|Chapter 7 College Sites and Early Buildings|
BUILDING, faculty, and funds were the main subjects of Dr. Nisbet's sorrowful letter to Rush in July, 1785. In the same order, these three subjects will be treated here and in the following chapters.
March 30, 1773, Thomas Penn deeded to nine patentees, for grammar-school purposes, lot 219, in the plan of Carlisle. It was in size 240 by 60 feet, extending north and south from Pomfret Street to Liberty Alley. By the alley, this lot is nearly a block east of the Carlisle market-house. On the west side of the alley end of this lot, probably at once in 1773, the patentees built a two-story, two-room school-house, facing the alley. The College grew out of this Grammar School, and used its site for more than twenty years, from 1784 until the present West College was sufficiently advanced to be occupied in 1805. This grammar-school building had two rooms, but only one of them, not 20 feet square, was ready for use when Dr. Nisbet arrived. He naturally complained, as four teachers used it. The use of the alley front instead of that on Pomfret Street is probably explained by the fact that at the time the town of Carlisle was nearly all on that side of their lot, to the north, while to the south was yet largely open country.
Dr. Nisbet's first known report to the trustees, the following November, 1786, stressed the need for a building. There were forty boys in the Grammar School without any proper classification. "No proper place has yet been provided for teaching, so that if a great number of scholars had come up they would have been obliged to go home again.... The mean appearance, the small dimensions and dirty entrance to the building proposed, but not yet prepared ... must create ... prejudice against the College.... The activity and intelligence of a single person has provided at York a suitable accomodation, [and could not the Trustees]
do what a single private person has already accomplished?" There were twenty other students who "attend the Professor of Geography ... as much as their attendance on other classes will permit, and have lately begun the study of Logic and Metaphysics as a preparation for that of Moral Philosophy.... The College is not in the way of increasing ... the Academy at York and the Grammar School at Hagerstown both exceed it in number of students."
Not only a better school building was needed, but also better housing facilities for students, and if Dr. Nisbet's description of Carlisle may be trusted, it is probable that no satisfactory provision was possible, unless the "Works" became the college home. He writes Rush, "You know that this town is situated in a deep clay swamp, which is almost impassable for a great part of the year; that the houses are few, small and not likely to increase, by which means the students, who are excluded from the best houses, are obliged to lodge in small, narrow, and inconvenient apartments, unfit for study and unfriendly to their health; by which means they are not only crowded and kept from following their studies to advantage, but are exposed to low company and vicious habits, which often counteract the best moral instruction that their teachers can give them." The College cannot increase "if it is established in this dirty town, where students must wade thru' deep mud several times a day, at the risk of their health, and afterward be cooped up like pigs, in narrow apartments and mean houses.... In such a situation the College cannot increase.... Our present numbers are too high to find convenient lodging in so narrow a place.... There are pools [in the town] that could float a boat, and an open quarry into which a poor man fell and fractured his skull some years ago."
Principal Nisbet clung tenaciously to the hope Rush had held out to him in early letters that the College was to be located at the Works. He strenuously urged that they be secured, and feared that sinister motives prevented their purchase. He thought that it would be easy to secure
"buildings useless to Government and unoccupied, which with a little reparation might lodge as many private families as might board and lodge a number of students, much greater than we can expect, and at the same time produce a rent to the trustees, that would make a valuable addition to their funds. And I cannot believe that Government ... would grudge to bestow on a needy seminary buildings which are useless to themselves, and mouldering into ruin for want of inhabitants. But unless the trustees were to do this, no other person could do it. I am afraid that what is supposed to be the Interest of the Town, is more in view at present, than the Interest of the College, tho I believe they think that both these are the same, which they are in effect, as the town would be benefited by the Increase of the College. But unless the Interest and conveniency of the students is secured, which it cannot be if they are fixed in the mud of the Town, few Students will trouble themselves to come to a place of so few conveniences, where they can neither study with profit, nor lodge with pleasure." Early in his stay in Carlisle he writes Rush, "As to the inhabitants of the town, they seem to think it their interest that the Works should be under an unhealthy reputation, at the risk of their own dwellings. I mentioned to General Armstrong that I suspected that those people who keep boarders might be willing that the College should remain in its confined situation in town, for their own interest, but he told me that it would be dangerous to hint anything of the sort, but he did not pretend to deny the truth of it."
It is possible that local Carlisle interest did prevent the success of efforts to secure this property for the College, but it is also probable that the inability of the College to pay for the property really prevented its purchase and the consequent location of the College at the Works.
Rush in his early correspondence with Nisbet in 1784 said they expected to secure the Works for the use of the College on reasonable terms. He had good reason for this statement. P. Howell, Chairman of a Congressional Committee, wrote
Rush on January 28, 1785, that the Committee would recommend to Congress the leasing of part of the Works to the trustees on reasonable rents for a term not exceeding ten years. John Penn, in a diary of his travels in 1788, speaks of the Works as "said to be granted by Congress to the Trustees of Dickinson College for twenty years," and then adds "tho' upon inquiry I find they are negotiating but have not concluded a bargain ... the apartments of the Public Buildings are casually inhabited, and Dr. Nisbet, the head of the College, lives in one." These are doubtless some of the rounds for the impression that the College actually owned or occupied the property.
