Past, Present, Future | Tilton School

Past, Present, Future

On the heels of an incredible summer and fall of momentum on the Hill, the Board of Trustees recently announced $9 million in renovations to the school’s signature building: Knowles Hall. 

By: Bryan Geary

In 1948, Chris Nast ’49 began his journey to Tilton like so many others before and after. Traveling from New York City via Boston’s South Station, Nast made the trip alone, with only his foot locker in tow. After lugging his belongings to board his connecting train from Boston, he arrived at the bottom of the Hill, unsure of what was ahead. 

“There was no one to meet me,” said Nast, “but a burly student from Salem, Mass. named John Capuccio saw me and my plight. He grabbed the locker, hoisted it on his shoulder and walked me up the hill to Knowles Hall. How could you ask for a better introduction to Tilton?”

More than 60 years later, Knowles Hall remains a constant presence in the background of Tilton memories. “The time is now to begin this work and ensure that Knowles Hall remains as a centerpiece of life at Tilton School for generations to come,” said Head of School Kate Saunders. 

Built in the wake of two 19th century fires, Knowles is a relic of a crucial chapter in the school’s history. Then President of the school, Dr. Daniel C. Knowles, saw the series of misfortunes as, “a special providence,” according to Kendall Didsbury ’67 and his work, In the Shadow of the Tower Clock. 

“The loss of the East Building and the damage to the central structure gave the School the impetus to complete fundraising and to construct the building that would ultimately bear Dr. Knowles’ name,” wrote Didsbury. “That structure became the focal point of a campus that grew in the last hundred years from one building to 29.” 

“This is the largest project in the history of the building, made possible because of the incredible leadership and generosity of a core group of donors determined to set the stage for the most incredible chapter yet in Tilton’s history.”

Knowles was originally built as a comprehensive facility capable of supporting all aspects of school life, noted Didsbury in a more recent conversation. “In addition to housing students and faculty and providing classrooms, it had an infirmary, a gym space, and social meeting rooms.” Over the years, as the school has grown, so has Knowles—from the addition of electricity in 1896 to the construction of the clock tower to the restoration of the lobby in the 1980s.

Though its history and its place in the hearts of Tilton community members past and present is clear, so is the need to invest in the building’s future. The Board of Trustees voted to complete a $9 million renovation to the lobby, bathrooms, common rooms, dorm rooms, and all faculty housing. This is the largest project in the history of the building, made possible because of the incredible leadership and generosity of a core group of donors determined to set the stage for the most incredible chapter yet in Tilton’s history.

“Knowles has been the center of our campus, for faculty and students alike, throughout many incredible changes over the years, like the transition from oil lamps to electricity,” said Saunders. “It is humbling to think about our place in the school’s history, and how this renovation includes considerations like high-speed internet and all-gender bathrooms to support the next generation.” The next generation includes students like Gus Raymond ’22, who has worked side-by-side with Saunders throughout the Knowles design process, completing his Senior Legacy Project along the way.

“It’s a special opportunity for him to leave a legacy at Tilton,” said Saunders, who has made a point to generate as much student involvement as possible as the project unfolds. “He’s helping us create an environment that is fun and functional for today’s students while also making selections that remind us of the cherished history of Knowles.”

The first phase—the renovation of Knowles Lobby—will begin over the upcoming spring break, meaning Raymond and the rest of this year’s graduating class will have a chance to enjoy the updates as they close out their time on the Hill. Construction in the dorms and faculty apartments will begin over the summer, which means it will be another summer full of progress and momentum for Tilton.

Knowles Hall Through the Years
View of the original Tilton School buildings from Sanbornton


The first fire of the Northfield Building.

(Picture is of the first academy buildings, built after the Northfield fire.)

Photo of Tilton School campus in the 1870s prior to the building of Knowles Hall


The Board commits to raising $50,000 for structural improvements.

Photo of the second fire on the current site of Knowles Hall in 1886.


The second fire on the current site in the boys dormitory.

Students planting a tree outside Knowles Hall in the early 1890s


Dr. Knowles resigns due to health reasons.

A postcard image of Knowles Hall from around 1900


Oil lamps were removed and electricity was incorporated.

Black and white photo from early 1900s of Knowles Hall


The 96-foot clock tower was erected and the Dining Hall was added behind Knowles Hall.

Black and white photo of ivy growing on the front of Knowles Hall


Tudor doorway was added with leaded glass windows. The trustees named the building after Dr. Knowles.

Historical photo of a Tilton School society room.


West Knowles was renovated. The third floor was converted from Society rooms to dormitories.

A black and white image of the tree lined walkway in front of Knowles Hall


East Knowles was converted to dorm rooms and apartments.

An image of the tree lined walkway in front of Knowles Hall from the 1960s


Early in the decade, the bathrooms were renovated and a new sprinkler was added.

Black and white photo of Knowles Lobby


Thermal windows were installed, ceilings were lowered, carpet was installed, and the lobby was restored.

Snowy picture of Knowles Hall from 1980s


The Board committed to landscape and exterior renovations.