|Chapter 22 John Price Durbin 1834-1845. |
Rebirth of the College
JOHN PRICE DURBIN was elected President* of the College by the new Board on June 7, 1833, the second day of its first meeting. He was at that time editor of the Christian Advocate, the official organ of his Church, and accepted his election on condition that he could secure his release as editor by the time the "actual condition of the institution shall authorize its reorganization and require the presence and services of a Principal." His release from the editorship was arranged, and he met with the Board for counsel at their next meeting in September. He was not present at their third meeting in May, 1834, but attended their next meeting on September 8, 1834, and, in accordance with the recently amended charter of the College, took his place as President of the Board.
Durbin was a great man, quite worthy to be compared with Nisbet of the earlier days, though very different. Nisbet was trained from youth in the best schools, while Durbin at the age of eighteen was a journeyman cabinet-maker. Seven years later, however, he was classical professor in Augusta College in Kentucky; six years more, and he was Chaplain of the United States Senate, having declined a call to the faculty of the newly established Wesleyan University in Connecticut, to accept the chaplaincy; one year later he was editor of the Christian Advocate, the official organ of his Church; and the next year he was elected Principal of Dickinson College, at the age of thirty-three.
He was born in the hinterland of Kentucky in 1800. At the age of eighteen he had finished his cabinet-maker's apprenticeship and for a time worked at his trade. He had no academic opportunity. Having been "converted" at
*By the charter of 1783 the head of the College was its Principal, and the Professors were Masters. For fifty years the head was called Principal, but on and after June 7, 1833, the new Board called the College head its president. The charter was amended in 1879 to conform with this usage. From the first the Masters were called Professors.
a religious meeting, he became restless and anxious to preach. He revealed his anxieties to a wise old preacher, and on his advice took the steps which led him into the Methodist itinerancy. Thus he began preaching. All the time he was reading all the books he could get. His studies finally assumed some order, and he made his first aim the mastery of English grammar and the attainment of correct English speech.
The story of his study and the results seems almost incredible. Often he had only the single-room cabins of his frontier church people as a study, but he persisted in reading and studying. As he improved, the conditions of his work improved; he had better appointments and more intelligent associates and advisers. He secured tutors for Latin, and worked at Greek alone. An appointment near Cincinnati College gave him his opportunity. He entered the college, graduating in 1825, seven years away from the cabinetmaker's bench! He graduated, too, with such honor that the college at once conferred on him also the degree of Master of Arts. His outstanding record in college and elsewhere brought him an appointment to the chair of languages in Augusta College, Augusta, Kentucky. After six years' service, in 1831, he resigned, and came to Philadelphia, the home of his wife. Here his scholarship was recognized by the newly organized Wesleyan University at Middletown, Connecticut, and he was chosen its first professor of natural science. He tentatively accepted this election, but another unexpected call interfered.
In 18 29, while he was yet at Augusta College, he had been named by his friends for Chaplain of the United States Senate. The ballot resulted in a tie, and John C. Calhoun, the Vice-President, gave the deciding vote for the other man. Calhoun afterward said that he did so because the other man was of the church of his mother. Two years later, in 1831, Durbin was elected Chaplain. He said of this election , "This was very unexpected.... I had not solicited the place.... I did not know that any such project was intended until the fact was announced to me in Philadelphia." He was re-
leased from his Wesleyan commitments and accepted the Chaplaincy.
This distinguished honor did not come to Durbin by chance. The raw Kentucky lad of eighteen was at thirty the peer of any man in the American pulpit. His fame as a preacher was nation-wide. His pulpit power seemed almost wizardry, and adjectives fail those who attempt to describe the effects of his eloquence, by whose spell at times he moved vast crowds as he would.
While he was Chaplain came the centennial of the birth of George Washington, and extracts from his diary show the part he took. He writes:
Feb. 22, 1832 Today was one of the proudest days of America. One hundred years have rolled away since the birth of that greatest of men, George Washington. To celebrate this day in an appropriate manner seemed to be the desire of the whole nation. A joint committee from both houses of our national Legislature for the purpose of making arrangements for its celebration directed divine service to be performed in the Capitol. This was well done wisely done; it will be grateful to the nation; we owed it to that God whose special superintending providence guided and supported us through our revolutionary struggle. The performance of the service was left to the two chaplains. It fell to my lot to preach. It was a heavy lot indeed. Yet I determined to speak in honor of my Master. I knew the rulers of the land would be there, and the Supreme Court, and the Bar; indeed, I never expect again to see such an assembly; I therefore determined to present the worship of God as a national obligation.