Certainly the trustees of the College frequently tried to secure the Works, and a committee was appointed at the first trustee meeting in Carlisle, April 6, 1784, "to negotiate with the proper parties and purchase the Public Works, erected near the Borough of Carlisle." Two months later, in June, 1784, following the resolution of Congress of February 7, probably unknown to them in April, a committee was instructed "to treat with the Commission of the Treasury about a lease of such parts of the Public Buildings near this town as are not wanted for the public stores, to ascertain the yearly rent, and report to the Board as soon as possible." Again, in May, 1787, it was "Resolved, that the members resident in town be a committee to confer with General Irvine on the subject of the Public Works." In the January following (1788) authority was given a committee to purchase the "buildings or such parts of them as the United States may at this time be disposed to sell." Private instructions were given that the committee might offer $20,000 or even somewhat higher, and proportionately less for a "part of the said buildings."
On report made by General Irvine for the Committee on May 7, 1788, "The Board proceeded to the nomination of an appraiser who in conjunction with the appraiser appointed by the Board of Treasury should set a value on the Public Buildings, when Col. S. Postlethwaite was appointed."
Apparently nothing came of this, for in June, 1788, letters were ordered prepared to the Senators and Representatives in Congress, "requesting their influence and assistance in bringing that business again into a proper train of negotiation and transacting it fully in behalf of this Institution." This action was clearly in anticipation of the new National Congress which met in March of the next year, for there had never before been "Senators and Representatives in Congress." Finally, nine years later, in June, 1797, the Committee on Accounts was instructed to learn if the public buildings near Carlisle could be procured, and on what terms. No report from this Committee appears on the record , and the trustee minutes never again mention the subject, which had thus been before them in varying forms for over thirteen years.
The attitude of Rush toward the Works is interesting; perhaps it would be well to say attitudes, for his position changed almost with the seasons. He held out their purchase to Dr. Nisbet as easy and desirable in 1784, when urging him to come to this country. He wrote the trustees in May, 1785, that Congress had readily granted the use of part of the buildings (for Dr. Nisbet's residence); "and from some conversations I have since had with several members of that body, I have reason to think it would not have been much more difficult to have obtained the gift than the use of the buildings. I mention this that we may not lose sight of them as our own property in the course of two or three years. The lot on which the buildings are erected belongs to Mr. Wilson, one of our Board. He has declared his readiness to convey it to us upon a moderate ground rent forever. The sooner this business is transacted, the better, as it will facilitate all future negotiations with Congress upon the subject."
But on his return to Philadelphia from the August meeting of the Board in 1785, he writes Montgomery that a college building 100 by 60 feet could be built for £1,200 and that the Public Works would cost £4,000 adding, with his
accustomed business shrewdness, that the Works may be the center of a new town and lessen values in the old one. In October of the following year, 1786, he repeats his advice against their purchase, while a year later, in November, 1787, he advises to get them and thus put the "finishing stroke to the great fabric." In April following, 1788, he writes, "Let no time be wasted in purchasing part of the Public Buildings." Later in the year, however, he was opposed to "sinking their funds by purchasing at present the Public Works." At this time the Board was making a really serious effort to secure the Works, but the effort came to naught, and the committee of inquiry in 1797 closed the negotiations for them.
Dr. Nisbet always favored the Works, and once when he thought a plan to build elsewhere was imminent he wrote, "If the house which they propose to build is fit for a college, it is certain that their funds are utterly inadequate to it; if it is not fit for this purpose, the attempt must be hurtful to the interests of the seminary." This was written several years before any actual building began, but stated his unvarying judgment through all the discussions, which resulted finally in the purchase of the present site and the erection of a building thereon. He wrote again, on the subject of a new building: "I little imagined that a design was forming in my neighborhood, & without my knowledge, which may prove hurtful to my usefulness & the interests of this Seminary."
It is clear that the trustees never used the Works for college purposes, and that they used another site, the old grammar-school property on Liberty Alley. The first Carlisle meeting of the Board ordered a committee to learn what repairs were needed "to the School House in this Borough." This committee reported that few were needed. October 20, 1785, the local trustees were instructed to arrange for the erection of an addition to the grammar-school building, and they reported on May 9, 1786, that the cellar had been dug and walled. They were ordered to proceed
with the building, and to purchase the adjoining lot if it could be had at a reasonable price. Steps were taken at the same time to secure the temporary use of the court-house for such classes as the Faculty might judge necessary, until the completion of the addition to the old building. This additional building was of stone and cost $583.62
On the completion of the addition to their building, the trustees issued quite a statement. It appears in the Gazette of December 20, 1786. They announced that their building is "situated in a pleasant part of the town, and is sixty feet long and twenty-three broad. Three large rooms are furnished for the purpose of teaching; there is also a library room and an apartment for the physical apparatus."
