Through Golden Years

FERGUSON’S FIVE YEAR FRENZY

After Centenary’s first president, the Rev. Dr. G. H. Whitney retired, the Board of Trustees selected Wilbert P. Ferguson as his successor. Whereas Dr. Whitney was a Centenary institution for over a quarter of a century,  unfortunately Dr. Ferguson would only remain at the school until 1900, a mere five years.

Ferguson 3

Ferguson became Centenary’s second president in 1895. He seemed well suited for the position, having earned  “a reputation as a ‘hustler’ ” during his time as a member of the New York East Methodist Conference (Custard, 71). Centenary’s Trustees thought he would be the perfect man to take the reins and steer Centenary Collegiate Institute towards even greater heights, and he entered this new role with bold ideas.

President Ferguson was eager to boost the school’s enrollment. He closed the Ladies’ College and rearranged the school’s main courses, expanding the Commercial Department and introducing the Department of English Literature. Students with fewer than 7 cuts from class and a final grade above 75 no longer had to sit for final exams.

Athletics became a major feature of student life, starting with the addition of an Athletics Director in 1896 (see Athletics). The grounds behind the Main Building were transformed into a running track, baseball diamond, football field, tennis courts, and croquet and quoit grounds.

Athletic Fields, view from Main Building 3

Very small and unfortunately pixelated views of Athletic Fields as seen from the old Main Building. From the 1896 Course Catalog of C.C.I.

 

The Hackettstonian April 1899

Cover of the April 1899 Hackettstonian

Another new addition for Centenary Collegiate Institute was a student publication called The Hackettstonian. This magazine, published monthly, included original stories, essays, and poems by students and faculty, editorials, news and joke items, and information about alumni.

 

Dr. Ferguson’s five year term was coming to a close when the Main Building was razed by fire on October 31, 1899. The timing of his resignation was unfortunate. While it implied he was abandoning the school in its greatest time of need, this was far from the truth. He had always planned to move on after his single term and followed through, submitting his resignation in January of 1900. Ferguson split his remaining time at C.C.I between his presidency and a new position in Newark until a new president could be found. On June 1, 1900, the position of Centenary Collegiate Institute President was passed on to Charles Wesley McCormick, who had arrived at the institution the year before as a teacher of English and History.

The momentum the school had gained in Dr. Ferguson’s five years as president was dimmed by the fire but was not lost. The Hackettstonian and the school’s enthusiasm for Athletics were both back in full force once the institution was rebuilt, and Ferguson’s early ambition to boost enrollment had been an invigorating force that continued to move the school forward, long after Ferguson’s departure.

 

COMMENCEMENT WEEK

 

As each school year draws to a close, we tend to reminisce on the previous few years, when our graduating seniors were freshmen or new transfers. We’re excited to see how much they’ve grown over the years, and we’re especially excited to see them walk at graduation!

The activities of commencement week have become routine for many – Commencement Rehearsal, the President’s Ball, the Baccalaureate Ceremony, Brunch, and finally, Commencement – but Commencement week is also a time for students to enjoy their last week and to reflect on their journey at Centenary. This tradition has been celebrated every year since the school first opened with the exception of one – the Commencement of 1875.

Centenary’s first ever commencement week was very different from any other commencement week the school has ever held. Why? Well, because no one graduated! Several students applied to enter a year of work culminating in graduation, but Centenary’s first president, Dr. Whitney, refused them all. He was setting the highest possible standard for his students’ education, and he didn’t feel one year of work was enough to prepare them for university.

Cresset_1967.03

Dalton’s history of the school is highlighted in Centenary’s special alumni bulletin.

Although there were no graduates, Commencement week 1875 still had the Baccalaureate sermon, the President’s Reception, Commencement, and a meal (in this case, dinner). Prizes were also awarded for outstanding students. In that way, very little has changed about Commencement week practices. According to the 1967 anniversary edition of the Cresset, the school still held a commencement program in 1875 to mark the success of the school’s first year. The following year, there was a real first commencement with 30 graduates from the Women’s College and the Preparatory Department (Dalton, 25).