The address must have been one of great power. Even the copy of it is impressive, without the gifts of the orator. Durbin had no pseudo-modesty, and knew that he had made a profound impression, and so records in his own comments on the results:
Surely a whole lifetime will not be sufficient for me to express my gratitude to God for the special and unexampled aid he gave me on this occasion. Undismayed, because I trusted in the living God to be able to glorify him on this great occasion; calm, collected, and earnest, because I felt full conviction of the greatness and goodness of my cause, I chose the subject which would give me occasion to present these two great truths: (1) A special superintending Providence prepared the materials of our
national existence and independence, and made George Washington a special gift to us, as His peculiar servant to accomplish this great work. (2) That our stability as a nation depends ultimately on our national morals, which are intimately connected with the reasonable and constant service of God.
At the close of the discourse John C. Calhoun approached him, shook his hand, and said, "I advise you never to preach again," as this sermon, he assumed, could never be equaled. The same statement, in effect, was made by Governor Wickliffe of Kentucky. Three months after he had preached this sermon, in May, 1832, the General Conference of his Church elected Durbin editor of its church publications, though not a member of that body. He promptly accepted the position and entered upon this new work. In June of the following year he was chosen President of Dickinson College, being not yet thirty-three years of age, and only fifteen years from the cabinet-maker's bench.
It is hard, even impossible, to give the fine flavor of the work Durbin did at the College. The men he gathered about him in his Faculty showed his almost unerring instinct in the choice of his fellow workers, and the methods of instruction he introduced seem far ahead of the time in which he lived. Personally, he baffled description; it was hard to select this or that excellence in the man, as can usually be done, for on almost every side he seemed to be outstanding, and was easily the leader in practically every field of endeavor he entered. His old students, thirty and forty years after he had left the College, on their return would indulge in reminiscences, as is the wont of the "old grad," but when they came to Durbin it was almost with bated breath that they spoke. He towered in their thought; and many an aged or aging alumnus yet recalls the deep reverence with which the yet older men of town and College spoke of Durbin, of his preaching, his power in prayer, his supreme excellence as a man. He seemed to them as a man apart.
That Durbin was a man apart and difficult to place is shown not only by the chance testimony of the "old grad" on
his visit to the College, but by the more definite attempts of three of them to estimate the man. These attempts were made many years after the writers had left College, and show by what they do not say how hard it was to classify the man.
Benjamin F. Brooke was one of Durbin's students, of the Class of 1841, and was given the degree of Doctor of Divinity by the College in 1871 . In 1851 Brooke visited the College as a Conference Visitor from the Baltimore Conference, and has left a diary of his musings on the occasion. Quotations from this diary give his idea of some of the men in the Faculty of his time ten years before, Durbin among them. He says:
Dr. Durbin addressed the imagination. I remember one of his addresses ... when a wave of electricity seemed to pass through us all.
He set the students thinking....
We sometimes thought him speculative but he generally put his doubtful points in the way of question, and left us to think them over. We had many a discussion over his intended meaning.... It was a successful move of interesting us in his personality and in the subject generally.
I shall never forget one of his sermons that thrilled every one of us. It was an apostrophe to religion. Speaking of its benefit to the world, he closed the passage with tears real tears in his eyes, "0 religion, child of the skies, if thou wouldst dwell with us, what a world would this be of ours!" It seems simple enough, but the effect was wonderful.
Some said Durbin had no sympathy and no heart, and yet he exhibited more pathos and feeling in his public speaking than any other man I know. He touched the passions and melted the heart. The students used to argue about it; some said his feeling was put on as an actor puts on a character he himself does not possess. Others said: "If that is so, how do you account for the tears that sometimes come to his eyes; they are real tears. They can't be feigned."
So wrote Brooke of Durbin after ten years.
James A. McCauley, President of the College from 1872 to 1888, was of the Class of 1847, and was a student for one year during Durbin's administration and two years of that of Emory. "The Dickinsonian," the college paper, first appeared in 1872, and McCauley contributed several articles on the history of the College. In one of these articles he
gives some estimate of the Faculty of his time. Of Durbin he said, inter alia:
He brought to the position some experience in the work of instruction and the fame of great eloquence in the pulpit; but it soon became evident that he possessed, in addition, many of the best qualities of a College President. Vigilant, forbearing, firm, he knew how to exercise effective discipline with the smallest measure of severity. Fertile in resources, of energy that rested only with success, he was peculiarly fitted to grapple with the difficulties that lay around the College in its second infancy.
W. Lee Spottswood was a Carlisle boy and graduated from the College in 1841. He became a distinguished clergyman, and head of Williamsport Dickinson Seminary. In his "Brief Annals" of his life he says:
The lecture room of President Durbin was a place of pleasure. It often became the scene of discussion on many subjects, not directly bearing on the assigned lessons. The students may have thought they had outwitted the teacher, but he knew what he was doing he knew that such a discussion ... was far better than any mere recitation from a textbook.
Dr. Durbin was a great man.