The College had thus far been using a building belonging to the Grammar School. The trustees of the two, however, were largely the same, and were of one purpose, to continue the Grammar School and also to conduct a college, both to be under the college trustees. In furtherance of this common plan, in November, 1786, a committee of college trustees was appointed "to enforce the petition of the Patentees of the Grammar School ... to the Assembly to enable them [the Patentees] to convey the lot and building to the Trustees of Dickinson College, by a petition of the Trustees to be signed by the President pro tempore on behalf of the Board to the General Assembly, praying them to grant the said petition of the Patentees." Their petition was granted by the General Assembly of Pennsylvania by the act of October 3, 1788, and the trustees of the College became the legal owners of the grammar-school site. They had already used it for over four years, as shown in the preamble to the Act of Assembly, granting them its legal ownership. Ten years later, June 25, 1798, the local trustees were "appointed to call upon the supervisors of the Borough for the purpose of procuring them to make a suitable and proper footway in the alley from the corner of the public square to the building now occupied as a college." The Gazette, two years before this, had spoken of the "want of a
good footway in this town," and had spoken of "flags [as a possible] temporary relief."
Apart from trustees' records there are other interesting items of evidence. In his autobiography, Chief Justice Taney, of the Class Of 1795, says that the college "building was a small and shabby one fronting on a dirty alley." John Penn, in is diary, already cited, says, "The present college or schoolhouse is a small patched-up building about sixty by fifteen feet." Some of these facts and others were presented by the late judge Edward W. Biddle in "The Old College Lot," an address before the Hamilton Library Association of Carlisle, September 17, 1920, and his summary of the subject is subjoined. To understand this summary it is necessary to know that the old college building was burned by an incendiary fire in 1860, and the Carlisle School Board, the owners of the property, rebuilt on similar lines but increased the depth of the building. Judge Biddle said:
The preceding information supports several conclusions: 1st, the Old College was planned on the same design as the present schoolhouse, having on each floor two large rooms which were separated by hallways running north and south, except that one of the four rooms was divided into two. 2nd, it occupied exactly the same position on the lot. 3rd, it faced the alley and extended across the entire width of the lot. 4th, its depth was only 23 feet, as compared with the 35 foot depth of the present building. 5th, the west and east halves were built at different times, the former of brick and the latter of stone, and at a subsequent date both were covered with a coat of plaster which gave them a uniform appearance. 6th, the west end was erected in 1773 by the grantees named in the Penn deed, and the east end in 1786 by the Trustees of Dickinson College. 7th, the west end was used as a Grammar School under the management of the said grantees until 1784, when it was taken over by the College for the same purpose, and beginning in 1785 was used also for college work. 8th, under the limitation in the deed of March 3, 1773, the property would have reverted to the Penn heirs if it had ceased to be occupied as a Grammar School. 9th, by the Act of Assembly of October 3, 1788, an absolute title was vested in the College without condition or trust of any kind.
That the need for adequate space for the College early concerned the trustees appeared when a committee of seven, largely local men, was appointed by the trustees at their
first Philadelphia meeting of 1783, "to make inquiry for a proper lot of not less than 12 acres in the Borough of Carlisle for erecting the College, having a particular attention to the health and pleasantness of the situation, to prepare a drawing of the College and to make an estimate of the expense of purchase and building." This Committee seems never to have made report, but frequent later resolutions of the Board show that the trustees always felt the need for better housing conditions for the College than the old grammar-school building in the "dirty alley." In the darkest periods of their financial distress they recognized this need, and voiced it as part of a series of resolutions of 1797 in which they beheld with "great concern the heavy debts with which the Institution, is encumbered, and for the discharge of which no funds or adequate means appear to exist, except by the sale of the lands granted to the College by the commonwealth for its future endowment, but which they cannot recommend to be sold for that purpose." It was at this time that they made their final gesture toward the Works, and resolved "That every exertion ought to be used to procure a proper edifice for the reception of the students of Dickinson College, and that the Committee of Accounts be recommended to inquire if the Public Building near Carlisle could be procured for that purpose and on what terms."
Nothing came of the inquiries of this Committee, as has been seen, and in April, 1798, another committee was appointed to select "a proper site for the proposed building with a plan thereof and an estimate of the probable expense." This was the final committee on site. It reported, September following, and again in April, 1799. Then the trustees acted thus: "The Board having viewed the site chosen by the committee appointed to supervise the business as a site for the College, expressed their approbation of the same, and of all measures heretofore pursued by that committee."
The site thus chosen was the present college square, containing a little more than seven acres. The deed for it to the College is from the Penns, the purchase price being
$151.50. The date of this deed is July 25, 1799, but the trustees took possession of the site at least three months before the deed was given. Kline's Carlisle Weekly Gazette published a notice on April 22, 1799: "Such Masons, Bricklayers and Carpenters, as are inclined to undertake building a House for Dickinson College at Carlisle, will be pleased to make proposals immediately to Mr. John Creigh.
"As several labourers are now at work, and materials are laying in, which cannot be done without money, the contributors are earnestly requested to pay at least a part of their subscription to Mr. Montgomery, the Treasurer."