“For Students, Trustees, all Ministers and their Wives, all strangers from a distance…the ‘Commencement Dinner’ was always a great affair – beautiful to see – delightful to eat. Everybody was satisfied, everybody was happy – the Seniors and their friends – all students and their friends – all felt the charm of the occasion. Ice cream of several kinds, and in very great abundance was always at the close – the dishes were large, very large – and a second one if desired” (Whitney).

Commencement Program 1876

Program, Commencement 1876, the first year students graduated and possibly the first year the school printed a program. Archival staff is unaware of a program for Commencement 1875.

 

 

Custard, L. R. (1947). Through golden years: 1867-1943. New York, NY: Lewis Historical   Publishing Company, Inc.

Dalton, Ernest R. “Centenary – A century of change.” Cresset, vol. 50, no. 1, March 1967,      pp. 21 – 43.

Whitney, George. Autobiography. N.d.

 

 

WINTER AT CENTENARY UNIVERSITY [updated repost]

Trying to think of something to do in the short time before the next semester begins? Here are some activities students at Centenary enjoyed throughout the years.

SLEIGH RIDES:

A 1923 student included in Leila Custard’s history Through Golden Years writes:

One of my pleasant recollections is a sleigh ride we went on – horses, bells and all. It was beautiful. The country was glistening with snow and made a lovely sight.

ICE SKATING, SLEDDING, TOBOGGANING:

There was plenty for students to do on campus and off. During the Winter Carnival of days past, students would go ice skating, sledding, and tobogganing. The school would also host ski trips to nearby resorts.

 

ICE SCULPTURES:

Forget about snowmen, follow in the footsteps of Centenary students and personalize your artwork. One of the highlights of the Winter Carnival was the Ice Sculpture Contest, where dorms would create something unique out of snow.

Make the most of your time before the semester begins! We’ll see you soon!

 

THE GREAT FIRE – repost

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Centenary Collegiate Institute would prove to be a critical year for the school, testing the dedication and determination of every member of Centenary’s community. Shortly after midnight on the morning of October 31st, 1899, a fire started that demolished the main building, leaving students and staff without dormitories, classrooms, or possessions.

THE FIRE

The origin of the fire is unknown, but was attributed to the spontaneous combustion of painters’ supplies stored too close to a boiler room in the basement. A night watchman discovered the fire but was unable to fight the flames by himself. He alerted Mr. Terrill, the College’s bookkeeper, and brother-in-law to current president, Dr. Wilbert P. Ferguson. The two men rushed from Mr. Terrill’s room on the fourth floor back down to the basement, accompanied by three professors who had detected the faint smell of smoke. The men, seeing the basement engulfed in flames, abandoned their idea of putting the fire out themselves, and quickly created a plan for rousing the building’s sleeping occupants. One went to notify the president’s family, another to the teachers in the ladies’ halls, the third to the teachers in the men’s halls, the fourth to the servant’s hall, and the last ran to summon the fire department.

Within minutes all were awake and exiting the building. The ladies were assembled and organized by their heroic preceptress, Mrs. Hoag, and Mrs. Ferguson, the President’s wife. At some point the ladies were sent across campus to the gentlemen’s gymnasium, where Mrs. Hoag called attendance from memory. The professors visited the gentlemen’s halls until they were certain that every young man had escaped. There were no casualties and no serious injuries, save for one young man with weak lungs who suffered minor smoke inhalation.

THE BUILDING, ENGULFED

At 2 a.m. the bell in the clock tower tolled for the last time, falling to the ground after the final chime. By 4 a.m. the destruction was complete. Nothing remained of the building but sections of brick wall. Two gymnasiums, the chemical laboratory, the barn, and the icehouse survived, as they were located across campus. The fire department, town citizens, and C.C.I. students and staff tried valiantly to put out the fire, but the flames traveled through a pipe organ shaft and empty stairwells, consuming the chapel and library. Soon after the whole building was ablaze. Every student, professor, and employee lost some of their possessions, and many lost everything but their bedclothes. That morning the building lay in ruins. Students and staff assembled in the Methodist Church, where they were given permission to go home.