One outstanding act of Durbin's years at the College was not in the college life, and seems to have been almost forgotten. He was at the very center, if not himself the center, of the seething issues of the General Conference of his Church in 1844, which led to a divided Methodist Church, one North and one South. In 1844, the Philadelphia Conference elected Durbin to head its delegation to the General Conference, and he thus became a member of the Committee on Episcopacy, the most important committee of the General Conference. This committee made Durbin its chairman, though he had never before been a member of a General Conference. He thus became the official spokesman of the Committee on Episcopacy on the floor of the General Conference. Bishop Andrew had recently married a woman owning slaves, and this raised the question whether a man thus connected with slavery could be acceptable to the
Church at large as a General Superintendent, the official title of the Bishops. The northern delegates answered "'No," but the southern ones said "Yes," and asked under what law of the Church could the rights of such a man be questioned.
It was the period of growing opposition to slavery in the North, and of corresponding sensitiveness of the South on the subject; and representatives from each section stood fast for the position of their respective section. For weeks the controversy raged, with men of great ability ranged on each side. The South was willing that the offending bishop should not serve conferences to which he might be objectionable; but Durbin's answer was that so would the General Superintendency be destroyed, that the Church had gradually lessened its' restriction on slavery to meet the local necessities of the South, but that it could never be satisfied with any concession "that shall impair our itinerant General Superintendency." In his closing speech for his Committee on Episcopacy Durbin pleaded with his "brethren of the South" to yield the point, but to no avail. It was "Resolved, That it is the sense of this General Conference that he [Bishop Andrew] desist from the exercise of his office so long as this impediment remains." A divided Church to this day was the result.
Philadelphia Conference was then a border Conference, including Delaware and the Eastern Shore of both Maryland and Virginia, and only two of its six delegates sided with the North. These two were Durbin and Levi Scott, the latter afterward for some years in charge of the Dickinson Grammar School, and yet later a Bishop of his Church. Jesse T. Peck, also, delegate from a New York Conference, and soon to become President of Dickinson College, stoutly supported Durbin's position on the floor of the Conference; while Bishop Andrew, the innocent cause of it all, had been a trustee of the College, 1836-1839. This same slavery issue in another form threatened the prosperity of the College in 1847, because of an incident in the life of Professor McClin-
tock in Carlisle; and yet later, in 1861, it nearly disrupted the College on the outbreak of the Civil War and the withdrawal of southern patronage. Slavery was beginning to affect all kinds of relations.
The Board, in May, 1834, had adjourned to meet on September 8. Durbin was present at this September meeting and presided over it under the provision of the recently amended charter, the first time a President of the College so presided. He made recommendations to the trustees, for their "examination, sanction and promulgation." They gave them all careful consideration, adopting some, modifying others, and postponing or denying some few altogether. For the first time there, was coöperation of the trustees and President in their common task. College affairs were to be in the open, and were to be directed largely by the man chosen as the educational head.
Robert Emory, a graduate of Columbia College, was elected Professor of Languages at this September meeting. He seems to have been present by arrangement with Durbin in anticipation of his election. Two years later, in 1836, on addition of the two upper college classes, the early Faculty was completed by the election of William H. Allen and John McClintock, evidently on Durbin's recommendation. Allen, a graduate of Bowdoin, came as Professor of Natural Science, and McClintock, a graduate of Pennsylvania, for Mathematics. The President of the College was now to choose his Faculty, as Principal How in his report years before said should be done. The Faculty was to have a recognized chief, even as today. The educator had come to his own in college management.
Durbin made one curious suggestion, that the spaces between the walks of the campus be used "for cultivation of vegetables and shrubs," provided it be done by the students and without expense to the Board. This was allowed, but whether the vegetables were grown is not known. It prob- ably was then a reasonable proposal, for the campus must have been largely a neglected waste with its one lone build-
ing in the midst of possible stone-quarries, as has been shown. The campus today does not suggest the plan to raise vegetables, but there are alumni yet living who have seen them growing on choice parts of it. West College furnished a home for one Professor till 1890, and all the northwest corner of the campus was that Professor's kitchen garden. It was a rectangle with two sides on College and Louther streets, the other two sides being lines drawn west and north from the southwest corner of West College.
The President of the College, with residence in the east end of East College, had even better provision. There was a kitchen garden on the northeast portion of the campus, with stable, carriage-house, etc., and here grew the presidential cabbages and onions. South of his residence was a flower garden, extending nearly half the distance to the southern limits of the campus, and slight remains of this flower garden may yet be seen. A gate at the southern end of this flower garden leads into a lovely walk. "Lovers' Lane," as it was generally called, appears in the illustration. Its southern end is in the foreground. The condition of the grass shows that the picture was taken in the earlier years, when the dairyman made hay from the campus just before commencement.
