Exeter Deconstructed: The Academy weather vane

The school we love in detail

December 4, 2019

Ship ahoy!

Exonians for a century have peeked anxiously toward the Academy Building’s bell-tower clock as they’ve scurried to get to class on time. And for just as long, the Sidney S. has sailed quietly above the fray.

The triple-masted ship perched atop the bell tower has served as the Academy’s weather vane since the school’s fourth and current Academy Building was completed in 1915. Given by an anonymous donor, the ship bears the name “Sidney S,” a reference to Sanford Sidney Smith, class of 1866, who was the president of the Trustees at the time.

Why a ship? According to Myron Williams, in his 1957 book, The Story of Philips Exeter, the ship is an homage to the great seal of the State of New Hampshire, which features the Raleigh, one of the original 13 warships commissioned by the Continental Congress for a new American navy, built in 1776 in Portsmouth. The weather vane is also believed to be recognition of the town of Exeter’s once-vibrant role as a mercantile seaport and shipbuilding center.

In 2000, the weather vane received a fresh gilding with 23-karat gold leaf when the clock and bell were restored. The Sidney S. sails on, 104 years after her maiden voyage.