September, 1798, the trustees "Resolved, That subscriptions be opened for the purpose of erecting a suitable building for a college." The Committee on Site reported later that "subscription had been obtained for this purpose to a considerable amount in Carlisle and its vicinity that books had been delivered for procuring subscriptions in other parts." The Gazette notice given above obviously was a call for payment of at least part of any subscription thus made.
The Gazette of June 19, 1799, announces that "the Corner Stone of the New Edifice for Dickinson College will be laid at 10 o'clock A.M.," on the following day, the 20th. This announcement is followed by an appeal for help "A considerable part of the materials for the building are already on the ground, and the greatest exertions are making by the Trustees for carrying it on without interruption, in hopes of having it covered in before winter. The friends of the institution who have not yet subscribed, are desired to embrace the earliest opportunity for this purpose; and those who have, are requested to pay in the whole or part of their subscription as soon as possible. Such as have subscribed to contribute their part in hawling or materials, are earnestly requested to do so, before the harvest comes on., when their attention will necessarily be called to their Farms.
"The Trustees of this Seminary, although they have no particular interest in its support and prosperity, more than most of their fellow-citizens, are devoting much of their
time, and contributing largely to this object. It is hoped, that the friends of science and religion will not leave them to struggle with a burthen which may become insupportable, but give their timely and friendly aid. There is certainly no place in this State, which appears more suitable, in point of pleasantness, health and other circumstances, for a great, flourishing and useful Seminary."
The Gazette of the following week [June 26, 1799] gives account of the laying of the corner-stone: "On Thursday last, the Corner-Stone of the New Edifice for Dickinson College was laid. The Trustees, Professors, and Students went in procession from the Old building, in which the classes are at present taught, to the ground allotted to the New. John Montgomery, Esq., one of the first founders and most zealous supporters of the Seminary, had the honour of laying the first stone of this building, and of expressing his hearty wish for its speedy completion, extensive utility and permanency. After which, James Hamilton, Esq., one of a committee of five, appointed to superintend and complete the building, addressed the large number of citizens assembled, in a manner suited to excite them to vigorous and united efforts in this laudable undertaking; expressing a hope that all parties will combine in that which is so manifestly for the general good, and a wish that the rays of science may diverge from this centre to every part of the union, and be productive of the kindest influence on the morals and happiness of society. The whole of the citizens assembled united most cheerfully in re-echoing these sentiments. The ground chosen as the site of the College, is a beautiful elevated spot, on the west end of the town, where the building will appear to great advantage, and from which there is an extensive prospect of the valley and the mountains encircling it; and where the atmosphere is as pure and favourable to health, as perhaps in any part of the world. There will be a beautiful green in front of the building, which in time may furnish as delightful walks for the contemplate Student, as once did the celebrated groves of Academe."
Rush writes Montgomery on June 21, 1799, the day following the corner-stone laying, "It would have given me very great pleasure to have witnessed the laying of the corner-stone of our College. I would have blended a tear for the sufferings it has cost me with my prayers to Heaven for its usefulness. May many precious streams issue from it to make glad the cities of our God." Then his usual compliment to Nisbet: "I lament Dr. Nisbet's coldness and indifference to the undertaking. His eyes and his heart should never be idle till the building is completed. How great the difference, my friend, between a speculative and a practical Christian." Nisbet never favored the new building, but would have bought the Works.
The original endowment of the College was gathered largely by Rush in Philadelphia, but he seems to have taken little part in the new movement for a college building. The movement seems to have been largely local, with subscriptions in both money and materials or labor. Building resources were exhausted within a year, and in May, 1800, "The managers superintending the building of the college representing to the Board the necessity of procuring additional means to enable them to complete it. The Board appointed the following gentlemen to procure from the benevolent inhabitants residing in their respective districts subscriptions for this purpose; viz, Dr. Armstrong and Mr. Montgomery will take East Pennsboro and Allen townships. Mr. Creigh and Dr. McCoskry will collect in West Pennsboro and part of Dickinson, and Mr. McClure and Mr. Ege will attend to Middleton and Dickinson."
Their plans had much the appearance of the modern "drive," so successful in recent times, but their receipts did not meet their needs, and the following month, June, 1800, it was "Resolved, That it is expedient to raise on loan the sum of two thousand dollars for completing the edifice erected for the College," and this sum was borrowed on security of the invested funds of the College. This was a beginning of the dissipation of the invested funds so labori-
ously gathered in the early years. One year later, May, 1801, they went a step farther and "Resolved unanimously that it is expedient to raise the sum of two thousand dollars by sale of the public stock belonging to the Institution, for the purpose of completing the building intended for a College." The sale was made and the money secured. There is no further record as to how the plan was further financed, though it is highly probable that they called again upon their invested funds as needed.