President Durbin suggested another change in the physical property, which also was approved by the Board. Entrance to the college building, later called West College, had before been by doors to the first or basement floor, with stairways within the building leading to the other floors. On Durbin's suggestion, middle windows of the ends of the building on the second floor were enlarged to doors, and outer steps were built, so that the second floor could be entered from without, as was later arranged in the building of East College. Latrobe's plans for West College in 1803 contemplated a larger use of the lower floor than was likely to be acceptable thirty years later; and this proposal of Durbin was the first step in the movement which for a time disregarded this floor altogether.
Durbin had assuredly come to stay. The Board meeting was only the beginning of his eleven years of service. The College was again to open, even though there were only two classes, Freshman and Sophomore, and three teachers, the President and two Professors.
On Wednesday, September 10, 1834, all the college circle met Trustees, President, two Professors, Principal of the Grammar School, students and as many of the old Board as had accepted a special invitation to join in the exercises and went in a procession to the Methodist Church in Church Alley for the inauguration. Here President Judge Reed administered the oath of office to Durbin, Caldwell, and Emory, and to Dobbs of the Grammar School, after which Durbin made an address. Dr. George R. Crooks, of the Class of 1840, and later Professor in the College, in his Centennial oration of 1883, tells of his coming to Carlisle from Philadelphia at this time, for the six years of his student life in Grammar School and College, and of this new college opening.
What a scene of calm repose lay before the wondering eyes of the city boy! The old College, graceful in its unadorned simplicity, the budding green of the newly planted trees of the campus, the haze of the blue that softened the aspect of the mountains on either side, made a picture which stamped itself forever on the memory. Nor care, nor grief, nor toil, nor absence can corrode one of its outlines, or dim a single tint. Surely this was "the Happy Valley" shut in and consecrated to quiet meditation and blissful thought! A school had been opened, and under Alexander F. Dobb, a thorough drill-master of the English style, boys and youth were making good progress in the classics.... A sweet homelike feeling pervaded the school, for this was the blossom time of tender hope. The old tree which had borne the blasts of half a century was putting forth the promise of a new fruitage. On the 10th of September the procession of President, trustees and scholars was formed, and we marched to the plain old church in Methodist Alley, where Dr. Durbin delivered his inaugural address. How many such processions had Carlisle seen, how many openings and reopenings whose bright promise had faded away into the darkness of the night, and whose broken hopes had saddened devoted hearts! Would this one, bald in its simplicity, fortoken success or failure? It meant success; not because the new organizers were more tenacious of purpose than the old, but because Dickinson College had now become one in and with itself.
Hereafter it was to have but one spirit; but one purpose, and that avowed; one source of sustenance, the Church, of which it was to be the organ. Poverty was before it, trials were before it, but in all the poverty and all the trials it was understood that Dickinson College was to live or to die, as it was sustained or not sustained by the Methodist Episcopal Church.
The annual meeting of the Board had been fixed by the by-laws for commencement time in mid-July, but when this Board meeting of September, 1834, adjourned it was to meet in special session the first Monday of the following May, and they so met. The business for this meeting was largely outlined by President Durbin in the report he read at once to the Board. "In reviewing our past progress and present condition, we have much reason to be encouraged," he reported; also that their enrolment was 5 Sophomores, 14 Freshmen, and 85 in the Grammar School. He advised the endorsement of a proposal of the committee on the Grammar School for "the purchase and fitting up the grammar school edifice, amount, say $2500"; also the granting of honorary certificates each year, under seal of the College, to the leading student in the College and to the leading student in each department of the College. This was an earlier approach to the present system of honors to all "A" students of the College. Durbin's report was under nine heads, and nearly all that he advised was endorsed by the Board or postponed for consideration at the annual meeting two months later.
At last the head of the College was to direct its activities. Board meetings were few, for it was yet difficult for men at a distance to reach Carlisle. The railroad through the Cumberland Valley was opened in 1837, and the trustees lived as far away as Baltimore and Philadelphia, with only ten of them within twenty miles. The college government was not to fall into the hands of these local trustees as in the near past; there was to be no small number of the Board hovering over the College ready to interfere with its management. The President and Faculty were to be in charge.
Two classes only had been provided for on opening the
College in 1834, but a third one entered in 1835. When the trustees met, July 20, 1836, Durbin was able to discuss a College now almost fully developed, with three classes. Part of his report follows, because it shows both the man and his college methods.
