The school life of Belmont Hill began September 26, 1923, just six months after its incorporation. On that day, 45 eager boys and a path-breaking faculty of seven met for the first time in an "olde English" suburban manor house on the sparsely populated hilltop in northwest Belmont that had been purchased and refitted from its brief earlier life as a model home for a failed real estate development. Into the house just weeks before had moved Reginald Heber Howe, founding headmaster, who together with his family took up residence on the second floor. The ground floor offered space for classes, study and assembly, while perched in the third story (and in a neighboring farmhouse) were nests for scholars. Since that time, nine Heads of the School and their families have resided in this red brick house, now the hub of an expanded campus.
With a modest capitalization and high hopes, Belmont Hill School had been founded the previous winter by seven young professional men-nearby residents and Harvard alumni-as a healthy alternative to boarding school for the education and college preparation of their own sons and those of their friends. Ironically, despite the incorporators' commitment to the benefits of the American country day school movement of that period, even the earliest catalogues announced that provision had been made at Belmont Hill for seven and five-day boarding students, the latter of which options lives on today.
Early emphases of Dr. Howe and the faculty, supported steadfastly by the executive committee (not renamed as the Board of Trustees until the 1960s), included a family-type, intimate school atmosphere, high standards of scholarship, and a rich daily life of studies, the arts and athletics, in which the entire school community would join. On October 19, 1923, 89-year-old Charles W. Eliot, President emeritus of Harvard, was driven up Belmont Hill in an open touring car to give the Dedicatory Address for the infant school.
That Dr. Howe had been chosen to establish the school was Belmont Hill's great good fortune. A schoolmaster and school leader seasoned at Middlesex, a world authority on lichens and dragonflies, a zealous coach of collegiate and amateur rowing, he was a remarkable force planted in favorable soil. So important to Howe was balance and the rooting of idealism in the school that in its early years, while nurturing the highest possible standard of studies, he also insisted on accepting some boys of strong character and potential contributions who were academic risks. That such boys could rely upon the individualized support and help of Dr. Howe himself and an altruistic faculty was a foregone conclusion. Thus were born principles and traditions that have guided the school for over nine decades.
Written by Harold Prenatt, January 2005
Adapted by Caroline Cushman, July 2019