The progress of the building was slow. The period of trustee borrowing on the credit of their funds, and their later actual sale during the building progress, was recognized by Montgomery, at least, as a very serious one for the College. He writes Rush in May, 1801, just before the actual sale of their stock to raise $2,000, "This goes by the Rev. Dr. Charles Nisbet, a good old man.... Nothing further done to the new building since the roof was got on.... We are still indebted to the workmen and no means used to collect to pay them. Our Trustees are become exceeding inactive. . . . The Trustees are proposing to sell stock to finish the building, but I think they may as well [sell] the College at once. . . . We are falling in arrears nearly £200 yearly to the professors, and we owe them a heavy old debt besides." Two days later he writes that "the College is reduced to near 40 students." A year later, May, 1802, he writes, "Hope to have as much of our new building finished in the course of next month as will accomodate the schools." Rush replies in July, "Let us not despair of the object of our former hopes and present affections.... Let us finish our building and keep up the form of the College. All will end well. 'Bingham's porch' may wear away, but the ideas conceived on it by two of the trustees will have their full accomplishment, and Dickinson College will one day be the source of light and knowledge to the western part of the United States. A new college, like another phoenix, is rising out of the old college at Princeton.... The subscription . . . 24,000 dollars."
A resolution of 1801 showed that the building was well advanced: "Resolved, That the committee appointed to superintend the building of the new college be directed to finish in a suitable manner one of the rooms on the left-hand in the said building, as soon as can be, and that the same be appropriated for the use and purpose of an English School, and that they invite some competent person to take charge of the same."
Order had already been given to sell the old college building, but in October, 1801, the committee authorized to sell reported that no sale had been made on "consideration of the unprepared state of the new building for the reception of the students." At the same meeting a committee was instructed "to take suitable measures for the preservation of the New College from the rain and weather, and of the unwrought materials from loss and injury, and that for this purpose they be enjoined to finish one or more of the rooms, to glaze the windows and to procure some person to live in the lower apartment."
The delayed completion of the building was apparently used by enemies of the College to spread rumors that the enterprise would be abandoned, for the next month, November, 1801, a committee was appointed to publish widely "the determination of the Board to persist in the support of the College, and the prospect of having the new building in a state of readiness in the spring for the accomodation of the students." To the same end Nisbet published a card in the local papers denying the false and malicious rumor that he was to leave and that the College would close.
Their hope for the early completion of the building was not realized. It was, however, so far advanced in October, 1802, that action was taken "to procure some suitable person to dwell in some part of the new college for the purpose of preserving the same from any injury."
Three days after the next meeting of the Board there appeared, December 3, 1802, a lengthy statement on the College, part of which was that the trustees "have at great
expense and trouble nearly completed a large, elegant and commodious building in which the Classes are taught."
After this meeting of December 3, 1802, the Board adjourned till the last Monday in April, but disaster resulted in a special meeting, March 14, 1803. The record of this meeting was: "The new and elegant building lately erected by the trustees at the expense of many thousands dollars for the accomodation of the classes, and into which the students. had just removed being distroyed by fire on ... the ... day ... last ... [Thursday, the third day of February last, 1803] a special meeting of the Board was called in consequence of that unfortunate accident, on the 14th of March, for the purpose of adopting immediate measures for the rebuilding." For once apparently they were united as they faced the disaster, and the Gazette said "all party spirit has disappeared."
The building burned on February 3, 1803. The following day Montgomery writes Rush an almost incoherent letter, though it is the best account of the disaster available. His letter follows in full spelling, grammar and all:
we had got three rooms finished in the new Building and were occopayed by the student about 4 or 5 weeks very comfortably the Building was neerly finished had a grand appearence was ornamentale and elegent had twelve large apartments but as all things were uncertain in this world and that our joys and Comforts and not be compleat or parment that noble fine house was yesterday redusced to ashes by accidence occasioned by putting hot ashes in the seller about 11 o'clock a voulant snow storm from the west attended with a strong bold wind had blowen sparks to shevaing or other stuff and not being discovered in time the whole Building was instantly in flames and thus my freind after all our trouble and exspence in erecting an elegent and comfortable house for Dickinson College our hopes were blasted in a few minutes my eies beheld the disstroying flames with an achening that I need not tell you how feel on this meloncoley occasing you will know them by your owen feelings this has happened at an unfortunate time.
Rush's reply to this bears date of February 11, 1802, obviously misdated, the year before the fire. Rush writes, "My tears with yours ever since ... the destruction of our
College by fire ... a fresh instance ... of abortive issues of the labors of my life.... Shall we give up our College as lost? By no means! Go to the Legislature. 'Strike while the iron is hot.'" So ends the tragic story of one college building, making way for the better Old West.
The Gazette's two issues following the fire give a much fuller account of the burning of the building. The adjacent town was threatened by the flying embers driven by Montgomery's "strong bold wind." His "voulant snow storm" probably saved the town from a general conflagration. One other touch is added to emphasize the statement of Montgomery that their "hopes were blasted in a few minutes." Some students in attendance on Professor McCormick fled in such haste as to leave their school books to be destroyed.
The Gazette says that the building was of brick, and that the fire left standing only the east and west walls "totally destroyed." According to the Gazette the building had been in use "some Months," but Montgomery reported "about 4 or 5 weeks." His statement is probably correct, as he was Acting President of the Board. This makes it likely that this first college building was first used about January 1, 1803, and was burned a little less than five weeks later.