Gentlemen: As the organ of the Faculty I greet your return to your annual and arduous duties with great and peculiar pleasure. The past year has been one of great peace and prosperity to your College. It would form a bright page in the history of public literary institutions. It gives us great pleasure to testify to the good order and gentlemanly deportment of the students and pupils generally. To this there have been very few exceptions; we have reason to believe that their conduct towards the citizens and in the town generally has been honorable to themselves and pleasing to the inhabitants. Their attention to study has been very satisfactory. The morals of the students and pupils are good and a goodly number are members of the several churches in the town. Their attention to the religious exercises prescribed in the Statutes has been very satisfactory to the Faculty. They have attended chapel regularly and with great decorum. The same may be said of their attendance upon public worship in the town. This general good order and good condition of the College and Grammar School may be fairly attributed to the sound and honorable principles which we believe to prevail among the students and pupils to the mode of discipline used in the institution and to the social and friendly feelings which it is endeavored to maintain both between the Faculty, the citizens, and the youth. These general principles we have been very careful to impress upon the youth and take pleasure in believing that they have been cheerfully imbibed by them....
The method of instruction in the College is by regular and careful recitation accompanied with free and unrestrained enquiry and conversation on any or all points either directly or collaterally involved in the subject. The students know that they are at liberty to make these free enquiries or to propose and discuss any questions. They are encouraged to it. This process while it enables the instructor to satisfy himself of the knowledge of the students in reference to the particular subject calls into action his intellectual powers and accustoms him to think and investigate while the communication with the Professor directs his thoughts and stimulates his investigation. Thus the true object of a collegiate education is obtained, viz., to develop and discipline powers of the man.
The President further announces in the catalogue of 1836-1837 his conception of what the College should do for a man. He says:
As it is conceived, however, that after all the great design of education is to excite, rather than to pretend to satisfy an ardent thirst for information, and to enlarge capacity of the mind, rather than to store it with knowledge, however useful, the whole system of instruction is made subservient to this leading object.
An additional report throws some light on college conditions. From the foundation of the College, some of the trustees had been present at most college examinations, and this custom continued until about 1870. These visiting trustees, in 1836, reported to the Board their "gratification in noticing the friendly and affectionate intercourse between the Professors and students, also for the discreet and gentlemanly deportment of the latter, which greatly encourages them in the future prospects of the institution." Dr. Crooks, already quoted, said, "The members of our first Faculty taught as much by their virtues as by their formal lessons." Such was the College Durbin had organized in his first two years, and "the method of instruction" as described in his report seems very modern, and can hardly be improved upon after a century's intensive study of methods.
Faculty and student relations were friendly, but discipline was not lax; students were not allowed to do what seemed right in their own eyes. On the contrary, as a disciplinarian, Durbin seems to have been rather severe than otherwise. He was doubtless aware of the earlier troubles of the College from lax administration, and took pains to see that they were not repeated. Durbin had a troublesome case of discipline in 1839. Two members of the Freshman class were required to withdraw from the College toward the close of their first year. Their transgression occurred in carrying out some class program, and a number of their classmates refused to attend classes until their two representatives were restored. These classmates also were required to withdraw. One of the literary societies asked mercy for one of the men, a member of the society. Another like petition was signed by fifteen members of the Junior class. [Of the fifteen, four were later to go to Congress and one to
become a Bishop of his Church.] The petition was somewhat combative, opening with ";justitia fiat, coelum ruat." However, it plead for mercy, as the two men had acted under public pressure, so that it was difficult for them to retract; they were, however, "willing to make some concessions."
Durbin answered these friends of the offenders: "While we do not doubt your good intentions in your communication of this morning, we think it proper to state once for all that the only parties in the case of the college administration which we can admit are the Faculty and the offenders. The Faculty has never denied access to any offender who wishes to approach them properly and for proper purposes; nor will they in this or any case, if made individually."
To the trustees' meeting three weeks later Durbin reported, "We have been obliged ... owing to a pure question of authority, to which decided resistance was made, to separate some members from College. The continuance of the separation will depend upon themselves. The young gentlemen took a resolution which left the Faculty no alternative ... not to attend any college exercises until the Faculty restored two of their number, whom they had occasion to dismiss." He suggested that "their absence and the advice of their friends may produce the proper results." Such appears to have been the outcome, for most of them made the necessary concessions in writing, yet on file., and were later reinstated.
This case shows with what logical precision Durbin conducted the life of the College. He had general principles of policy and administered accordingly. He had responsibility coupled with authority, as none of his predecessors had ever had, and acted with assurance.
Durbin made much use of the signed pledge of transgressors, and some of these are yet in his files. One paper, signed by six students on February 7, promised to "stop chewing tobacco ... till the April vacation." For one of them the pledge was to become effective February 10. His supply of the weed was probably too dear to be lightly discarded!
Another pledge is a confession of a broken promise to abstain from cards and a written renewal of the former oral promise, together with surrender of a new deck of cards.
There is a book of Durbin's notes on almost numberless cases of individual discipline, for petty offenses, as it would seem today. Absence from rooms at improper times, being in the town at night, playing cards, were some of the offenses visited with penalties. Most frequent of all was absence from chapel, with excuse in one case that the student's parents did not wish him to endanger his health by going out so early in the morning.
