Sewickley Academy is the oldest independent school in western Pennsylvania. Founded in 1838 as a boys’ school by William Nevin and John Champ, it was housed in Squire Way’s brick house that still stands on Beaver Road in Sewickley. Boarding students came from southern states including Virginia and as far south as New Orleans. They came by steamboat and by rail, joining local day students from the Pittsburgh area.
The school underwent several iterations: it was moved four times around the Sewickley area and closed briefly three times, once because of the Civil War when southern students returned home and some teachers and older boys joined the war effort. The school reopened in 1865 as a day school. Two local girls’ primary schools closed in the early 1900s and, integrating these girls into its program, the Academy became a co-educational day school when it settled onto its present campus in 1925.
Under the leadership of legendary headmaster Cliff Nichols (1951 – 1981) the school began to expand slowly from a neighborhood school to a more regional school. The Academy only educated students through grade nine for much of its history. Students left Sewickley to attend boarding schools and other schools in the Pittsburgh area to complete their secondary education. In 1963 Nichols hired James E. Cavalier to build a Senior School, one year at a time. The first class graduated from the new Senior School program in 1966.
A fire destroyed the main building on January 10, 1970, but in true entrepreneurial spirit, Nichols and the Board of Trustees enacted a capital campaign that repaired the main building and added several additional buildings to the campus. What seemed a disaster that fateful day became an incentive to make the school even better than before. Under Headmaster L. Hamilton Clark’s leadership, the school enacted a Master Plan in 1998-2000 that transformed the campus once again, adding a new building for the middle school, a university-inspired library for Middle and Senior Schools, and reconfiguring almost every other building on campus.
Under the leadership of head of school Kolia O’Connor, the school continues to upgrade and expand its facilities and design its curriculum to reflect a forward-thinking global experience. The school recently celebrated its 175th anniversary since its founding in 1838 and the 50 year anniversary of the inception of the senior school.