175th Preview: Saint James Welcomes Henry Onderdonk
175th Preview: Saint James Welcomes Henry Onderdonk

Saint James School opened its doors (following the Civil War) in the fall of 1869 with Henry Onderdonk as the second Headmaster.

Before Henry Onderdonk came to Saint James, he was the President of the University of Maryland, known at that time as the Maryland Agricultural College. When the Civil War broke out, Onderdonk resigned from the College and established a school on Falls Road near Baltimore. In 1869, Bishop Whittingham asked Onderdonk to reopen Saint James as a secondary school. Onderdonk wasn't looking for a change at the time since his school was very successful, and he thought that Hagerstown was a remote location. However, he felt that it was his duty to visit and give a report on the School's condition to Bishop Whittingham.

Onderdonk took a train from Frederick and then a stage coach into Hagerstown. When he arrived, he found the School in disarray.

The School's caretaker had converted the west wing of the main building into a stable. Horses, cattle, and chickens occupied the first floor. The campus had been planted with corn, wheat, and potatoes. In addition, there was little money available to restore the buildings and grounds. Onderdonk made a hasty exit in order to catch the stage back to Frederick. A short distance from the School, he found the road blocked by a number of wagons, buggies, and people who had assembled to watch a show that featured dancing bears.

As a result, Onderdonk missed his stage coach to Frederick and returned to campus to stay the night. He devoted the afternoon to going through the buildings, and studying the possibilities. This gave him a chance to reconsider, and he accepted the position (which he held for 27 years). Where would Saint James be if those dancing bears did not delay Henry Onderdonk?

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