Opening Day

Opening Day for Centenary Collegiate Institute was quite an event for Hackettstown. For five years, residents watched an impressive building rise into the sky, half-believing it would ever be filled with students or even finished. On September 9, 1874, however, the residents of the town and thousands more would celebrate the opening of the school, and over one hundred students would be admitted for the first year of classes.


An invitation to attend the Dedication of Centenary Collegiate Institute

Very early on that day, President Whitney sat in the new building composing his inaugural address. He had been so busy in the preceding weeks that he had not found time to finish writing his speech. As the morning continued, people arrived from all over to witness the dedication ceremony. There was so much anticipation over the event that the President of the Morris and Essex Railroad furnished special excursion tickets and extra coaches were added to the existing rail schedule. President Whitney estimated an audience of five thousand people.

Opening Day Program

The cover of the Opening Day Program

At 10 am, the ceremony commenced. The audience, seated under a giant circus tent on the school’s front lawn, listened to speeches by the Reverend Charles N. Sims and the Honorable Joel Parker, Governor of New Jersey. Newspapers wrote that the most distinguished body of people ever met in Warren County attended the ceremony. Afterwards, a great dinner was held, with the two rival bakers of Hackettstown each providing a cake. Nine hundred people were seated for dinner. Then an audience of seven hundred moved to the chapel to hear President Whitney’s address. Of the many points he mentioned, he stated that the school would be a place of sound learning, comprehensive education, and refinement. He suggested a motto for the new institute: “All done, and all well done”. To borrow a phrase from Leila Custard, “Centenary Collegiate Institute was off to an auspicious start.” (Custard, 51)


Custard, Leila Roberta. Through Golden Years: 1867 -1943. New York: Lewis
Historical Publishing Company, Inc, 1947. 11- 51. Print.


Centenary Collegiate Institute. (April 28, 2014). 1874 – 1885 Catalogs.




The May Fete

The May Fete was an annual pageant held at Centenary College for many years. It centered on a spring celebration, the crowning of a May Queen, and performances by students. These festivals were held every year from 1907 to about 1939.


The earliest mention of such celebrations at Centenary occurred in the 1907 Hack Yearbook, which introduces the idea of May Day exercises. The entire student body was invited to attend. A may pole was set up on the lawn with ribbons in the class colors and the seniors walked in a procession led by their queen and king. After the procession, decorated booths selling candies and other refreshments were opened. There were games and a special address by one of the professors.

Later the ceremonies were called May Fetes. Celebrating outside on the school’s front lawn, girls dressed in lavish costumes. Photographs we’ve found show the girls dressed as goddesses in Grecian gowns with bands of flowers in their hair, pixies, Robin Hood, and animals.  The number of visitors (alumni, parents, and siblings) reached over a thousand some years. After the pageantry, supper was served on the lawn.

Another part of May Fete at Centenary was the presentation of brass tablets which listed the school’s graduates by class and were then displayed for all to see.

A major highlight of the May Fete was the crowning of the May Queen and King. After the school became all girls, they crowned the May Queen, who in turn chose a court of 8 fellow students, 4 seniors and 4 freshmen. The 1943 May issue of the Spilled Ink (the student newspaper) explains the way the May Queen was chosen; the students voted for the most beautiful senior, and the winner was crowned at a small ceremony during May Fete.


As years went by the celebration changed. The formal May Fete was cancelled during WWII and we’ve found no records that indicate that it was ever brought back to its former glory. Class Day, an indoor program created by the senior class, seemed to have adopted some of the events of May Fete while other activities such as dance were apparently given their own program. One thing we notice often is how many events there were for the students. There were dances, musical and theatrical performances (given for the students as well as by them), writing competitions, sorority anniversary parties, etc., and many days set aside for the purpose of building relationships with each other. It was very important to the college that its students considered each other family.

The First Main Building

The year was 1869.

The architect for Centenary Collegiate Institute had been chosen (S.B. Hatch of New York City).

Local contractors Clawson and Haszen had been awarded the building contract.

The cornerstone was laid.

There was just one problem: not enough money.

The Board of Trustees had so far only been able to raise half of the projected building cost. When construction started, that cost quickly doubled due to alterations and additions. The Trustees realized their original efforts had brought in only a fourth of the amount they would need, and that raising the rest would require a lot of hard work.

The original plan of Centenary Collegiate Institute

Caption: “1869. The Original Plan of C.C.I. Thus it was built to top of 4th story – Then roof & tower & piazzas changed.”

The President and the Board of Trustees worked tirelessly to raise funds, solicit donations and loans, and personally contribute money to collect the amount needed. Construction was continually extended; building ceased when money ran out and started back up when enough funds were collected. The Board faced countless problems: costs kept going up in an effort to maintain the symmetry of the building, donors passed away before promised donations could be received, and the Depression of 1873 all prolonged the building’s completion (not familiar with the Depression of 1873? Learn about it here). Finally, in 1874, construction was finished and the school was ready to accept students. Although the Institute struggled with a mortgage that took eight years to settle, spirits were high on Centenary’s opening day.

