After the retirement of our first President, Rev. Dr. George Whitney, the institution went through challenging times. The second President, Dr. Ferguson, spent five years improving the campus, programs, and social life of the school, but most of his hard work was invalidated by the Great Fire of 1899. While the Board of Trustees debated over rebuilding the school or abandoning its efforts, a new president was elected and the C.C.I. Day School carried on with the business of educating. With the decision made to rebuild, Charles W. McCormick, third President of Centenary Collegiate Institute, was given the demanding task of returning Centenary to its former glory.
Charles Wesley McCormick was born in New Prospect, NJ on December 14th, 1856. He graduated from Wyoming Seminary, Wesleyan University in 1881 (he received both his B.A and M.A there), Syracuse University in 1897 (D.D), and New York University in 1898 (PhD). He married Edith C. Mirteenes in Port Jervis, NY on October 5th, 1881. As an ordained Methodist Episcopal minister, he led many congregations in the New York and New Jersey area, coming to Hackettstown in 1898 (Who’s Who in New England). The following year he was hired to teach English and History at Centenary Collegiate Institute. He also held duties equivalent to a Vice-President and was in charge of the institute on occasions when the President was away. McCormick was a dedicated educator whose election into the faculty was hailed by both students and townspeople alike.
On June 1, 1900, the position of Centenary Collegiate Institute President was officially passed on to Charles Wesley McCormick. He immediately began helping with fundraising efforts and working with the Building Committee. September 23rd, 1901 saw the opening day for the New C.C.I., although the new building wasn’t fully complete yet. Students worked “amid the din of saws and the pounding of hammers” (Custard, 93). Dr. McCormick also saw to it that a Sub-Preparatory program was added to the curriculum, so that in addition to the 4 literary courses the school offered, there was a preliminary year of instruction for those students who required it. He also improved cultural subjects, like art. Students at the time enjoyed rich academic, athletic, and social lives. According to his daughter, Josephine McCormick, “they had weekly socials (no dancing, of course), picnics, hay rides, and in winter skating on the canal. There were literary programs and debates. There was a good football team, fair baseball and track teams. Tennis courts were used by both girls and boys” (Custard, 95).
Dr. McCormick’s presidency was short, lasting from 1900 to 1902. During those two years, he dealt with challenge after challenge. After the 1899 fire, many students found places in other schools and chose not to return to Centenary. McCormick focused much of his time to raising money for the rebuilding of Centenary and on reaching out to potential new students. Then, over the Christmas break, Hackettstown was hit by a smallpox outbreak. Students were told to stay home. After six weeks, the school was allowed to reopen, but again several students did not return. Ending the 1902 school year with a substantial debt, Dr. McCormick found himself very discouraged. He felt his talents lay with teaching and governing, and with no expectation of doing either, he requested to be released from his contract to take another appointment. His contract ran until July 10, 1902, but he was permitted to leave April 1, 1902.
After he left Centenary, he returned to the ministry and again led several different congregations in the area. His ties to Centenary remained strong, though, and his daughter Josephine attended and graduated from Centenary Collegiate Institute in 1913.
Dr. McCormick authored a small book with uplifting passages for shut-ins, aptly entitled “Little Messages for Shut-In Folk”. Sadly, Charles Wesley McCormick passed away shortly after this book was published, on October 19, 1920, in East Orange, New Jersey (“General Necrology in 1920”).
Custard, Leila Roberta. Through Golden Years: 1867 – 1943. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947. Print.
“General Necrology in 1920.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac. Vol. 2, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1921, p 451.
Hack Yearbook, C.C.I. 1913.
Who’s Who in New England, edited by Albert Nelson Marquis, A.N. Marquis & Company, 1909.