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History & Traditions

Headmasters

William Mann Irvine

1893–1928

William Mann Irvine, Ph.D., was appointed to lead Mercersburg in 1893 at the age of 28. Previously an instructor at Franklin and Marshall College, Dr. Irvine earned a Ph.D. in political science from Princeton University in 1892.

Within months of his appointment, Dr. Irvine renamed the school Mercersburg Academy and reorganized it as a college preparatory school on the Exeter model. Dr. Irvine launched the new school in the fall of 1893 with 40 boys, four instructors, and four acres of leased ground.

During Dr. Irvine’s tenure, Mercersburg rapidly grew in size and stature, gaining regional and national recognition as a top college preparatory boarding school with strong ties to Princeton University. Among his achievements was the construction of three dormitories, a dining hall, gymnasium, infirmary, administration building, and the Chapel. A new Main Hall and Annex were built after a fire gutted Old Main in 1927.

Charles S. Tippetts ’12

1941–1961

Charles S. Tippetts ’12, Ph.D., resigned from a deanship at the University of Pittsburgh to become headmaster in 1941. A graduate of Harvard and Princeton universities, Dr. Tippetts presided over the difficult war years and the completion of a new development program begun in 1949. During this time, Irvine Hall was completed and the James Buchanan cabin, birthplace of our 15th president, was moved onto the campus.

Douglas Hale

1997–2016

Douglas Hale came to Mercersburg in 1997 from Baylor School, where he served variously as teacher, assistant headmaster, and headmaster since 1973. Mr. Hale’s tenure was marked by remarkable growth in faculty, admission, academic programs, technology, endowment, and the overall physical plant.

During Mr. Hales tenure, Mercersburg renovated all seven of its residence halls and connected the entire campus to a wireless network. The academic program grew to include more than 40 AP and Honors courses. The athletic program now sponsors 26 varsity sports; the department’s outstanding facilities include a squash center, tennis center, baseball field, and artificial turf field. The fine-arts department has expanded to include dance, instrumental and vocal music, and visual arts programs—and the remarkable Burgin Center for the Arts. Nolde Gymnasium received a complete renovation in 2010, the Simon Student Center was completed in 2013, and the Hale Field House (named in his honor) is scheduled for completion in late 2016.

Mr. Hale also presided over dramatic growth of the school’s endowment, which now stands at more than $250 million, and the enormously successful Daring to Lead Campaign, which raised $300 million.

Boyd Edwards

1928–1941

Boyd Edwards, D.D., was elected headmaster in 1928 on the death of the previous headmaster, William Mann Irvine. Dr. Edwards, who held a doctor of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary, successfully guided the school through the Great Depression, while further raising the academic standards and improving the physical plant of the Academy.

William C. Fowle

1961–1972

William C. Fowle came to Mercersburg in 1961 from The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut. As headmaster, Mr. Fowle greatly enhanced the Academy’s facilities, strengthened its endowment, and smoothly introduced coeducation and racial integration. Among other projects, his tenure saw the completion of Tippetts Hall and the construction of Boone Hall and Ford Hall.

Walter H. Burgin Jr. ’53

1972–1997

In 1972, Walter H. Burgin Jr. ’53 left his teaching post at Phillips Exeter Academy to take over as headmaster at Mercersburg. Mr. Burgin had previously served as chair and a member of the Academy’s mathematics department. During his 25-year tenure, Mr. Burgin fully integrated female students into all areas of school life and led a comprehensive reshaping of the Academy’s academic facilities, including the construction of Lenfest Hall, the school’s 55,000-volume library. Mr. Burgin developed a tradition of strong partnership in the decision-making process between headmaster and faculty, and greatly strengthened the Academy’s financial and physical assets.
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Founded in 1893 in the heart of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic, Mercersburg is a private, coed, college preparatory boarding school with approximately 440 students (15 percent are day), grades 9-12 and postgraduate.
We offer 170 courses, including AP and Honors, more than $6 million in financial aid, 26 varsity sports, and a state-of-the-art performing and visual arts center.
Located 90 minutes from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, and within easy driving distance to New York City, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
300 East Seminary Street, Mercersburg PA 17236
717-328-6173