The Vincent Smith School was established in 1924 by Sir Gilbert and Lady Dora Eliott. Sir Gilbert, formally Sir Gilbert Alexander Boswell Eliott of Stobs, 10th Baronet and Chief of Clan, was a descendant of a very old Scottish aristocratic family who had made his fortune on Wall Street following World War I. Their vision of the school was a home-like environment, with an educational curriculum balanced with wholesome fun geared toward each child’s individualized needs.
The school is named after its co-founder and first headmistress, Miss Adelaide Vincent Smith. She was a uniquely progressive, inspirational, and independent woman for her time. Miss Smith attended Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, graduating in 1907. She taught at Miss Jewel’s Boarding School in Shanghai, China from 1908 to 1915 where her students included future Pulitzer and Nobel Prize author Pearl S. Buck. Miss Smith was then hired as a companion to Lady Eliott at their Sands Point estate, while Sir Gilbert was fighting in Europe during World War I.
After the war, Miss Smith moved with the Eliotts to Watsonville, California where Miss Smith taught the four Eliott children and other students out of the Elliots’ home. In Watsonville, Miss Nellora A. Reeder answered an advertisement for a teaching position at the home school operated by Miss Smith. Thus began a lifelong friendship. When the Eliott family moved back east in 1922, Miss Smith and Miss Reeder moved with them as the children’s educators.
Miss Smith first operated the Harbor School with Mrs. Barbara Templin at 59 Bayview Avenue in 1923. A local public school already had the same name, so in 1924, the Vincent Smith School, named for Miss Smith, was founded with the Eliotts’ backing. Since Bayview Ave. was only zoned for residential use, the school moved to a private home at 25 Main St.
With the school’s expansion to 8thgrade, in 1927 the Eliotts purchased land from the Willets family for $3728.30 and built the current two-story building at 322 Port Washington Blvd., which now houses the Lower School.
Miss Smith believed that children learn best in a nurturing, home-like setting, so she specified that the building be designed to resemble a house both outside and within. Today, the Lower School building remains exactly as Miss Smith intended.
Miss Smith and Miss Reeder believed that the Vincent Smith School should strive to develop in every child the habits, tastes, and qualities which society will always need – kindness, resourcefulness, independent thinking, self-confidence, appreciation of the beautiful, love of work, and a willingness to cooperate with one’s peers for the benefit of all.
1930s and 40s: In its early years, the Vincent Smith School catered almost exclusively to affluent families from Long Island’s North Shore. Some of the first classes included the children of Christopher Morley, LeRoy Grumman, William S. Paley, Harry F. Guggenheim, Loukenbach family, the Hicks family, and others.
The school operated on provisional charter, granted on June 11, 1931 by the New York State Board of Regents. This provisional charter incorporated the school with Gilbert Eliott, Dora F. Eliott, Edward M. Lapham, and Adelaide V. Smith as the executive officers. In 1929 the Eliott family moved back to Scotland. The 1930s and 1940s were lean years for Vincent Smith, and Miss Smith, Miss Reeder, and the teachers made many sacrifices to support the school.
1950s and 60s: On July 20, 1951, an absolute charter (No. 6100) was granted by the Board of Regents of the State of New York. In 1952, the gymnasium was added to the Lower School in dedication to Miss Reeder’s devotion to the school. The school’s continued growth instigated the addition of another building to house a middle school. This structure was originally a private home built in 1962 for William Schluntz, son-in-law of Edward Lapham. It was purchased in 1963 by the school and converted into the present-day building. The building was named Hopkins Hall in June of 1971 in recognition of Headmaster Dr. Milton Hopkins, who had been devoted to the Vincent Smith School since 1951 when his daughter became a student.
1970s: In the early 1970s, the Vincent Smith School faced the loss of its two most prominent and beloved teachers. Adelaide Vincent Smith passed away April 6, 1971 at the age of 88 in her apartment in the back of the lower school. Miss Smith had suffered a short illness and Miss Reeder was by her side to the end. In 1973, Norella A. Reeder celebrated her 50th anniversary at the Vincent Smith School along with her retirement. At that time, Miss Reeder was awarded Outstanding Elementary Teacher of America, appointed by the Congress of the United States.
The school struggled greatly with dwindling resources and rising inflation during the 1970s. But teachers, parents, and friends came together, determined to support Vincent Smith, and together raised $34,000 in volunteer contributions to save the school. In 1974, this enthusiasm resulted in the construction of a new high school building to accommodate the growing student body. The expansion included 10th, 11th, and 12th grades and the first HS Senior Class graduated in June 1974.
1988: Four additional classrooms were added to the west end of the High School. In 1989, the Vincent Smith School received its first accreditation from the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS).
2015: The school expanded from grades 4 through 12 to grades 1 through 12. A post-secondary program called VEEP (Vocational Explorations in Education Program) was added for non college-bound high school students. Full-time, on-site related service providers were added to staff, including occupational therapists, speech and reading specialists, a school psychologist and social worker.
2019: By this time, all the frontal landscaping had been updated, helped by donations and volunteers from Keller Williams Realty, and a new playground added, along with a security booth and secure card access for all three buildings. In 2021, the 1927 Lower School was designated as a Building of Historic Distinction by the Cow Neck Historical Society.
2022: The Vocational Skills program expands with the opening of the Vincent Smith General Store at 189 Main Street, for vocational students to learn essential job skills to prepare them for life after school.
- 1923 - Harbor School Founded
- 1924 - Name Changed to Vincent Smith School
- 1927 - Lower School Built on Current Campus
- 1931 - First 9th Grade Certificate Conferred
- 1931 - Provisional Charter Granted by NYS Board of Regents
- 1951 - Absolute Charter Granted by NYS Board of Regents
- 1952 - Gymnasium Added to Lower School
- 1962 - Growth Required Acquisition of the Middle School
- 1974 - High School Building was Constructed
- 1974 - First High School Senior Class Graduated
- 1980 - School Received Accreditation from NYS Board of Regents
- 1988 - High School Expansion
- 1989 - School Received Accreditation from NYS Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS)
- 2000 - NYSAIS Renews Accreditation
- 2009 - Vincent Smith School celebrates its 85th Anniversary
- 2010 - NYSAIS Renews Accreditation
- 2014 - John Baldi becomes new Head of School
- 2015 - School expands to includes grades 1, 2 and 3
- 2016 - School adds VEEP (Vocational Explorations and Education Program)
- 2022 - Vincent Smith General Store opens at 189 Main St., an extension program of VEEP