In the late 1800s, U.S. Army Colonel William Austine retired to Brattleboro, Vermont. In his will, the Colonel specified a sum of $50,000 to establish a hospital for the treatment of strangers or local residents with extraordinary circumstances. Complying with this wish and under trusteeship, five prominent local citizens incorporated the Austine Institution in 1904. After debate, the Vermont Attorney General, who was also the administrator of the Colonel’s will, prevailed with is suggestion to open a school for blind and deaf students. Support was gained from the Vermont General Assembly to purchase a 200-acre farm. In the fall of 1912, the Austine School opened with 16 students.
In 1914, Alexander Graham Bell delivered Austine School’s first commencement address. Helen Keller was also in attendance.
During the late 50’s and early 60’s the school experienced expansive growth. A new elementary school was added followed by a new high school wing. Soon after, the high school boys’ and girls’ dormitories were completed. In 1970, the construction of Vermont hall upgraded the dormitories for the younger children and added administrative offices, a modern kitchen, dining room and a health facility. The campus had trails, a tennis court, basketball court, soccer field, field hockey field, two nice hills that children played on them especially for winter activities. There was a pond at the top of the hill where kids could fish and learning basic fishing skills. There were numerous pine trees that we played hide and seek, had many fun treasure hunts. The wealth of the entire campus with the grandeur landscaping was inspiring and provide each student a growing and learning experiences they would have never received if they were not there. The fruits of that environment produced very successful and strong adults.
On April 11, 2014, The Vermont Center for the Deaf and hard of Hearing (VCDHH) Board of Directors voted to close the William Center and the Austine School for the Deaf. The organization had continued financial issues due to declining enrollment over the years. In January 2016, Winston Prouty Center was approved by the US Bankruptcy Court to purchase the former Austine School campus.
The Austine School for the Deaf is now closed but it was an independent, coeducational day and residential school for the deaf and hard of hearing for children age four to eighteen from the New England area and New York.