Franklin Academy, named for American statesman Benjamin Franklin, was established in 1820 as a private boys’ school of liberal arts. In January of 1821, the General Assembly of Maryland officially appointed nine trustees and awarded them $400 for the creation of the Academy.
Classes were first held in the home of Miss Mary Richardson on Main Street (218 Main Street today). However, the town recognized the need for a real schoolhouse. Enough money was raised by public subscription, by donations of materials and labor, and by a political barbeque so that by 1826 the students occupied a brand new building, the same one that houses today part of the Reisterstown Branch of Baltimore County Public Library. Additionally, a cupola was added that housed the school bell; it was rung the very first time on July 4, 1826, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United States. That same bell is currently located at the present Franklin High School and is rung the first day of school, by the most senior faculty member, to begin each school year.
In the earliest days, students paid tuition and could choose from three academic paths: Classical ($25 yearly), Mathematical ($16), and Rudimentary ($12). Hours of attendance from the vernal to the autumnal equinox were from 8:00 AM to noon and from 2:00 PM to 5 PM. From the autumnal to the vernal equinox, hours were from 9:00 AM to noon and from 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM. Two vacations were granted: one three-week one beginning the first Monday in August and the other two-week one starting on Christmas Day. Good Friday and July Fourth each merited one day’s vacation.
Franklin Academy was one of the very few schools of its type in the greater area. A number of students came from far distances and had to board in town during the week and only go home on weekends. A popular story passed down, which was recently proven, says that Edge Allan Poe applied to be a teacher here in 1831, but his application was not accepted by the trustees. In 1847 the first “female teacheress” was hired and in 1849, there was one girl in attendance—the daughter of the principal.
In 1847, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation creating public schools in Baltimore County. Two years later, in 1849, the plan of renting of the Franklin Academy building to the County School Commissioners went into effect. It wasn’t until 1874 that the school, the facility having greatly deteriorated, was totally turned over to the County, and the following year, 1875, it was renovated, remodeled, and greatly enlarged. The school was then referred to as Reisterstown High School, although still not regarded as a true high school. However, the school ranked as one of the best in its class in the State of Maryland and it excelled in its ranking with the other County schools. In 1896, the school truly became a high school when ninth grade was added, and the name was changed again, this time to Franklin High School, which it remains today.
By the turn of the century, the old school had outgrown its building and, in 1905, students occupied a brand new school house across Academy Lane (now Cockey’s Mill Road), constructed where the present middle school addition stands. Very shortly, increased attendance and population required an addition to this structure, doubling it in size, which was occupied in 1914. At this time the elementary school children moved over from the old Academy and shared the premises. The 1905/1914 building remained in use until 1965 when it was demolished.
The year 1930 saw yet another high school erected to serve the booming area, this one costing over one-quarter of a million dollars and touted as “Baltimore County’s most modern and best-equipped educational plant.” It still stands today as the middle school at the intersection of Reisterstown and Cockey’s Mill roads.
By the early 1950s, it became apparent that the Reisterstown, Glyndon, and Owings Mills area was growing rapidly, and the answer to the increased school population and the aging of the earlier buildings was the construction of the present Franklin High School in 1960, located further south on Reisterstown Road, followed by a southern addition in 2000.
As for the old Academy building, it sat idle for a while but was eventually refurbished to serve as a school bus garage; the agricultural department for the high school, including poultry and pigs; and, in 1961, the Reisterstown Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library, which it remains today.
Ann B. O’Neill Reisterstown Branch, BCPL Updated January 2019