Judged by present standards, his rule would be called arbitrary, but there have been revolutionary changes in a hundred years. The liberties granted to or assumed by the youth of today would have been universally regarded as dangerous license in Durbin's time. The college catalogue of fifty years ago announced that the government was "mild and paternal." The youth of the period was disposed to jeer at this, and one of the earliest student publications
caricatures this in a picture of the high-hatted Professor leading two meek students through the campus, one by each hand.
Durbin's book of memoranda shows that the Faculty also seemed to him to need rules of order. He presided over their meetings and had rules for their conduct. There was to be "no desultory conversation nor reading nor writing during the transaction of business, [and] each Professor shall keep his seat until the regular business is disposed of." The trustees under the old régime had disciplined the Faculty to their hurt. Durbin did it for their efficient work, though it seems strange that such regulations were needed in a faculty body of never more than six or seven.
Durbin's discipline of students and Faculty alike may have been severe, but both seemed to like it. His old students really reverenced him, and he was able to say on leaving the College that he had never had an unpleasant experience with any member of his Faculty. It is a safe guess, from observation and experience, that we are so constituted as to accept authority gladly when it is wisely and evenly applied.
One session of the Board during the meeting of 1836 was held at 5 A.M., evidently before breakfast, as after a two-hour session there was adjournment to meet again at 8.30! Such early morning zeal seems strange today, but daylight was precious, for candles were poor, and meetings were seldom held at night. But was it easy for students, summer and winter, to attend 6 o'clock chapel, and go to recitation immediately thereafter? There are records of many penalties for morning chapel absence. Not only the college students suffered from the college requirement of early hours, but the members of the families of local Carlisle students as well. There exists an old petition or protest on the subject. It was signed by representatives of well-known Carlisle families, and prayed for relief from the unnecessary early rising burdens on their families so that the sons might attend college chapel. They suggested at the same time that the family altar was better than the college chapel for their sons.
The first college building on the campus had burned in February, 1803, and a new building was begun in the summer following, but was even yet unfinished in parts when Mason became Principal in 1822. The next building added to the plant was an old Reformed Church building on the site of the present Alumni Gymnasium. Its purchase came about on this wise. On Durbin's arrival in 1834, the Grammar School had increased to fifty students, and he and the proper committee were authorized by the Board in September to secure room for the school "and make preliminary inquiries for the erection of a permanent building in conjunction with a suitable boarding house for its accomodation." The Grammar School increased almost at once to eighty-four. Some of these roomed in the one college building, but most of them roomed in the homes of Carlisle, and some must have had but indifferent accommodations. The crowded condition of the School this first year was doubtless a surprise, and Durbin undertook its needed relief at once between trustee meetings. He appears to have appealed to the trustees individually on a proposal for the purchase of a new building. While the text of his appeal is lost, a paper sent him, signed by nine trustees and dated January 7, 1835, indicates its tenor.
The undersigned trustees of Dickinson College, having been informed that the lot opposite the college edifice at Carlisle which is now owned by Mr. Duffield, and on which is erected a building formerly occupied as a church, can be obtained for the sum of fourteen hundred dollars, and that the same can be advantageously converted into a house suitable for the preparatory school, hereby express their approbation of the purchase of it, if in the opinion of the committee on the preparatory school it should be proper. It is, however, proper to be remarked that it is the desire of the undersigned that nothing should be done, in effecting this arrangement by which the other estate of the trustees shall be incumbered or in any manner embarrassed, and the above expression of their approbation of the purchase is not to be construed as an intimation of an intention to pledge the said estate, for the payment of the purchase money.
The price for which Durbin thought the property could be had was wrong; for shortly after this reply of the nine,
the property was bought by the College for $2,050. This property, which, as previously stated, included the local German Reformed Church and its general Theological Seminary, became the nucleus, as Durbin developed it, for the old South College.
At the special meeting of the Board on May 14, 1835, Durbin reported on "the obligations incurred and incurring ... in the purchase and fitting up the Grammar School edifice, amount, say $2500." Fortunately, they had in July, 1836, insured this building for $2,000. Decemberer 23, 1836, it was destroyed by fire, "totally destroyed," said the local paper; and Durbin reported to the trustees in 1837 that a new building was going up, but that it would cost $3,825 more than the insurance money. The new building would furnish recitation rooms for pupils on one floor, and suite for two instructors, with rooms for 20 pupils on a second floor; and another floor would duplicate this, unless used by a steward to board the pupils. As just mentioned, this became the old South College, known to students prior to 1885, when it was encased in brick. Yet later an addition was built to the south, leaving the same northern front. At two different times adjacent properties were purchased, one east and one west, and on this enlarged site stands the present Alumni Gymnasium, erected 1927-1929.