The burning of the building gave Dr. Nisbet occasion to free his mind, and this he did shortly after the fire in a letter to a Pittsburgh friend. To this friend he writes of the trustees.
You must have heard that our new college was burnt to the ground, on Thursday the third current. We have been bothered by our Trustees to make our College conform to Princeton College. We have now attained a pretty near conformity to it, by having our building burnt down to the ground. [Princeton's building had recently burned.] But it could not stand, as it was founded in fraud and knavery. The Trustees in order to procure money for finishing this Building, sold the certificates that furnished the salaries of the Masters, cheated your humble servant out of 2610 dollars, the interest on my arrears, and diminished my yearly salary more than Eighty Pounds sterling. This awful visitation of Divine Providence has taken more from them than all that they have unjustly taken from me, tho' I do not think it will awaken them to do me justice.
I have been meditating on Jer. 22:13, "Woe unto him that buildeth his house in unrighteousness and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbor's services without wages, and giveth him not for his work." Compared with Amos 5:6, 7 .... But if I were to preach on any of these texts, and apply them as they well might (be) I would be reckoned as great a traitor and libeller as those who have spoken disrespectfully of the presidents' housekeeper, or differed in opinion from a French citizen.
The trustees at once instituted another building program, on a larger scale than before. March 14, 1803, six weeks after Montgomery's "strong bold wind" had caused the destruction of the new building of "grand appearance ... ornamentale and elegent," the trustees
Ordered that Mr. McClure be appointed and Col. Alexander and Col. Postlethwaite be requested together with him to compose a committee to procure labourers immediately to dig clay in such ground of Mr. McClure as he shall point out for the purpose of making bricks; that they shall have power to employ some careful honest man who shall have the authority of an overseer to superintend the workman and do such other duty as these gentlemen may direct, such as receiving boards which the gentleman may contract for, etc.; and that on Thursday the 31st of March such Plans as may be procured before that time shall be laid before such citizens as have generously subscribed to rebuilding the College for their advice and approbation, together with estimates of the expence at which the plans may be executed, and that the gentlemen shall have all authority as to contracting for all materials as well for the building as enclosing the ground belonging to the trustees and on all occasions to call on the trustees for further authority and advice, and that their orders shall be paid by the Treasurer, signed by any two of them.
Ordered also that the money subscribed for rebuilding the College shall be solely appropriated to that purpose and shall be applied to no other purpose whatever, and that an application to any other account shall not be credited to the Treasurer in his acct. for money paid to him from the new subscriptions.
Ordered that the Treasurer by advertisement call on subscribers to pay 25 Per Cent of this subscription on or before the 1st of May next.
At a meeting three weeks later, April 6, 1803, the Building Committee was increased to seven members by the addition of "Mr. Montgomery, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Creigh, and Mr. Steel ... any four of them ... to be a quorum to
transact business and give orders for money upon the Treasury." An appeal was also made to the Presbytery of Carlisle to secure aid from people within their bounds.
An advertisement appears in Kline's Carlisle Weekly Gazette of April 13, 18o3: "The Trustees hereby inform the Public, that in consequence of the generous encouragement given by liberal donations for the rebuilding the College, they design to proceed immediately in laying the foundation of a New Building, on a larger scale than formerly and also can announce to the Public, that, in the meantime in the old building, all parts of a liberal education are carried on as formerly." The old building had been sold for $533 when the college work had been transferred to the new building late in 1802 or very early in 1803 but the purchaser yielded his legal rights to it till the second building was ready for use.
Promptly after the fire, then, and before any formal Board meeting, the community was canvassed for funds to rebuild, and the results of the canvass encouraged the trustees to proceed with the new building., to which they committed themselves at their first meeting. In addition to this local canvass for funds, it is known that subscriptions were sought in numerous distant communities. Local papers of the time, and a letter from Montgomery to Rush of June 26, 1803, give most of this unofficial information. This letter states, "We were surprized at the ill success that Doctor Nisbet met with at New York, and Philadelphia and when we consider the former generous assistance we had from Baltimore and they have now given us upwards of one thousand dollars. Mr. Camble Hamilton obtained upwards of one thousand Dollars at the City of Washington and Mr. Camble [Campbell] has remitted eight hundred and fifty Dollars from Norfolk, he is still in that country and we expect by him a large sum when he returns all the above places has contributed to Prinstown and Portsmouth as well as New York and Philada."
Two old papers give some of the facts about these can-
vasses of Nisbet and Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Campbell [not Camble, as given in Montgomery's letter]. There is a receipt from Nisbet for $50, as expenses "in travelling to Philadelphia and New York to sollicit subscriptions for rebuilding said College by me." There is also an undated memorandum of the results of the other two canvassers. "Received at the City of Washington ... $1,007; ... Frederick, Maryland, $135; Alexandria, Virg., $234; Fredericksburg, Virg., $89.40; Richmond, $443, Petersburgh, $92; Ladies Subscription, $4; Hanover, Penny., $30; Norfolk, Virg., $420.20; omission in carrying out, $10.20," a total of $2,369.80. The expenses of the two were $593.80, of which Montgomery had personally advanced $20 when Campbell started on his mission. Subscriptions for $152 were yet unpaid, and there had been handed over to the college treasurer $1,629.50.