AFTERMATH, INTERIOR

THE RUINS OF C.C.I.

All seemed lost, but the Board of Trustees and President were not willing to give up on Centenary easily. As early as November 7th, announcements were sent out that the school would continue its Fall Term. Classes reopened on November 20th. Local hotels and resorts offered their facilities to the Institute, and C.C.I. gratefully accepted the hospitality of the citizens of Hackettstown. Private homes were turned into dormitories and classrooms. Each home was dubbed a hall, and to tell them apart, each hall was given a professor’s name. The chapels on Main Street offered space for meals and recitation. Life continued at C.C.I. in unfamiliar settings, but it continued nonetheless. A class of forty-three graduated that year.

After the year concluded, the Board of Trustees and Dr. Whitney again began the daunting task of fundraising to rebuild Centenary. A new president, Dr. Charles W. McCormick, was inaugurated, and plans were set in motion to reformat the Institute as a day school until construction could be completed. All other departments were shut down in order to focus on the College Preparatory program. A hall was rented in town for recitations, and students boarded with private families. The day school only had two teachers, Miss Hannah Voorhees and Professor Hammond, who each taught eight classes a day.

Funds were raised to begin the construction of a new Institute, and the cornerstone for the new building was laid on December 1, 1900. The college reopened on September 23, 1901, although the chapel and recitation rooms were still under construction. The new structure was completed before the end of 1901, and Centenary was off and running once again.

CENTENARY COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE NEW MAIN BUILDING

The new Centenary Collegiate Institute main building, with dormitories in separate buildings on either side of the school.

 

 

PROFESSOR ALBERT O. HAMMOND

Over the years, Centenary University has had many supporters devoted to its success. Professor A. O. Hammond is no exception; he dedicated over forty years to Centenary as a teacher of Greek and Latin, stood by the school through its extreme highs and lows, and earned the respect of students and staff alike.

Professor Albert Overton Hammond

Professor Albert Overton Hammond

Professor Albert Overton Hammond joined the Centenary Collegiate Institute (CCI) faculty in 1878 as the head of the Classical Languages and Literature Department. He taught Greek and Latin, serving Centenary for forty-six years before retiring in 1924. A “scholar and gentlemen, [Professor Hammond] stood by CCI through prosperity and adversity, gaining the sincere respect and even reverence of generation after generation of CCI college preparatory students” (Custard, 63). In 1917, Hammond wrote the “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.”. Thanks to his manuscript, a great deal is known about the early years of Centenary. The book Through Golden Years describes Professor Hammond’s manuscript as a “priceless original source from which copious quotations have been made” (Custard, ix-x).

Professor Hammond was essential to Centenary’s success. When the school building was destroyed in the fire of 1899, the President and the Board of Trustees decided that the students and faculty would be dismissed until a new building could be constructed. Professor Hammond strenuously objected, feeling that the students should be able to continue their education uninterrupted. It was left to him to “open and conduct the school during the year 1900 – 1901…with the understanding that he should be financially responsible for the undertaking” (Custard, 89). He ultimately accepted the proposal. Thirty-four students remained in school, taking their classes in a rented hall and boarding with local families. Professor Hammond and recent Goucher College graduate Miss Hannah M. Voorhees each taught eight classes a day. Their hard work meant there would be no break in the continuity of Centenary’s history – no year without a graduating class.

postcard 47

While Professor Hammond taught classes in a rented hall, the new Main Building was being built.

The students of Centenary called Hammond their ‘Beloved Instructor’ and dedicated the 1906 yearbook to him. In 1940, he and his wife, who taught art at Centenary for twelve years, were honored with the Hammond Memorial Gates. A residence hall was dedicated in his honor in 1956 (it was located off the traditional campus, and was at some point sold). “Invariably too, alumni speak with admiration, even veneration, of Professor Hammond, the scholar and gentleman, dignified, kindly, serious, yet with a sense of humor.”