The Original Centenary Collegiate Institute

The Original Centenary Collegiate Institute. This building burned down in 1899, only twenty-five years after the Institute opened.

Centenary Collegiate Institute opened on September 9, 1874, exactly five years after the cornerstone was laid. It had taken a lot of hard work, but Centenary Collegiate Institute was finally ready to become a functioning institution of education.



Custard, Leila Roberta. Through Golden Years: 1867 -1943. New York: Lewis
Historical Publishing Company, Inc, 1947. Print.


Centenary Collegiate Institute. (April 28, 2014). 1874 – 1885 Catalogs.


Building Centenary

This is the second in a series of posts about the history of Centenary College, using the book Through Golden Years as a guide. Words cannot express how grateful we are to have this book; we reference it constantly and learn new things about Centenary every time we open it. This information is so important, we wanted to share it with others. We are, first and foremost, a blog about Centenary’s history, and it only makes sense to dedicate our time and attention to a book that teaches us so much about it.

In 1865, two friends took a walk through Hackettstown. They stopped in a cornfield at the top of a hill and had a conversation about the future of the area. Reverend Crook S. Vancleve, a member of the Morristown District of the Newark Conference of the Methodist Church, said he imagined it as the spot where a new institute would be built, and that the man he was talking to would be the first president. Reverend George H. Whitney replied that he had no interest in the proposition. Little did he know just how accurate Reverend Vancleve’s words would be! Nine years later, Centenary Collegiate Institute, located in the exact spot they stopped and with Whitney as the first president, would have its opening day.

Long before the college opened, the name Centenary was chosen for it. The original name was quite long: “The Centenary Collegiate Institute of the Newark Conference, New Jersey.” Chosen by the Newark Conference in 1866, it honors the countless men and women who for a century “labored in the cause of righteousness” (Custard, 6). The next year the college received its charter. That’s why we consider the college to have opened in 1867, even though it’s first real opening day was in 1874.

The first Board of Trustees. Without them, there would be no Centenary College.

The first Board of Trustees. Without them, there would be no Centenary College.

Many sites were considered for the future home of the college, and a committee of newly appointed trustees considered Madison, Morristown, Flanders, Washington, Irvington, Orange, Plainfield and Newark before deciding on Hackettstown. In the spring of 1868, the exact location within the town was selected. The next year Reverend Whitney was appointed the ‘principal’ and given the task of raising money for a suitable building. A building and planning committee was also elected, and they chose an architect and a contractor. On September 9, 1869, the cornerstone of the new institute was laid in place. The event was heavily advertised and attended by many. They gathered in the fields that would soon become roads and lots for houses. According to Whitney’s unpublished autobiography, the town of Hackettstown “had not yet grown as far as the lot” (Custard, 10).  The cornfield of 1865 had grown into the construction site of 1869, but it would be five more years before it became the Centenary Collegiate Institute.


The view of North Hackettstown, taken from the location of the Institute.


Description from the back of the photograph. There’s no date, but it was definitely taken between 1869 and 1895. The building was started in 1869, and Whitney was the President until 1895.



Custard, Leila Roberta. Through Golden Years: 1867 -1943. New York: Lewis
Historical Publishing Company, Inc, 1947. Print.

Centenary Collegiate Institute. (April 28, 2014). 1874 – 1885 Catalogs.


Scrapbooks of Centenary College

Did you know that Taylor Memorial Library has a scrapbook collection? Probably not, because the albums haven’t seen the light of day in decades. Many of them are over one hundred years old, and are extremely fragile. We don’t handle them unless we have to. The archives staff has decided to display them for students, faculty, and staff members. We are excited to let people see them!

The origins of the modern scrapbook may be found in ‘commonplace books’, which were used as early as the 15th century. Commonplace books were used to compile information, like recipes, quotes, and poems. In the 16th century, friendship albums became popular. These albums resembled autograph books; friends or acquaintances would sign their names and add details to their page, like drawings or a poem. With the invention of photography, the average person was able to incorporate photos into their albums. Scrapbooking was a popular American pastime in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

These early scrapbooks were incredibly varied and often reflected the personal history of the individuals who created them. Some focused on news, while others covered sports or the lives of family members. Often the pages held news clippings, photographs, artwork, programs, ticket stubs, and written recollections. Old albums would be held together with tape or glue, and over the years they would deteriorate so completely that they would be discarded.

In recent years the practice of making or keeping scrapbooks has surged in popularity. In fact, it has become a multi-billion dollar business as companies have arisen to provide crafters with special papers, albums, trims, and decorative items in an almost unlimited array of colors and styles.

Millions of Americans consider themselves to be “scrapbookers.” It is considered the third most popular hobby or craft in the US.

The following four pictures are of an album from Taylor Memorial Library’s scrapbook collection, dated about 1900. This album is an early history of the college and includes photographs, recollections, college events, and newspaper articles.


The pages of this album are brittle and damaged. There is a lot of discoloration due to sun exposure, damaging adhesives, and contact with newsprint.