In addition to the above there is a much-prized subscription book of names of subscribers in Washington, together with the amount of their several subscriptions. Among these subscribers were President Thomas Jefferson, Chief Justice John Marshall, the French Minister, and many others in important positions at the new seat of Government.
A local Carlisle paper, evidently a supporter of Jefferson, comments on his generous magnanimity. "The President of the United States received the deputation from the College with his accustomed politeness and with that munificent spirit, which shows itself on all occasions, overlooking its supposed former unfriendliness to him, he gave 100 dollars as his benefaction. All the secretaries and every officer of Government gave donations."
On May 2, 1803, as a matter of routine trustee business, it was "Resolved , That Dr. Armstrong, Dr. McCoskry, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. C. Smith, or any three of them be appointed a committee to fix upon a proper plan for the 'building' intended to be erected for the 'College,' and that they report the same to the managers appointed for this purpose as soon as possible, together with their opinion as to
the kind of materials of which it would be most expedient to construct the same on consideration of all circumstances."
In the absence of any testimony to the contrary, it is fair to give this Committee credit for the plan and material of "Old West., " that chaste, elegant, imposing piece of colonial architecture which has been the glory of the Dickinson campus for a century and a quarter. How they secured such a perfect plan is not clear, though it is known that the plan was the work of Benjamin H. Latrobe, then engaged in Washington with building enterprises of the National Government. There is a tradition that Judge Hugh H. Brackenridge, a trustee of the College from 1803, secured the services of Latrobe, and while the tradition lacks available proof, it seems altogether probable.
Latrobe is thought to have made drawings only, long since lost, but never to have been on the ground. The supposed copy of his letter on the subject, seen twenty years since, but having now disappeared and quoted from memory only, said that he had given this building somewhat greater elevation than Nassau Hall at Princeton, so that the first floor would have greater elevation and make the refectory more satisfactory to the students.
The plan for the building was in hand at least as early as June 22, when Montgomery writes Rush, "We have got a plan of a house, drawn by Mr. Henry Lathrob [sic], plain and simple, roomy and convenient, and will have an elegant appearance, four story to be build with stone. We are providing material, and expect to have the house in considerable forwardness this fall.... I am much pleased with the present plan, as it will be large, elegant, comfortable and not expensive, and will not cost more than about two dollars [probably two thousand dollars] more than the late house would have cost when finished."
Their securing such a plan seems a chance piece of good fortune, almost beyond belief but for the building itself; and their willingness to undertake such an enlarged enterprise seems yet more surprising. We know little of the
earlier building, but it was smaller and of brick. The one now proposed was to be of native limestone with brown sandstone trimmings, a much more expensive structure, The limestone, of course, was secured from near-by quarries, but the large amount of sandstone needed was probably brought from York County, a considerable distance at best, and the mere transportation of this stone such a distance under existing conditions was costly. There are receipts in existence for the hauling of this sandstone showing that it cost at least $336.
That they had courage for the undertaking almost passes belief, but they had it. Certainly later generations have only gratitude for the spirit which left them West College.
The larger venture, however, was not made without objection, and that in high quarters. Rush decidedly disapproved. He wrote Montgomery on May 30, 1803, that he could not seek subscriptions in Philadelphia for the new building; there was too much distress. Then, too, he did not approve of the plan for a larger building; it was too costly. The new building was to furnish rooms for the boys apparently the old one had not been so intended and the herding of boys together in this way was "unfriendly to order and hurtful to morals." He said that at Princeton the order was so much better after their building was burned and students roomed in private houses that it were better if their new building at Princeton also should burn. Rush urged the argument of expense also. It would cost "more money to finish it than you will collect in half a century. . . and will prevent your paying your just debts, particularly the large debt due to Dr. Nisbet.... Let the next generation extend and enlarge if it should be necessary."
Montgomery's letter to Rush of June 22, 1803, from which quotation has already been made in approval of the plan of the building, was probably written to answer the objections of Rush, especially to the added cost. He says: "We will be able to finish as much of it as will accomodate all the students that may attend here for 10 or 15 years for about
nine thousand dollars. We have had complaint from different quarters that the students could not lodge in college. The new building will prevent complaints of this kind in future. I am, notwithstanding, of the opinion that most of the young men will incline to lodge in private houses, which I have and do still approve, as experience has made it fully appear. In future the students will have a choice."
Montgomery's estimate of $9,000 for the completion of part of the building was too sanguine. He was himself Treasurer of the College during the first five years of building, and receipts taken by him for money spent from April, 1803, to January, 1808, total $13,552.87. Yet less than $500 had been spent on plastering and less than $200 on painting. The building was far from complete. A Pennsylvania State Senate report of March 1, 1822, gives its cost as $20,000.
What the building cost will probably never be known, though probably this Senate report is not far from the truth. This figure seems small today as one looks at the building; but East College was built thirty years later for less than half that sum. Labor was cheap 50 to 66 cents, and skilled labor but $1 per day not of eight hours, but more likely 12. Most materials were cheap.