Here follows a letter of thanks to Professor Hammond from an alumnus of CCI:

“While I was at C.C.I., I never did very much with my Greek; I gave too much time to other things and especially foot-ball, but later I realized, as you told us one day in class, its inestimable value to tone’s education and from that time on I made Greek and Greek culture as much a part of myself as possible. So that during the war, serving for two years and four months as a Y.M.C.A. secretary, I was able to entertain and instruct the boys with many a pleasant Greek story; this was especially true during the time I was serving at the front. So you see that you too were serving unwittingly. I wanted you to know this and to thank you for all you have done for me, even though my gratitude is expressed rather late.”

Professor Hammond was greatly missed after he retired but long remembered by students and staff for his contributions to campus life.

 

BREVITY IS THE SOUL OF WHITNEY – pt 1

Centenary College’s first president, George H. Whitney, is well-represented in material from our archives. So much information about his time at Centenary exists that it cannot, for practical reasons, be summed up in one post. Therefore, the information on Whitney has been split into three (slightly) briefer posts: his life, his presidency, and his impact.

Dr. Whitney was one of the most important people in Centenary’s long history. Had he not become president of Centenary Collegiate Institute (C.C.I.), there might not be a Centenary College today!

Reverend Doctor George Henry Whitney

Reverend Doctor George Henry Whitney

George Henry Whitney was born in 1830, and spent his early years in Washington, D.C. At 14, he was a bookkeeper and at 17, a reporter and editor for the Daily National Whig. In 1848 he began teaching and preparing himself for college. He opened his own ‘select’ school before becoming a student at Wesleyan Institute and later Wesleyan University. Whitney graduated from Wesleyan in 1858. The following year he was president of Macedon Academy and for two years after that, principal of Oneida Seminary.

In 1861 he entered the Newark Conference and for several years filled pastorates in and around New Jersey. Whitney accepted the presidency of Centenary Collegiate Institute in August 1869 and spent the next five years raising funds to build the school. In 1873, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was bestowed upon him by Wesleyan University. Centenary Collegiate Institute opened in September 1874, with Whitney at the helm. He held the title of president for twenty-six years, five years spent bringing the school into existence, and twenty-one years to actual administration. During his time as president, he inspired his students to strive for greatness in both academics and social graces. More will be said on this subject in a later post.

Dr. Whitney around 1874, when Centenary Collegiate Institute first opened.

Dr. Whitney around 1874, when Centenary Collegiate Institute first opened.

Dr. Whitney also organized the first C.C.I. reunion in 1878, four years after the school’s dedication. He chose Ocean Grove, his own yearly vacation spot, as the location for the reunion. This marked the first seaside reunion ever held in America by any Educational Institution. The reunion was a huge success and the school began holding reunions every five years.

The reunion of 1883

The reunion of 1883

In the 1880s Dr. Whitney’s health began to deteriorate, and by February of 1889 he was confined to a chair, where he ran the school while suffering excruciating pain. A serious operation three months later improved his health enough to continue on as president, but he would never fully recover. As his suffering intensified, he became unable to attend to his duties, and in March 1895 he resigned as president of C.C.I.

After taking time off to recuperate, Dr. Whitney accepted a place on C.C.I.’s Board of Trustees in March of 1900. One of his tasks was to help the Board build a new Main Building following the fire that destroyed the original building. In April of 1900 he was elected President Emeritus of Centenary Collegiate Institute by the Newark Conference. After the resignation of President McCormick in 1902, Dr. Whitney was honored to return to C.C.I. as interim president until newly appointed President Noble could join the administration. Dr. Whitney has the distinct privilege of graduating the first class of students in the Old Main Building AND the New Main Building.

Whitney_2

Reverend Dr. Whitney, center top row, with a group of students.