Some facts about old South College may interest men yet living who did part of their college work in it prior to 1884. The fire in December, 1836, made necessary plans for a new
building, which were then drawn by Peter B. Smith, and were approved by the college committee on March 31. Five days later the bid of Henry Myers for its construction was accepted, and next day the contract was signed, with provision that the building should be completed by January 1, 1838. "The outside of the whole building, front and back, is to be plastered outside, after the manner and quality of the second Presbyterian Church in Carlisle," read the contract.
The uses to which this building was put were many. It was primarily for grammar-school use, but the basement was used for many years for the science work of the College. As grammar-school needs for space lessened with lessened numbers, the college library was located on the first floor, but shortly after the coming of Professor Himes, he secured the transfer of the library to the second floor, and his science department, before in the basement, appropriated the first floor until the erection of the Tome Scientific Building in 1884. During the time of President Johnson, a telescope was secured and a cupola as observatory placed above the building.
This building thus played a varied role in the development of the College, humble, and never very conspicuous. An old picture of it shows it only in part. It must have been one of the early photographs taken shortly after the photographic process was beginning to come to its own. The picture was taken from within the main campus just north of High Street. It shows the south wall and entrance of the main campus, the former with its original pickets of 1833, and the latter with nine stakes to keep out wandering animals, yet spaced widely enough to admit men and women. Tradition has it that the women had a hard time to get in with their hooped skirts of the period. The picture shows also another wall in front of South College, one similar to that around the campus. Probably Captain Patterson, of the Class of 1859, is the only living alumnus who can recall this wall. It disappeared many years since, and only the picture and diggings about the Alumni Gymnasium in 1927 told the present generation that there had been such a wall.
The growth of the College urgently called for yet another building for college use, and, following the old college traditions, the Board memorialized the Legislature of the state for funds for such a building. Nothing came of it, however, and as the need for a new building was pressing, a special meeting of the Board in February, 1836, authorized its erection on money borrowed largely from the two Conferences. Plans and specifications must have been ready, for bids came in by the end of the same month. The present East College was partly finished by November following, and was "to be completed early next Spring," 1837. College catalogues show that students were in the building during the college year 1836-1837, probably only the latter part of the year. Bids for its construction ranged from $13,900, the highest, to $9,588, the lowest, for which latter sum the contract was let. This seems an amazingly small sum, but building prices were low at that time. An effort had been made fourteen years before to secure a dormitory at state expense, and a bill was introduced in the Legislature to erect a building "for the accommodation of about two hundred students," at a cost not to exceed "twelve thousand dollars." The building thus proposed was much larger than the East College finally built for $9,588.
East College has known various uses. It has three and one-half tiers of rooms, known as sections. Two of these sections, those at the west end, were built with recitation rooms on the third floor front, or south, and the third section had a recitation room on the second floor back. The fourth or eastern section was built to accommodate the family of the President of the College, and did so from 1837 to 1890, when President Reed, finding the noise of a college dormitory unbearable, purchased the present President's residence. The old residence then became a student dormitory. The entire dormitory part of the building was renewed in 1882, and all three recitation rooms were placed on the second floor back, or north.
The main entrances to East College were originally by
outside steps leading to the second floor, and the first or basement floor seems not to have been needed or much used in the early years of its history. It was occasionally used for student boarding clubs or janitors' residences. This was changed during President Morgan's term on the thorough renovation of the building. Entrances were changed to the first floor, and its rooms were rescued and made the equal of any in the building.
A picture of East College shows the building as it stood for fifty years. The near or eastern end of the building was occupied by eight presidents of the College, 1837-1890. Its ornamental porch, extending around the eastern end of the building, with climbing rose vines, sets this part off from the other part of the building. It was upon this porch in Mary John son Dillon's "In Old Bellaire," that the New England school teacher was supposed to let fall the tell-tale rose for the South Carolina student waiting below. The pickets yet surmount the college wall, thus marking the scene as at least fifty years old.
West College has had a like checkered history. It was apparently used for recitation rooms and literary societies and libraries only till 1810. Some rooms were then set apart as student dormitories. This dormitory use increased as money was available to divide the building into rooms, till
all the available part of the building above the first or basement was occupied. This first or basement story was used as college "commons" and living quarters for the steward. Gay times old students had with stewards and teachers required to board with them as proctors, so gay indeed, that the "commons" was soon abandoned, and students were allowed to board in the town. A Professor, however, usually the senior one, had his residence at the west end of West College until 1890. The basement floor was thus abandoned for many years, until it was restored to college use in the time of President Morgan.