Little is known also of the progress of the building toward completion. Montgomery writes Rush from time to time of his hopes, in May, 1804, that they were "disappointed in brick ... but I expect that the roof will be on against November." Even in this expectation, however, he was probably disappointed, for in December of that year, as Treasurer of the College, he was paying the mason who had the contract for the outer walls; and a payment to the same man was made as late as November of the following year. This last payment, however, may have been' a final payment on settlement of the account, long overdue.
From the Gazette we learn that the corner-stone of this building was laid on August 8, 1803. "The plan of the building has been furnished by Mr. Latrobe, surveyor of the
Public Works of the U. States, and unquestionably the first architect of the age. The donation is considered invaluable as no price can be set on the efforts of the scientific mind. Simplicity and adaptation to the purpose of the Institution are its excellence. As a public building it will do honour to Pennsylvania."
The Cumberland Register notes the first use of the building on November 4, 1805: "On Monday last Dickinson College opened after its vacation in the spacious edifice lately erected at the west end of the Borough.... Several rooms were prepared for the reception of the classes.... Much of this grand building is yet unfinished.... The classes have a fine southern exposure and will be pleasant with little aid from artificial warmth in the fine days of winter."
The oldest picture of West College known to exist is of unknown date. It certainly antedates the erection of East College, and gives color to the statement of an early traveler that the building was on a hill a modest one, of course. The picture shows also that there was no second-floor entrance to the building at the eastern end, as has been the case for nearly one hundred years.
West College, thus occupied in November, 1805, was far from complete. In fact, it is probable that only a few rooms were ready for recitations, libraries, and societies. As late as 1810, early in Atwater's principalship, it was not prepared to room students. Part of a donation of Rush was then used for dividing the building into apartments suitable for lodging students and part for finishing "the dining room and procuring the tables and benches and building an oven." During the renovations of West College in 1929, the removal of plaster from the wall of the hall on the second floor revealed a stone with names and dates suggesting that rough stone walls still did service for the inner walls of the building as late as 1815; and this need be no surprise for those who are able to picture the conditions of life at the time. They looked at most for rude comfort, and the rough
stone wall would supply it. An advertisement of 1822 announced that the building was complete, except the "Hall" the Old Chapel.
Before the building of Old West the campus of later years was quite open to the public, and probably to cows and other live-stock. In fact, it is a matter of record that the people of the town objected to the sale of any of the property around the original town-site, bounded by North, South, East and West streets, claiming that this property was to be "commons," for grazing purposes. When the trustees began to build the "New College," however, one of their early acts was to fence in their lot. Locust posts and chestnut rails were used for a post-and-rail fence, costing $205.46. The gate-posts were 10 feet long and 10 inches square, costing $3.
We would like to know other things about this early building, especially what, in the plan, was intended for its front. The outer architecture suggests that the south side, toward High Street., with the Old Stone Steps, was to be the front. The internal arrangement seems to contradict this, and in the middle of the north wall, between the two slight wings, there is provision for an entrance, one apparently never used. This northern possible entrance is not so imposing as the one on the south, but the interior construction and arrangement of the building strongly suggests that this was to be the main entrance.
Three thick walls run the entire length of the building, east and west. The middle one is so near the outer northern wall as to show that the two mark off the general hallway system of the building on all four of its stories, as they have always done. The general entrance to the halls was originally on the first or basement floor only. The middle wall is pierced at convenient places for entrance to all the rooms of the main part of ?the building south of it, and there are like entrances from the hallways to the two wings north of it. Moreover, there is no satisfactory access to this general hall system of the building from the south entrance at the Old Stone Steps. This south door gives entrance to the old
chapel only, and at the place necessary for the platform or pulpit, facing as it did the original gallery around all the north and most of the east and west walls of the old chapel. There are, however, entrances to this chapel from the halls by two doors from the general hallway of the second floor, and, prior to the removal of the gallery about 1890, there were two similar doors also from the general hall of the third floor.
A suggested solution of these contradictions of the building may be offered, but it is little better than a guess. Latrobe, the architect, was probably never on the ground and so knew nothing of the street on which the building should face; and there is a tradition that after the building was started it was found that it had been wrongly faced; that the north side should have been south, and vice versa.
There is another tradition on the subject, current about the College as late as the 70's of the last century, and this was formally recognized in 1868 by a report of the trustee Committee on Grounds and Buildings. They recommended the erection of "a piazza and steps on the north side of West College, as was designed when the College was originally built." If the building had been turned about the eastern end becoming the western, and vice versa, and if these columns and this imposing entrance of Latrobe's plan had been built, all difficulties would disappear. The hallway system would then have been entered on the south through a doorway flanked by lofty colonial columns, and the northern front of the building would have had the Old Stone Steps, leading into the original Chapel, the one room in the building of considerable size and dignity because of its lofty ceiling of two stories. The only question remaining unanswered would be why the entrance from the Old Stone Steps led into the building at the only place for the pulpit; but this might be excused as being a reasonable concession to the general requirement for architectural beauty.
The next college building came over thirty years later, and West College may be accepted as the last of the early buildings.