Dr. Whitney “felt that his work was finished and hastened to his rest,” passing away on June 6th, 1913 (Custard, 135).

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

THE GREAT FIRE

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Centenary Collegiate Institute would prove to be a critical year for the school, testing the dedication and determination of every member of Centenary’s community. Shortly after midnight on the morning of October 31st, 1899, a fire started that demolished the main building, leaving students and staff without dormitories, classrooms, or possessions.

THE FIRE

The origin of the fire is unknown, but was attributed to the spontaneous combustion of painters’ supplies stored too close to a boiler room in the basement. A night watchman discovered the fire but was unable to fight the flames by himself. He alerted Mr. Terrill, the College’s bookkeeper, and brother-in-law to current president, Dr. Wilbert P. Ferguson. The two men rushed from Mr. Terrill’s room on the fourth floor back down to the basement, accompanied by three professors who had detected the faint smell of smoke. The men, seeing the basement engulfed in flames, abandoned their idea of putting the fire out themselves, and quickly created a plan for rousing the building’s sleeping occupants. One went to notify the president’s family, another to the teachers in the ladies’ halls, the third to the teachers in the men’s halls, the fourth to the servant’s hall, and the last ran to summon the fire department.

Within minutes all were awake and exiting the building. The ladies were assembled and organized by their heroic preceptress, Mrs. Hoag, and Mrs. Ferguson, the President’s wife. At some point the ladies were sent across campus to the gentlemen’s gymnasium, where Mrs. Hoag called attendance from memory. The professors visited the gentlemen’s halls until they were certain that every young man had escaped. There were no casualties and no serious injuries, save for one young man with weak lungs who suffered minor smoke inhalation.

THE BUILDING, ENGULFED

At 2 a.m. the bell in the clock tower tolled for the last time, falling to the ground after the final chime. By 4 a.m. the destruction was complete. Nothing remained of the building but sections of brick wall. Two gymnasiums, the chemical laboratory, the barn, and the icehouse survived, as they were located across campus. The fire department, town citizens, and C.C.I. students and staff tried valiantly to put out the fire, but the flames traveled through a pipe organ shaft and empty stairwells, consuming the chapel and library. Soon after the whole building was ablaze. Every student, professor, and employee lost some of their possessions, and many lost everything but their bedclothes. That morning the building lay in ruins. Students and staff assembled in the Methodist Church, where they were given permission to go home.

AFTERMATH, INTERIOR

THE RUINS OF C.C.I.

All seemed lost, but the Board of Trustees and President were not willing to give up on Centenary easily. As early as November 7th, announcements were sent out that the school would continue its Fall Term. Classes reopened on November 20th. Local hotels and resorts offered their facilities to the Institute, and C.C.I. gratefully accepted the hospitality of the citizens of Hackettstown. Private homes were turned into dormitories and classrooms. Each home was dubbed a hall, and to tell them apart, each hall was given a professor’s name. The chapels on Main Street offered space for meals and recitation. Life continued at C.C.I. in unfamiliar settings, but it continued nonetheless. A class of forty-three graduated that year.

After the year concluded, the Board of Trustees and Dr. Whitney again began the daunting task of fundraising to rebuild Centenary. A new president, Dr. Charles W. McCormick, was inaugurated, and plans were set in motion to reformat the Institute as a day school until construction could be completed. All other departments were shut down in order to focus on the College Preparatory program. A hall was rented in town for recitations, and students boarded with private families. The day school only had two teachers, Miss Hannah Voorhees and Professor Hammond, who each taught eight classes a day.

Funds were raised to begin the construction of a new Institute, and the cornerstone for the new building was laid on December 1, 1900. The college reopened on September 23, 1901, although the chapel and recitation rooms were still under construction. The new structure was completed before the end of 1901, and Centenary was off and running once again.

CENTENARY COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE NEW MAIN BUILDING

The new Centenary Collegiate Institute main building, with dormitories in separate buildings on either side of the school.