These programs are still in fairly good condition even though the pages are damaged.


These pages of the album show views of Centenary College’s original main building, which was razed by fire in 1899.

Our scrapbooks look very different from what people today might consider a scrapbook. Most people might think of scrapbooks as photo albums with brightly colored pages, decorative cut-outs, and short descriptions.  Many of our scrapbooks look more like journals. Artwork, personal recollections, newspaper articles, and items decorate their pages.

There have been several different ‘authors’ for the Centenary scrapbooks. Students of the school, the wives of former presidents, and even the first President of Centenary, the Reverend George Whitney, put together scrapbooks chronicling Centenary College over the years.

The following pictures are from two albums created by a former student of Centenary Collegiate Institute (the original name of Centenary College) named Regina Baker. These albums are dated from 1906 to about 1910. She collected programs, napkins, sports score cards, letters, and other materials from her days at Centenary. She even included cigarette butts, a pill from when she was sick (which has since disintegrated and left a bad stain), and a baby’s bib.


This page includes a fan that she once wore in her hair. Some items from her albums have gone missing, although we do not know if they fell apart or were removed.






This album was left to the college by the family of Annie Blair Titman Cummins and George Cummins. It is more of a traditional photograph album, and has been decorated with cut out images of flowers. Image


The scrapbooks of Centenary College give us a wonderful look at life in the Hackettstown area many years ago. Although the scrapbooks are seldom handled or viewed due to their delicacy, we will be putting them on display for a very short time on May 5th, 2014. Our albums are usually kept locked in the archives to preserve them from damage, and this will most likely be the first time they are ever viewed in public! We’re pretty excited to see what everyone thinks of them!


Lynd Ward

One of the treasures in Centenary College’s Archives is a signed edition of Lynd Ward’s 1929 book God’s Man. Long before the graphic novel reached its current level of popularity, Lynd Ward became known for his “wordless” books illustrated with the author’s own woodcuts.


Lynd Ward, self-portrait


Lynd Ward was an American artist and storyteller born in Chicago in 1905. He later lived in New Jersey and attended Englewood High School. Ward was known for woodcuts, but also worked in watercolors, oils, brush and ink, lithography and mezzotint. He wrote books for children and adults. In fact, he won a Caldecott Medal in 1953 for his book, The Biggest Bear.

God’s Man was the first of six wordless books Ward published. It was released just before the stock market crash of October 1929 and went on to sell more than twenty thousand copies in the following few years.



Through Golden Years

Through Golden Years

Through Golden Years, 1867 – 1943

Whenever I do any research on Centenary College’s early years, I always first consult this book. Through Golden Years is a treasure trove of facts and remembrances that the archives staff uses all the time. Written between 1944 and 1947, it was published for the 75th anniversary of the college.

The book is part earlier manuscript, part unpublished autobiography, part research, and part interview. When beginning their project, Centenary Collegiate Institute was considering publishing an earlier manuscript written by a long time professor, “History of the Centenary Collegiate Institute Compiled from Original Documents and from the Memory of Events Quorum pars parva fuit by Albert O. Hammond, A.M., during forty years a Member of the Faculty of C.C.I.”, with additional chapters that would bring the report to the current year. They decided that there was enough new information and access to new resources for old information that they would start at the beginning.

Professor Albert Overton Hammond

Professor Albert Overton Hammond, author of an earlier history of C.C.I.

Leila Roberta Custard, faculty member at C.C.I., was chosen to write the new history. She was a graduate of Goucher College and received a Doctorate of Philosophy degree from the University of Southern California. She had a unique relationship with Centenary; her father was part of the conference that started the school, and her brother was an alumnus. In writing the updated history, she relied not only on Hammond’s manuscript, but also the autobiography of the first president, Dr. Whitney, written for his children under strict orders that it never be published. Custard used these documents as well as documents from the archives of Centenary and Hackettstown, and numerous student/staff accounts of their time at the college.

One of many pages of Custard's notes. This note was written using the back of a student's examination booklet cover.

One of many pages of Custard’s notes. This note was written using the back of a student’s examination booklet cover.

She wrote copious notes as she did her research, and sent letters out to staff and alumni requesting any humorous or memorable stories regarding their years at Centenary. The library has hundreds of pages of her correspondence and research. She wrote on any type of scrap paper, including using the blank pages left over from her students’ examination booklets. The letters to and from students display the cordial nature of correspondence at that time; when her research time was split by a trip to Chile as an exchange professor, students wrote to her hoping that the trip would not impede her research or prevent her from finishing the book. Custard spent two semesters in Chile in 1945, and as soon as she returned, she went right back to work and had the manuscript ready to present during the 75th anniversary event.

Leila R. Custard ceremonially hands over the finished manuscript

Leila R. Custard ceremonially hands over the finished manuscript.

Through Golden Years is a diamond in the rough. It may look unassuming in its simple blue cover, but on the inside, there are years of rich history bursting through the pages. We learn something new every time we look in it!