rapidly dwindling enrollment and meager funds.

So, in 1888 the trustees called on General William Verbeck to take over complete responsibility of the School, including the financial risk.

Starting off with fewer than 18 returning students, of whom he eventually had to expel ten, Gen. Verbeck filled the School to its capacity of sixty before the end of the first year and within five years he had doubled that enrollment.

The Phoenix Rises

In 1902 the original school building was destroyed by fire. The phoenix rising from the flames was added to the school’s coat-of-arms at this time to symbolize its rebirth. The School emerged from the fire stronger and added six buildings to the campus during the next 17 years.

The Phoenix Rises

On November 14, 1920, Verbeck Hall, the main campus building, was destroyed by fire. Comstock Hall was built to replace that building.

The Phoenix Rises

In 1923 the board eliminated all private ownership of the School and in 1924 the name was changed to The Manlius School. Under this reorganization Manlius is now conducted as a non-profit, non-sectarian educational corporation.

The Phoenix Rises

During the next several decades the school rose to national prominence both academically and militarily. In 1947, General Ray Barker became superintendent of the School. Under his reign, new buildings were added, including the Phoenix Tavern, Farmer Hall, and Shankweiler Hall of Science. Enrollment continued to increase as military education continued to grown in popularity.

However, the time was not with out hardship and change. In 1950 the Dodge Gymnasium burned to the ground its replacement, the Barber Gymnasium, was not completed until 1953. Despite not having a gym, the school managed to field quite successful athletic teams.

The Phoenix Rises

To relieve its complete dependence on enrollment for funding, the School began to focus more of its efforts on fundraising and building an endowment. In the 1960s, Manlius launched its Centennial Campaign, to celebrate the School’s 100th year of service. It had a goal of raising $1,535,000.

But, simultaneously, military schools were falling out of favor as growing ambivalence over the Vietnam War affected enrollment.

At Manlius, declining enrollment, combined with an aging physical plant, and increased operating costs caused the School to go further into debt.

Manlius took on this debt in good faith counting on an upswing in enrollment, a promised bequest, and the success of the Centennial Campaign. But they also knew further change was inevitable.

In the spring of 1969, the Executive Committee of the board of trustees unanimously voted to recommend that Manlius demilitarize. A co-educational component was also met with growing favor.

The Phoenix Rises

Later that spring, the full board agreed on the need for allowing girls to enter Manlius, and also approached Pebble Hill School to gauge their interest in a partnership. Pebble Hill rebuffed their initial request so Manlius continued to fundraise.

Five months into the Centennial Campaign, 200 Old Boys had pledged a total of $72,425. But it wasn’t enough, and by the winter of 1969 Manlius creditors refused to lend them any money unless they came up with “a realistic program for the continued successful financial operation of the School.”

Passionate about continuing Manlius’ commitment to education, the board again approached Pebble Hill about a partnership. This time, Pebble Hill agreed.

The Phoenix Rises

In January of 1970 the merger was announced and the school moved forward with consolidation plans. The merger affected enrollment, morale, and financial support more negatively than anticipated and in April 1973, the School (renamed Manlius Pebble Hill) was forced to end the school year early.

Digging into their own pockets, trustees, alumni, and parents were able to re-open the School in the fall of 1973, by consolidating enrollment on the debt-free and creditor-protected DeWitt campus.

The Phoenix Rises

The next twenty years saw many ups and downs, which included the sale of the Manlius campus in 1979, after six years on the market. Contrary to rumors, the sale price barely covered the Manlius campus’ remaining debts. But those who believed in Manlius knew it had survived.

Today, our School boasts an enrollment of over 550 and continues to educate some of the country’s finest young minds. Built on a strong foundation, MPH continues to evolve and grow. With a strong alumni association and student body meeting today’s challenges with the same fortitude as yesterday’s did we will continue to thrive.

The Phoenix Rises

Learn more about how the Phoenix is rising today at MPH...

Contact Us

For more information, please contact:

Tina Morgan
Director of Development
315/446-2452, ext 112
tmorgan@mph.net