Durbin's final touch to the college building program was a system of trap-doors from every section of East College to the roof. This was a needed exit in case of fire, for which, fortunately, it has never been used. It was, however, useful to many student generations for all sorts of college pranks, and especially as a way of escape when hard pressed by faculty pursuers. Before this, in 1841, Durbin had detected a tendency in the west wall of West College to buckle, and had bound it more closely to the rest of the building, as shown by the heads of great iron bolts on the western wall. Between these two services to the buildings themselves, in 1844, he had a drawing made of the campus and its two buildings, and from this an engraving. Prints from the latter appeared in subsequent catalogues for years, and furnish not only an interesting fine study of the College, but of other things as well.
In 1840 Durbin said in his report, "Everybody is dissatisfied with the College Bell. It is too small. It cannot be heard over in the buildings. I recommend to the Board to appropriate $250 enough, with the present bell, to secure one sufficiently large." The Board appropriated $200, and the bell was secured in Philadelphia, from which its predecessor had been "waggoned" in 1810. Nisbet had complained in 1785 that they greatly needed a bell but he never had one.
Durbin's bell was the focus of college pranks for many
years. The first one recorded was of December 10, 1852, when the bell was rung out of order. Students went to classes on this ringing, but were told to come at the regular ringing. They failed to do so and were required to make up the work with the Professors privately. President Collins, on suggestion of the Faculty, secured an "iron door and casement for the bell room." This added zest to the game, and some of the most daring escapades for fifty years concerned the bell.
The bell inspired a rollicking drinking song, which was sung by saints and sinners alike for years:
Many old alumni will remember this song, and perhaps may wish to correct it, as it is written from memory after more than fifty years. Some of them might add other stanzas, possibly even less restrained in expression than the above!
The cupola of West College, after being the home of the bell for over ninety years, became unsafe, and the college bell, rung electrically, now graces the new Denny Hall tower. It seems to have lost all of its old-time lure for students!
Durbin asked and received leave of absence for foreign travel in 1842, and sailed for Europe in April of that year. The two conference Boards had each granted $500 to be used by him in the purchase of books and apparatus abroad. Some of the more valuable old books yet in the library are the results of his purchases. In his absence, Robert Emory, who had left the College two years before for pastoral work, acted as President pro tem.
The year after his return (1844), Durbin published "Observations in Europe," in two volumes, and shortly thereafter "Observations in the East, in Egypt, Palestine,
Syria, and Asia Minor," in two volumes. Harper Brothers published the books, and it would be of interest to know whether through this relation the families became acquainted, for eventually one of Durbin's daughters married a Harper.
One year later, in 1845, apparently without previous notice, Durbin presented his resignation to the Board at their July meeting. It was because of "important private business involving the permanent interests of my children and family [which] require my presence in Philadelphia for some time to come." He said of the Board, "The deference you have paid to my judgment and wishes, both as it respects the College and myself, has penetrated me with respect and gratitude toward you." He adds, "I resign the less reluctantly, because of the general good conditions of the College, and the permanent hold which it has obtained upon the public confidence." He forebore to say what a Baltimore Conference report said of him, that he had himself gathered much money to bolster the weak financial structure of the College. Nor did he say that he had given the ten best years of his life to the College, as he confided in a private letter to his dear friend and college associate, Emory.
There exists an old cut of the Public Square of Carlisle in Durbin's time, between 1837 and 1843. The railroad entered Carlisle in 1837, and the cut shows a very primitive train entering the town from the east. The old court-house appears facing High Street. It was burned in 1843, and replaced by the new one facing Hanover Street.
A great man left the College when Durbin withdrew. He was at once elected trustee and served for nineteen years, 1845-1864. After leaving Carlisle, he served as pastor of a Philadelphia church for a time, and then as Presiding Elder. The latter work he little enjoyed, and in 1850 accepted a call to be Secretary of the Missionary Society of the Church, being reelected to that position for five full quadrenniums, thus serving for twenty-two years. He is generally accepted as the Secretary who organized the Society for its great subsequent service. He retired in 1872, to be succeeded as
Secretary by Robert L. Dashiell, another Dickinson President. Dr. Durbin died four years later, in 1876.
Like some great meteor, blazing its way from the deep unknown into visibility and then continuing long effulgent glory, came Durbin from the backwoods. His fifty years of public service from Augusta College through the chaplaincy of the Senate, the editorial rooms of a great paper, and the establishing of a college; his girdling of the globe with the expanding missionary activities of his Church, make up a full record of glorious service for the self-educated, one-time cabinet-maker. Sorrowfully it is recorded that his name seems to have disappeared with him. Like Nisbet, he has worthy descendants, but none bearing his name, as appeared when the College sought them for the celebration of its own Sesquicentennial and the Centennial of his election as President.
His college administration, and that of his successor, Emory, are of one piece, and will be considered and estimated following the story of Emory's administration.