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.
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 According to Whitney’s unpublished autobiography, the town of Hackettstown “had not yet grown as far as the lot” (Custard, 10).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.
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.